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A review of Defensive UDFAs in Redskins Training Camp

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Preparing for the Mason-Brennan Offseason Hype Award: A summary of 5 undrafted defensive free agents that will be going to Richmond for Redskins training camp

During the month of May, profiles for all the undrafted free agents signed by the Redskins were posted on Hogs Haven. To read any of these detailed profiles for the five players highlighted in this article, simply click on the player’s name at the top of each player summary below.

Over the past couple of days, we looked at OFFENSIVE UDFA players who will be in Training Camp with the Redskins. This article is designed to highlight the DEFENSIVE UDFA players that are currently on the roster:

  • Quin Blanding - S, UVa
  • Danny Johnson - CB/KR, Southern University
  • Jerod Fernandez - LB, NC State
  • Ranthony Texada - CB, TCU
  • Vontae Diggs - LB, UConn

These five UDFA defensive players will go to training camp with the Redskins to compete for spots on the regular season roster. While the odds are generally stacked against UDFAs, I believe that two or three of these players have very real opportunities to break into the 53-man roster and could make it by the end of the preseason. It’s very possible that as many as four of them could end up with regular season contracts when the ten Practice Squad slots are taken into account.

For each of the UDFAs that were profiled on Hogs Haven in May, two poll questions were put forward:

  1. As UDFAs go, rate this player: A, B, C, D or F
  2. How good are the chances that this player is on the Redskins roster in 2018?

— Pretty strong

— Above average

— 50/50

— Unlikely

The results of each poll are printed below each player’s short profile below to give you an idea how each player is seen by the Hogs Haven readers.

Quin Blanding - S, UVa

Quin Blanding was a four year starter for Virginia. As far as I can tell, he never missed a game. In his last three seasons, he made first team All-ACC and was an All-American.

Blanding is an excellent tackler. He made 495 tackles over his four year career which is the record for the University of Virginia. Blanding played on 98% of the defensive snaps over his career. Those are both incredible numbers.

Blanding takes very good angles in run pursuit. He fights through traffic well. His instincts are good allowing him to make up for not having great speed. For instance, Blanding tracked down and caught Lamar Jackson twice when the Cavaliers faced Louisville.

Size

Blanding is a fairly big safety at 6’2” and 207 pounds. He is a momentum stopper vs the run and brings many runners to a dead stop with his strong leg anchor. I watched eight games of Blanding and I only saw him miss one tackle.

Smarts

Blanding has a very high football IQ. He was the quarterback of the defensive backfield. He would look over the offensive set quickly and get everyone aligned properly.

Blanding played mostly in zone coverage with Virginia. He sees and tracks the ball well in the air. He is a very alert player and snatched quite a few interceptions off of tipped balls with quick hands and reaction time, however, he only averaged four passes broken up over his college career.

Limitations

The burning question is, why was Blanding — with such amazing four year stats — not drafted?

The answer really comes down to supply and demand.

Blanding lacks the true range of an NFL free safety. Although he often played the deep safety role, he was rarely a single high safety at Virginia.

Quin Blanding also doesn’t have the desired burst that NFL teams covet in players responsible for the last line of defense. His combine measurements included 10’2” broad jump and 31.5” vertical jump.

He didn’t give up any long touchdowns in the games that I watched, but he usually played well off the receivers when in deep coverage, and Quin used his instincts and ability to read the quarterback in order to make up for his lack of top speed (4.63 40 yard dash).

Some NFL quarterbacks with rocket arms will be able to take advantage of Blanding with well placed passes as he simply isnt an elite athlete.

How would he fit with the Redskins?

Blanding will most likely be limited to playing strong safety in the NFL, and strong safeties with his size and speed are very common.

Free safeties with Blandings size are not so common, and that is the primary reason that the Redskins chose the much less successful college safety, Troy Apke, in the fourth round, passing over Blanding until after the draft.

Virginia’s coaching staff even used Blanding closer to the line of scrimmage more as a senior. The Virginia Tech game is a great example of this as Blanding played just off the edge or in the slot for almost the entire game.

In my pre-draft rankings, I had Blanding at 18th amongst the safeties. I projected him to be drafted in the 5th or 6th round. If there wasn’t such a deep safety class this year, that is probably about where Blanding would have gone.

