- Just because you can carry 90 players on your roster until the bitter end of the preseason doesn’t mean your roster is deep. (That’s deep.) In prior years, some would argue that Washington’s final rosters had a very...preseason taste to them. Separate from any discussion about “contention” from our July 31st perch, the Redskins starting depth chart promises to be one of our best collections of talent. Much remains to be determined, and it is true that some starting spots are very much up for grabs, but it is hard to look at the product on the field right now and not see a team that should be more competitive than we have seen in years. Uhhhh...I feel like I have said this before. Perhaps every...single...preseason. What makes me (and most of us) feel like this year is different?
- This is going to be a defense-heavy argument—mostly because our defense has been rather light the last few seasons. Let’s start in the back, where two brand new safeties will be lining up for the burgundy and gold. Gone are the days when nothing the Redskins did—whether it be using a high draft pick on a safety or signing an extravagantly paid free agent safety—prevented Reed Doughty from lining up in the back of our defense (“Death, Taxes and Reed Doughty!”) Suffice to say, the Redskins have struggled to find an answer back there since the great Sean Taylor patrolled center field for us (R.I.P.), and while nobody is suggesting we have found the next Sean, it is reasonable to suggest that the safety position is about to be very professionally staffed. Aside from D.J. Swearinger’s affinity for Taylor (which does nothing but excite me), the 25-year old South Carolina product also has a history with Josh Norman. They played high school ball together, and Norman has done nothing set extremely high expectations on their ability to play off of one another. D.J. is a hitter, but you always catch him saying the right thing these days when it comes to dancing on that line between legal and illegal in today’s game. This is Swearinger’s fourth stop in the NFL, which may not inspire a ton of confidence, but he has done nothing but show the Washington coaching staff that he is ready to combine his physical abilities with his confidence to make plays. I don’t think it would be too homerish to suggest he represents an upgrade for us in the back. Playing next to him will be the second-year stud athlete Su’a Cravens, who was simply out of position last season when he saw most of his snaps at linebacker. I would be lying if I told you that the brand new duo at safety in 2017 doesn’t cause me at least some concern. The league today is built on making safeties look stupid in the passing game, and a fresh pairing that includes a very green second-year player could be problematic. That said, I am of the mind that we are placing two sick athletes in the rear of our defense that significantly increases our ability to craft and run different coverage schemes. Cravens and Swearinger have a month to get on the same page, and it says here that they will do just that. This Sixpack is focused on depth though, and while our starting two might be deeper already than we have been, the team does have some serious experience behind the two young starters. DeAngelo Hall and Will Blackmon provide veteran leadership and Montae Nicholson might just have some physical upside for this secondary. In past years, a guy like Nicholson might get pushed onto the field WAY before he was ready, and guys like Hall and Blackmon were pushed onto the field due to a lack of any other healthy options.
- Perhaps there is no other position group on the defensive side that is as improved this season as our linebacking corps. From Keenan Robinson and Riley Perry to Will Compton and Mason Foster to Su’a Cravens and Martrell Spaight, the progression at inside linebacker has slowly trended up over the last few seasons (the last pair served mostly in reserve roles last season). Going into the 2017 season, Will Compton, Mason Foster and Zach Brown will be fighting to lock down two starting spots inside. That means (most likely) that we will have a legitimate starting caliber inside linebacker coming off the sideline. Journeyman Chris Carter also provides athletic depth and has shown he can be a factor in the passing game. On the outside, Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith return as starters, although Junior Galette could ultimately have something to say about that (his chances to start almost certainly come down to a competition between himself and Smith as opposed to Kerrigan). Those three options alone—if healthy—make the Redskins strong on the outside, but there is also a very highly regarded rookie from Alabama in the mix. Ryan Anderson did not get drafted in the second round to keep his jersey clean on Sundays. If the aforementioned trio of outside guys enter the season healthy, there will be no rush to force Anderson onto the field, though he could earn situational duties based on the fact he is an animal that knows how to play football. We haven’t even said the name Trent Murphy. Despite his four-game suspension to start the season, he looks to be someone this defense will utilize in 2017, meaning we could be talking about an OLB mix that goes Kerrigan, Smith, Galette, Murphy and Anderson. I can’t recall a stronger corps than this. Can you? (Any Lynden Trail or Nico Marley folks out there? For all the years when we would have otherwise LOVED to have a player like one of these two make the squad, this year doesn’t seem to be that kind of year.)
- In order for the defensive backs and linebackers to have better chances to make an impact, there is dirty work up front that has to be done. On paper, our starting three defensive linemen are all new faces. Jonathan Allen and the Irish Twins (Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain) should be able to at least match last year’s defensive line performance, though if they can’t do better we might be in trouble. From a depth standpoint, the presence of guys like Ziggy Hood and Phil Taylor helps because of their experience. Taylor could really add some great depth if he is able to show he can stay healthy and play nose tackle. He is a very large man with considerable strength, but has to prove he can stay available. Second-year man Matt Ioannidis is the kind of cheap backup you have to have here, and his development at least appears on track. You might say that our depth here is the least flashy, but when it comes to 300-pound dudes that play in the trenches, flashiness is not really the order of the day.
- I hesitate to list cornerback here, but it does kind of neatly close out the defensive discussion, and the truth of the matter is we have considerable depth at the spot. Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland enter the season as the starters, but it is not too difficult to look down the chart and see names that could very well be talented enough to start in this league very soon—including this season. Quinton Dunbar and Kendall Fuller are one of the better pairs of backups we have had, which is good because both will likely see the field this season. Behind them, we see players like Fabian Moreau, Dashaun Phillips and even rookie Josh Holsey. Moreau has the look of a future starter in this league for us, while a guy like Holsey gets nothing but praise from coaches and fans. To me, the duo of Fuller and Moreau looks like one that could be here for a long time. I know a lot of folks are down on Fuller, but this is the first year he is fully healthy after microfracture surgery. Fuller and Moreau dropped in the draft because of injury—both received first round grades from folks prior to their respective drafts. The fact that the Redskins have this kind of talent behind their two starters—locked in for the next few years—is a true comfort.
- On offense, I want to try and pick out a position that stands out to me for depth, but I will open it up for discussion below. Tight end looks like one heck of a strength for the Redskins, assuming everyone will be healthy by week one. Jordan Reed is an elite starter, as we all know. Behind him stands Vernon Davis, Niles Paul, Derek Carrier and Jeremy Sprinkle. I’m not sure we are stronger at any other offensive position. I have always been a fan of what Derek Carrier can do in this offense, but let’s be honest: as long as Jordan is healthy, it doesn’t matter. Vernon Davis adds an amazing veteran presence that Kirk Cousins can lean on when he needs to and the rookie Sprinkle has the size and strength to be an in-line blocker, probably pushing him ahead of Carrier. I will be very interested to see how many tight ends the team carries this season. My gut says that Sprinkle finds a way to stay in town, which means the Skins cut Carrier and keep four tight ends, OR both Paul and Carrier are cut to clear the way for a three-man tight end rotation. I think the new 90-players-until-the-end rule will benefit the Redskins most at this tight end spot, allowing them to really give Sprinkle the longest possible look they can give him before making a decision.
The Redskins roster boasts the kind of depth that has eluded the team for...quite some time.