clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ranking the Redskins Roster

To hell with PFF; the Redskins have the 12th most talented roster in the NFL!

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Some recent, very questionable grades, have come out by the organization that calls themselves Pro Football Focus, which paint the Redskins roster in a very negative light. PFF, as they're known within the industry, did a breakdown of all 32 NFL teams rosters by talent, and the Redskins came in at number 21 in the league.

PFF takes the rankings from the previous two years, and averages them with the roster rankings from this year, along with "other considerations", to comprise their list.

Here is what they had to say about the Redskins:

21. Washington Redskins

Top five players: OT Trent Williams, CB Josh Norman, TE Jordan Reed, DE Chris Baker, OLB Ryan Kerrigan

Starters who should be upgraded: OC Kory Lichtensteiger, LB Perry Riley, LB Mason Foster

Washington landed one of the coups of the offseason when Norman unexpectedly became available in April. He adds a legitimate elite-level coverage player to a secondary that has shown ability, particular in the development of Bashaud Breeland. The Redskins' front seven has several good players, and overall this defense could be an impressive unit in 2016.

On offense, Kirk Cousins cemented himself as the starter at quarterback, and there is enough talent for this team to be very good. Rookie wideout Josh Doctson has the ability to become an elite target, but he'll need time. The only major issue is in the middle of the offensive line, where Lichtensteiger was poor and banged up in 2015, causing major problems to the offense as a whole. The Redskins could move up this list rapidly if he can find his best form again, or if they can find an upgrade.

So, what is flawed with these rankings?

First, let's start with the most obvious - Our Top 5 Players.

Sure, Chris Baker had a fantastic season last year, but he's not one of the Redskins top 5 players. Is PFF ranking the top 5 on what they did in the previous years, because if that's what they are doing, how does Baker make this list? In 2014 Baker had 39 tackles, and 1 sack in 15 games with 12 starts. He had zero passes defended and zero forced fumbles. In 2015, Baker indeed took his game to the next level, recording 53 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 pass defended and 3 forced fumbles. He played in all 16 games last season, tallying 10 starts.

So, by my untrained eye, PFF is ranking Baker on his play from last season, and probably "projecting" what he will accomplish this season.

So, is this fair?

Let's look at Kirk Cousins, who DID NOT make PFF's top 5 Redskins. In 2014, Cousins played in 6 games, with 5 starts. He threw for 1710 yards, with 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, and a passer rating of 86.4. However, in 2015, Cousins started all 16 games(although he played sparingly in the season ending victory over the Cowboys), passing for a franchise record 4166 yards, with 29 touchdowns(2nd all-time for a season in franchise history) 11 interceptions, a completion percentage of 69.8(franchise best mark for a season), and a 101.6 passer rating. Cousins finished top 10 in the NFL in yards(10th), yards per attempt(8th), passer rating(5th) and completion percentage(led the league). He tied for 12th in touchdown passes and was middle of the pack in interceptions.

Looking at these numbers, Cousins had a top 10 year statistically, while breaking multiple single season franchise records...yet he was not even considered one of the Redskins top 5 overall players by PFF?

Let's take a look at another breakdown offensively by PFF.

They don't even consider Cousins a top 5 player on his team, and they go on to comment a bit on the offense. They contend that the only major issue with this offense is in the middle, where center Kory Lichtensteiger is the obvious weak link. Well, let me tell you something, EVERY team has a weak link somewhere on their offensive line. If this is our only issue on offense, and we have a young quarterback going into his second full season as a starter, surrounded by one of the league's best tight ends, and a deep and dangerous receiving corps, why are we ranked so damn low?

Let's talk about the receiving corp and the offensive line a bit more.

DeSean Jackson is one of the most dangerous receivers in the league. He is arguably the best deep threat in the NFL. Granted, he wasn't healthy last year, so I can see someone having some reservation about him, but Tony Romo and Dez Bryant were injured too, yet PFF has the Cowboys ranked ahead of the Redskins despite this.

Pierre Garçon is a hard-nosed receiver who will do all the dirty work for the offense. He's not flashy, but he's tough as nails, and his attitude rubs off on those around him. The rookie Josh Doctson, as PFF does mention, has all the potential in the world - but right now, that's all it is. When you factor in Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and Niles Paul, I find it hard to come up with a better overall receiving unit in the NFC.