I really like Blanding as an UDFA. He shows toughness and leadership qualities and a true feel for the game of football. With time and repetitions, he may even become an NFL starter someday. I think he has a decent shot at making the Redskins 53-man roster and is almost a lock to earn a practice squad spot.

Redskin Safeties

Returning from 2017 roster

  • D.J. Swearinger
  • Montae Nicholson
  • Deshazor Everett
  • Fish Smithson

Veteran free agent

  • Kenny Ladler (Vanderbilt; played for Bills in ‘14; spent ‘16 & ‘17 playing in CFL; could play LB)

Draft pick

  • Troy Apke
  • Adonis Alexander (some have suggested he could move from CB to S)

UDFAs

  • Quin Blanding

CORNERBACKS

Players returning from the 2017 roster

  • Josh Norman
  • Fabian Moreau
  • Quinton Dunbar
  • Joshua Holsey

Veteran free agent acquired this off season

  • Orlando Scandrick

Draft pick

  • Greg Stroman

UDFAs

Ranthony Texada - CB, TCU

The more I read and hear about Ranthony Texada, the more I wonder if he might be the unexpected gem in the 2018 group of UDFAs that the Redskins have signed.

One article on Texada says that he has played against seven of the top 26 receivers available this year’s NFL draft, including SMU’s Courtland Sutton, Oklahoma State’s James Washington and Iowa State’s Allen Lazard.

”I have good film against all of those guys,” said Texada, who finished his TCU career with 30 passes defended and three interceptions. “That’s why it’s hard for me to see guys ranked higher than me. I see guys that aren’t even as big as me ranked ahead of me. I feel like my film speaks for itself. I just need that one opportunity.”

Texada, at 5-foot-10 and about 13 pounds heavier than he was at the end of the 2017 season at 183 pounds, is hoping NFL scouts put more stock in what they saw him do on the field. Texada’s size may be in question, but there are plenty of defensive backs in the NFL with similar builds.

A 4-year player at cornerback for the Horned Frogs, Ranthony Texada was the only freshman starter on TCU’s 12-1 team in 2014, and was named to Scout’s Freshman All-American team.

By the time he was a senior, Texada had proven himself to be a valuable member of TCU’s squad. He earned All-America honors from Phil Steele and SB Nation, and was voted first-team All-Big 12 by the head coaches and Associated Press. As a senior, he started all 14 games, and his 42 career starts were the most among active Horned Frogs on the 2017 team. Texada ranked fifth in the Big 12 with 1.1 passes defended per game and led TCU with 14 pass breakups.

More than meets the eye

When I started looking at cutups of Ranthony Texada, I thought I was going to see another possible slot CB due to his small size (5’10”, 183 pounds). While Texada may vie for a spot as the #1 or #2 slot CB, he is more than that.

Texada shows the ability to play off man coverage and zone coverage both very well. He has a very quick burst to break on a route in man coverage.

He also shows a great ability to read routes & the QB in zone coverage and even came up to play bump and run.

Smart, with speed down the field

Texada has good speed as ESPN listed him at 4.43 in the 40 yard dash. Texada showed his speed well running with receivers down the field and a nice spin to convert from outside coverage to stay with a receiver on a post. Texada plays smart in coverage, often helping out teammates when he reads certain route combinations.

Winning matchups

My favorite cutup of Texada was Baker Mayfield vs TCU. Texada locked down whichever side of the field he was on for the entire game. He helped teammates and himself with his quick hands to break up passes.

That was something Kendall Fuller did very well for the Redskins in 2017. Texada played only outside Cornerback in the games I watched and not in the slot but I think he would do fine in that role too.

How would he fit with the Redskins?

The Redskins have three cornerbacks who are locks to make the team in Josh Norman, Fabian Moreau and Quinton Dunbar. Josh Holsey is also a favorite to make the team after being on the roster for the entire 2017 season.

The Redskins also signed Orlando Scandrick in free agency and if they keep a sixth Cornerback, it will probably be a player who excels on special teams like Greg Stroman does as a returner.

