Every offseason, fans scream about the state of the Redskins offensive line. Maybe it’s because some of the older fans were spoiled by the dominate lines we had during the 80’s and early 90’s. It could be because some of the younger fans have only HEARD about what a really solid offensive line can look like in Washington, and they too want to re-live the glory days of the Hogs.
Whatever the reason, every year, around this time, we have fans who want to spend high draft picks on interior offensive linemen.
This offseason is no different, although there is an uncommon divide of realism versus fantasy when it comes to our team’s draft needs, and how they should be filled.
The realists look at how poorly our defense was against the run last year (32nd ranked), and “realize” that is a priority. The definitive player, position and round are still up for debate, but most realize that at least one pick in the first two rounds has to go somewhere along the front seven, where stopping the run really starts.
The dreamers see a running game that was virtually non-existent, and has been non-existent for the last two seasons. The two most obvious areas to point the finger, are at the head coach and the offensive line. These are the people who believe that high draft picks at every position along the front five will cure all that ails.
Fact is, one position group (the offensive line), has been adequately addressed over past drafts with higher round picks, while the other (defensive line and inside linebackers), has been nearly a forgotten entity.
First let’s define “top picks”. Top picks in the NFL draft are widely considered ones in rounds 1-3. These are where the majority of your top 100 players reside. Historically, draft picks in rounds 1-3 have the the highest NFL success rates, and longer average longevity than those picked after round three. Of course, there are always many exceptions to this rule, but despite these exceptions, the rule actually does hold true.
Since 2010 the Redskins have selected more offensive linemen in the top three rounds than any other position group. Now part of this is because there are five offensive linemen on the field at a time. The only other position groupings that come close to these numbers are defensive linemen in a 4-3 base, defensive backs and wide receivers. The other part is because of the importance of four of those offensive line positions.
NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks did an article a few summers ago ranking each NFL position by importance. He had 25 positional groups from quarterback to return specialist in his rankings, with 1 being the most important position on an NFL roster, and 25 being the least important. Here is how he broke down the importance of each offensive line position.
3) Left Tackle: Keeping the all-important quarterback protected is obviously a top priority. Thus, the second-most crucial offensive position is left tackle, due to the presence of dangerous pass rushers on the QB’s blind side. Premier LTs are capable of snuffing out dynamic rushers without assistance, and decision makers are always on the hunt for nimble pass protectors with great skill.
13) Right Tackle: The notion of right tackles playing primarily as run blockers has changed with more teams relying on the passing game. Pass protectors on the right side must be able to move defenders off the ball while also displaying the agility and lateral quickness to shadow electric edge rushers. Although most teams will, at times, use a running back or tight end to help in protection, the position now requires better athletes and pass blockers.
15) Right Guard: The utilization of “slide” protection requires teams to place a solid pass blocker at right guard. This scheme routinely pushes the center to the left to help the left guard, leaving the right guard to face a talented defensive tackle in a one-on-one matchup. In the run game, right guards must be able to move defensive tackles and cut off linebackers on the second level.
17) Center: Some would argue that the center deserves a higher spot on this list, due to his important role as communicator and leader. The center controls most of the adjustments at the line, alleviating some of the pressure on the quarterback to act as the traffic cop. Although offensive coaches place a greater emphasis on instincts and football aptitude, the players at the position with superior athleticism and agility allow creative play designers to utilize crafty schemes at the point of attack.
20) Left Guard: Every position along the offensive line has a significant impact on the production of the offense, but many coaches will stash their most vulnerable front-line blocker at left guard. The position requires a blocker to possess the strength and power to move defenders off the ball on running plays, but coaches can mask a player’s deficiencies at the point of attack by instructing the center to double-team or chip before climbing to the second level. The same tactics can be employed in pass protection, depending on the athleticism and agility of the left guard.
Now, you may or may not agree with Brooks’ list (I personally feel center and right tackle should be a bit higher), but like it or not, it is a pretty good measuring stick for how teams place importance on certain positions.
So, how does the Redskins offensive line stack up?
Well, we can say the team has certainly used some higher picks to address the offensive line in the past eight years (some have panned out, some haven’t):
Trent Williams (Round 1, pick #4) - One of the best left tackles in the NFL
Josh LeRibeus (Round 3, pick #71) - Back-up guard for the Saints
Morgan Moses (Round 3, pick #66) - Top 10 right tackle in the NFL
Spencer Long (Round 3, pick #78) - Signed a free agent deal worth $7 million/year with Jets
Brandon Scherff (Round 1, pick #5) - Top 5 guard in NFL
Out of these five higher drafted offensive linemen from 2010 to 2015, we have three players who are considered at least top 10 at their respective positions. Two of these guys are considered top 5 talents at their positions in the entire NFL. These three positions where we have top 10 players are also rated the highest on Brooks’ list of importance.
Finding later round gems
Drafting well is the key to success in the league. Hitting on your top picks is some of what separates good teams from bad. The Redskins have had both some great hits, and very bad misses in the draft since 2010 with picks in the top three rounds. We do seem to have the most luck with offensive linemen however, as Williams, Scherff and Moses have all turned out to be huge successes. We have not been as lucky at quarterback (Robert Griffin), wide receiver (Leonard Hankerson, Josh Doctson), and running back (Matt Jones).