So how about that young offensive line?

Trent Williams is a top 5 player at his position in the league. Both Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses had very solid seasons in 2015 - Moses was good from the start, while the Rookie Scherff turned it on in the second half of the season. Long was very solid after stepping in for the injured Shawn Lauvao at left guard, and showed marked improvement each game. Lichtensteiger, as mentioned before, was the obvious weak link.

Even with a weak link at center, the Redskins offense finished 17th in the NFL, averaging 353.8 yards per game, and 10th in scoring averaging 24.2 points per game. You have to figure Kirk Cousins improves in his second full year as a starter, and that young offensive line begins to click - yet PFF must not be seeing the same thing!

On defense, the Redskins made the biggest overall improvements from a unit that struggled last season stopping the run. GM Scot McCloughan brought in veteran defensive end Kendall Reyes, re-signed linebackers Mason Foster and Will Compton, and drafted linebacker Su'a Cravens and defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis. With outside linebacker Junior Galette re-signed and returning from an Achilles injury, the maturation of impressive rookie Preston Smith, and Trent Murphy making the permanent move inside to defensive end, the front seven is expected to make a big jump in production, with second year Redskins DE Stephen Paea a focal point of the group heading into training camp.

The secondary is where the Redskins should really stand out. The addition of Josh Norman at cornerback was the biggest offseason acquisition in the NFL. Norman was a first team All-Pro cornerback last season, and is arguable a top 5 player at his position in the league. Pairing him with rising star Bashaud Breeland gives the Redskins one of the top corner tandems in the league. The Skins also return impressive second year corner Quintin Dunbar, and added former Virginia Tech star Kendall Fuller in the draft.

At safety, the Redskins will roll with DeAngelo Hall as a full-time starter at one spot, with newly acquire David Bruton and veterans Duke Ihenacho and Will Blackmon competing for playing time opposite him.

Overall, I see a significantly improved roster from 2015, and very solid draft picks to further build this team. Obviously, PFF doesn't think too highly of this roster, especially compared to other teams in the division - Eagles(#5) and Cowboys(#12).

How does PFF rank the Eagles the 5th best roster in the NFL?

Their quarterback, Sam Bradford, ranked in the bottom half of the league in passing yards(18th), touchdowns(22nd), and interceptions(14). Their offensive line is a sieve, allowing Bradford to be sacked 28 times last season, while averaging just 108 yards per game on the ground. Jason Peters is 34 years old, and has been battling injuries for the past few years. He is no longer the dominant left tackle he once was. Right tackle Lane Johnson has been a disappointment so far in his young career. The interior of their line is average at best, with the undersized Jason Kelce having his play fall off significantly as of late.

The Eagles boast a nice receiving tight end in Brent Celek, but are very underwhelming at wide receiver, where their top target, Jordan Matthews, is no more than a WR2. They traded away their best running back Demarco Murray, and will now rely on an oft injured Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles.

On defense, the Eagles do boast an impressive front four, with Fletcher Cox leading the way. Bennie Logan, Conner Barwin and Brandon Graham round out the front, and they are as formidable a unit as you will find in the NFC East. Aside from Michael Kendricks, the linebacking unit is very average, but it's the secondary that is a huge area for concern. Eric Rowe is a young corner with potential, but right now, potential is all he is. Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin are average-at-best NFL corners. The only really bright spot in their secondary is safety Malcolm Jenkins.

So tell me, how did PFF figure this to be the #5 overall roster in the league? Even Dallas, on paper, has a far better overall roster than the Eagles, and they fall 7 spots below!

I am going to take this opportunity to re-rank the Redskins roster in term of overall talent.