Texada could break through only if he unseats Scandrick or Holsey as the slot Cornerback. Texada only returned three kickoffs at TCU and no punts so he isn’t a favorite to be a return specialist with the Redskins.

Texada will be in the mix as a possible surprise on the 53 man roster. It is much more likely that Texada is on the practice squad. With his ability to play multiple different coverages, I don’t think the Redskins will let Texada go.

Danny Johnson - CB/KR, Southern University

Walter Football: Johnson isn’t just a fast sprinter as he led the FCS in interceptions in 2016 with seven despite missing three games. That worked out as him recording an interception in every game he played in except for one. Scouts have favorably compared Johnson to other small-school cornerbacks like the FalconsRobert Alford and the JetsBuster Skrine. They think that Johnson is a tough defender and built to be a nickelback, and will have to compete as a slot corner to make an NFL roster.

Lance Zeurlein: The self-titled “Louisiana Pimp Dog” is a four-year starter and boundary cornerback whose ball skills and instincts helped him thrive against less talented opponents. Johnson is a tough evaluation because his ball skills are so tempting, but he lacks classic click-and-close man cover traits and he may not be a clean fit as a slot cornerback. Johnson does fit off-man or zone heavy defenses, but he’ll need to become a much more willing participant in run support if he wants to find playing time.

Hogs Haven:

Danny Johnson reminds me some of a smaller Josh Jackson type of Cornerback. He has great ball skills and plays the ball like a wide receiver when it is in the air (Click here for video - jump to 00:50). He was a four year starter at Southern University.

Johnson’s playmaking skills are also excellent when he gets the ball in his hands. He looks great on punt returns and averaged 17 yards per return in 2017. Johnson returned kickoffs for all four years.

How does he fit with the Redskins?

Johnson is a small CB but he has a very thick and muscular frame. I think he will compete for the slot CB role and as a punt/kick returner.

Johnson has an outside shot of making the team if he can play well on special teams. He has a much better chance of being offered a spot on the 10 player practice squad.


LINEBACKERS

Jerod Fernandez - LB, NC State

Four year starter

Just like Quin Blanding, Jerod Fernandez started for four years in college. He led the team in tackles as a senior and finished second in tackles two of the other three seasons at North Carolina State. Fernandez is a durable player who didn’t miss games to injuries.

Fernandez doesn’t have a very fast listed time (4.73-4.85 in the 40 yard dash) but he looks very fast on film. He buzzes out to the flats quickly to stop screens and outside runs.

Fernandez takes good pursuit angles and diagnoses plays quickly, which is probably why he looks faster on film than his timed speed.

He has good instincts and is able to usually set himself up in position to make the tackle before blockers can cut him off. He struggles, though, when offensive linemen are able to get to him between the tackles as he is very small for an inside linebacker (6’0”, 227 pounds). When able to avoid blocks, Fernandez is a very good tackler.

Caveat emptor

It is important to note that Fernandez played with a very good defensive line in front of him; Chubb was the fifth pick in the draft and Hill, Jones and Street were all drafted also. Fernandez also rotated every other series in some of the six games that I watched.

How would he fit with the Redskins?

When NC State played Marshall, they went with a defense similar to the Redskins 4-2 nickel for most of the game. Marshall played multiple wide receivers to spread out the defense.

Fernandez rotated series with Germaine Pratt through the game at what would be the Jack LB in the Redskins system, and he looked very comfortable in that role.

Jerod Fernandez is a good pass defender, but wasn’t used in single coverage down the field much. He could provide competition for the dime linebacker role with the Redskins. Josh Harvey Clemons wasn’t used much on defense for the Redskins in that role in 2017, but he is bigger and faster than Fernandez and played safety during his college career.

Personally, I don’t think Fernandez has much of a chance of making the Redskins 53 man roster. He has a decent shot at making the practice squad though.

To earn a spot on the 10-man PS unit, Fernandez will need to show that he can handle NFL offensive linemen during the preseason for the Redskins .

A season of learning, and an offseason in the strength and conditioning program, could help Fernandez adapt to the much bigger and faster NFL.