Finding later round gems is what also helps set teams apart. Historically, the Redskins have not been very good in this area, but lately, the tides seem to be changing. Since 2012, the team has plucked the following starters and significant contributors after round three:
Kirk Cousins (4th) - no longer with team
Keenan Robinson (4th) - no longer with team
Alfred Morris (6th) - no longer with team
Chris Thompson (5th)
Bashaud Breeland (4th) - no longer with team
Ryan Grant (5th) - no longer with team
Jamison Crowder (4th)
Matt Ioannidis (5th)
Samaje Perine (4th)
Montae Nicholson (4th)
Chase Roullier (6th)
In 2017, the Redskins selected center/guard Chase Roullier out of Wyoming in the 6th round. Not only did Roullier make the team, but he played in 13 games, starting seven after Spencer Long went down with an injury. His play also made free Long, who was a free agent, expendable this offseason. It is this type of late round gem at a position of need that teams covet.
Developing your own talent
For as important as drafting well is, developing that talent is even more vital to a team’s success. Morgan Moses was a prime example of a player who was drafted, but was not ready out of the gate. Moses, who many projected in the first round, entered the league with some bad habits that needed to be broken, and he was just not ready to start as a rookie. Kudos to the Redskins for having patience in his development, as he has now grown into one of the better right tackles in the NFL.
Brandon Scherff didn’t need a lot of development, as he was already technically sound, and strong as an ox. He did need to learn to play up to the speed of the NFL, which is not unusual at all for a rookie, but five games in to his rookie season, you could see him become more comfortable with things. He’s now just entering his prime, and should remain there for the next 5-6 years.
For Roullier, development is key, and this offseason, with him entering 2018 as the projected starter at center, he’ll get a ton of valuable first-team reps (something he saw very little of last offseason). The staff expects him to make a significant jump in production and comfort with line calls in year two.
Other developmental offensive linemen who can make an impact on the 2018 Redskins include:
Tyler Catalina (age 25)
T.J. Clmmings (age 26)
Kyle Kalis (age 24)
John Kling (age 24)
Arie Kouandjio (age 25)
Filling the void at left guard
Currently the Redskins are set at left tackle, right tackle, right guard and center. We have already discussed how and why left guard is viewed to be the least important of all the offensive line positions. This however does not mean the position should be overlooked. It may however mean that we do not have to use a lot of resources to find a valuable player at the position.
T.J. Clemmings - The former 4th round pick out of the University of Pittsburgh has the size, strength and athleticism to become a solid left guard. He has long arms which helps him to play in space, and he was a former defensive linemen so he understands the concept of leverage and being able to sink the hips and explode up and into his opponent. I don’t think Clemmings has the necessary tools to become an offensive tackle in the NFL, but at 6’5” 309 pounds, the potential to step in at guard and become a major contributor is very possible.
Ty Nsekhe - Nsekhe doesn’t have the build of a typical offensive guard, but he’s tough, powerful and experienced. If getting the teams best five linemen on the field together is the goal of the staff, than Ty may find himself planted between Williams and Roullier. He did a decent job when he filled in at guard last season.
Orlando Franklin - Franklin has bounced around a bit after being selected by the Broncos in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft. Between 2011-2016 he started 89 of the 90 games he played in both at right tackle and left guard for the Broncos and Chargers respectively. He signed a reserve/futures contract with the Redskins this offseason after appearing in one game with the team in 2017.
Arie Kouandjio - Kouandjio has slow feet and limited athleticism, but that is ok for a left guard in a power scheme. He’s had time to prove himself, and up to this point, it hasn’t really clicked yet, but he’s still just 25, and he can be a project worth developing.
Kyle Kalis - Kalis looked good in the 2017 preseason as an undrafted rookie out of Michigan. He failed to make the 53-man roster out of camp and was signed to the practice squad. In early October, the Colts signed him to their active roster, but he was waived/injured in early December after starting two games. The Redskins claimed him off waivers two days later.
Kalis has the ability to win the left guard spot this preseason with a solid camp. He’s a fundamentally sound linemen who plays with good leverage and hands. He’s not the most agile of linemen, but he’s shown the ability to come off combo blocks and climb to the second level.
If the Redskins decide to look to the draft to fill the void at left guard, there are some very solid options who could be available after the third round.
Possible later-round draft picks (after round 3):
Frank Ragnow C/G Arkansas
Will Clapp C/G LSU
Wyatt Teller G Va. Tech
Sean Welsh C/G Iowa
Colby Gossett G Appalachin St.
Taylor Hearn G Clemson
How should the Redskins fill their vacancy at left guard?
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Player already on the roster
High pick (first two rounds) of the 2018 NFL Draft
Current free agent (specify in comment section)
Lower draft pick (after round 3)
If the Redskins opt to fill the left guard position internally, who would be the best option?
This poll is closed