I see 5 players on this team who are top 5 at their position in the league:

Trent Williams(OT)

DeSean Jackson(Z-Wideout)

Jordan Reed(TE)

Ryan Kerrigan(3-4 OLB)

Josh Norman(CB)

These next guys have the potential to take their games to the next level and become Pro-Bowl caliber players:

Kirk Cousins(QB)

Bashaud Breeland(CB)

Morgan Moses(OT)

Brandon Scherff(OG)

Junior Galette(3-4 OLB) - has been there, just needs to stay healthy

Preston Smith(3-4 OLB)

Chris Baker(DT/DE)

Stephen Paea(DT/DE)

Overall, when looking at the overall talent on this roster, and building in some projections for future performances, I would rate this unit as the 12th best in the league, one spot behind the Dallas Cowboys, and 9 spots ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. The Giants fall last in our division coming in at 25th overall.

My criteria for ranking a team's overall roster talent falls into 3 categories - do you have playmakers at key positions, do you have a combination of youth and talent, and do you have players who rank at the top of their positions in the league. I then break that down by units, and look at how teams played within that unit as a group. Finally, I add in my projections as to how key players will perform this coming season based on things such as years in the system, coaching, past performances, key additions and key losses. I did not factor rookies into the mix yet as we have nothing to base their performance on, but I did give this year's draft some consideration when I had teams that were very close to one another.

My Roster Rankings:

































In conclusion, I wanted to point out some flaws I find with PFF's rating system, with the help from a 2014 article by Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch. You can read the full article HERE.

In his article, Allen brings up some key points about Pro Football Focus:

They are a UK-based company, who obtain games through NFL Rewind and sit and watch and grade each player on each play. Their dedication to this is admirable, as I can’t imagine sitting down and doing this kind of deep grading for every play, every game week after week.

I suppose there is some value in this data, in a big-picture sort of way. Stats on items like dropped passes, QB hits, things like that are likely extremely accurate. In my interview linked above, founder Neil Hornsby said that PFF’s value is this:

  • Who was on the field – in 2010 this was 99.83% accurate but we didn’t double hand most games then – this year we do so I’m predicting well in excess of 99.9%
  • What position they played (at a level which allows us to provide formation as well as package information)
  • What they generically did (block, pass route, cover, pass rush etc.)
  • A measure of how well they achieved what they attempted to do (obviously we don’t know their assignments so this is what we use)

The last part is the gotcha and this is where it is dangerous to put too much stock in the Pro Football Focus stats.

- Last August, Bill Belichick talked about the dangers of watching film and making conclusions based on it.

It might even look to us like somebody made a mistake but then we look at it more closely maybe somebody besides him made a mistake and he was trying to compensate. I think we need a little closer analysis a lot of times. Sometimes the play calls or what was called on the line of scrimmage might be something that we’re not aware of. That could happen in any game. You think a player did something that he shouldn’t have done but maybe he got a call, a line call or a call from a linebacker or he thought the quarterback said something so he did what he thought was the right thing or maybe it was the right thing but that call shouldn’t have been made or should have been on the other side. But yeah, I think we need to be careful about what we’re evaluating.

So sometimes even the team itself doesn’t know exactly where things broke down and who did what wrong. Belichick then went on to talk about watching opposing team’s game films and the impossibilities of knowing what happened.

There HAS to be a subjective element in the grading process. They have to be making conclusions based on conjecture and assumption or what they "think" the player was attempting to do or was assigned to do on any given play.

On their own grading page, they explain their "rules" for making their grades:

• DON’T GUESS — If you’re not 95 percent sure what’s gone on then don’t grade the player for that play. The grades must stand up to scrutiny and criticism, and it’s far better to say you’re not sure than be wrong.

It is, however, crucial that this is not seen as an excuse to shy away from making a judgement. What we definitely do not do is raise or lower the grading because we’re not sure. Giving a grade of -0.5 rather than -1.5 for a player on an individual play because you’re unsure is the wrong grade to give. If the grader is 95 percent sure of the severe fault on the play, the grade is -1.5. If, however, the grader is unsure of his judgment, the correct grade is 0.

A couple things I don’t like here. How does the grader know whether they are 95% certain or just 90%? How many plays per game are going ungraded because a determination cannot be made?

- From all of this, the national media are using PFF stats as gospel? Why? Are the simple +1.2, -0.7 ratings so damn attractive that they are accepted without question? Is it just an easy way for the media to rate players without doing a lot of work themselves?

So, knowing what we know, and what we may have just learned, how much "stock" do you put into PFF's ratings?

Does PFF have it out for the Redskins?