Vontae Diggs - LB, UConn

To me, Vontae Diggs feels a little bit like the 2018 version of Nico Marley — an undersized overachieving linebacker with some intriguing personal history trying to beat the odds and make it in the NFL.

The Hartford Courant, in June 2016:

After his freshman year of high school, it became clear the living situation with one family wouldn’t work long-term and Diggs spent most of his free time at the home of friends Tony and Andrew Zea, twin brothers. One night, their father, John Zea, wondered aloud where Diggs was. Sleeping in a park, the twins thought, and John Zea said, “Go get him.”

Stability was about to enter Diggs’ life.

”His mom was working a lot, bad hours, and wasn’t really available to help all the time,” John Zea said. “I was going to give him a place stay for a night, a week. The idea was just to make sure he had a meal to eat every night and a place to stay. A day, a week, months, years later, he stayed with us. And as he stayed with us, he had the understanding that things were going to have to change with him. Early in high school, Vontae was not easy to control. He was a tough guy and I’m pretty sure he didn’t want to listen to any authority whatsoever. We had to make it clear that, if you want to stay with us, that’s going to have to change.”

John Zea and Nancy Zea offered attention, shelter and discipline Diggs had never encountered on a regular basis. As he worked to appreciate and fit into a healthy family structure, he began to change — slowly, for sure, but consistently. Diggs remained edgy, but he also softened and other personality traits surfaced. He became a popular student. He volunteered with special needs children. When the youngest of the three Zea children, Alex, was having trouble with math, Diggs would spend hours at the kitchen table explaining the equations.

When he’s back home in Downers Grove, Diggs volunteers in the high school weight room. He chats with teachers and administrators. He visits the homes of numerous families who have helped him. His best friends remain Andrew and Tony Zea, juniors-to-be at the University of Illinois, where Andrew studies engineering and Tony is in the business school and on the track team.

Diggs, like any 20-year-old, continues to work toward bettering himself. Even this past semester was a fight to the end in trying to maintain a strong academic standing. He said Diaco sat him out of a few spring practices for academic and disciplinary reasons. Still, halfway through his college experience, he is increasingly at peace with who he is, where he’s been and where he’s headed.

Hogs Haven, May 2018:

Vontae Diggs is another undersized ILB signed by the Redskins as an UDFA, but he has some room on his 6’3” frame to add some muscle. Diggs played OLB as a junior and primarily ILB as a senior.

Diggs makes plays but he also misses tackles. He has good athletic ability and looks faster than his timed speed. He is athletic enough to cover downfield but didn’t show much in terms of ball skills.

How would he fit with the Redskins?

The Redskins have draft pick Shaun Dion Hamilton and UDFA Jerod Fernandez on the roster at ILB and I think they both are much more advanced than Diggs. Diggs could possibly develop some if he spent a year on the practice squad and an offseason with the Redskins’ strength and conditioning program.

I don’t think Diggs gets the chance this year. His inconsistent technique will probably keep him from even making the practice squad. Diggs has potential but with his small size and problems with tackling, he has a long way to go.

John Zea:

I’m damn proud of the kid, where he’s gotten to, considering what he’s had to deal with. I’ve told him many times, the chips have always been stacked against you and you’re not supposed to succeed. Let’s prove ‘em wrong.


Today’s Polls

Poll

Which of these 5 UDFA defensive players has the best chance of making the 53-man roster?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Quinn Blanding, S
    (276 votes)
  • 24%
    Ranthony Texada, CB
    (102 votes)
  • 7%
    Danny Johnson, CB
    (31 votes)
  • 0%
    Jerod Fernandez, LB
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Vontae Diggs, LB
    (7 votes)
419 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How many of these five defensive UDFAs will make the Redskins 53-man roster?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    0
    (69 votes)
  • 48%
    1
    (184 votes)
  • 29%
    2
    (111 votes)
  • 4%
    3
    (18 votes)
382 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How many of these five defensive UDFAs will be put onto the Redskins Practice Squad?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    0
    (2 votes)
  • 12%
    1
    (48 votes)
  • 51%
    2
    (195 votes)
  • 32%
    3
    (122 votes)
  • 3%
    4
    (13 votes)
380 votes total Vote Now