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Redskins 53-Man Roster projection: Defense and Special Teams

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Who makes the cut on defense?

NFL: Washington Redskins-Training Camp Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Redskins 53-Man Roster projection: Who Makes the Cut on Defense?

After updating the 24 players I saw making the Redskins roster on offense, it’s time to shift the focus to defense. At the end I will also give you a special treat; special teams! I’ll just say this-it’s a suspenseful battle for three players that have zero competition at their respective positions. I won’t give anything else away. I hope you’ll read about the defense without being pulled to the bottom of the page for the big specials unveil. Now, to detail my projections/thoughts about a young, and hopefully improved defense:

DL (6): Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier II, Tim Settle, Ziggy Hood

*This assumes Stacy McGee starts out the season on PUP*

OK, so this might be a position group that REALLY steps up this year. With plenty of youth and talent up front, the Redskins’ defensive line looked great in 2017 before Matt Ioannidis and Jonathan Allen went down. This offseason, an already talented (when healthy) front gained both mass and talent in Da’Ron Payne and Tim Settle.

While Payne has looked good already and is a mountain of a man, his injury has some worried. I’m not worried, as I think he is mentally and physically prepared for the NFL as it is, and his injury allows Tim Settle to get valuable reps. Settle was a bit of a freelancer in college, one of the reasons he dropped to the fifth round, so these reps with Jim Tomsula are huge. It might just be possible that the short-term injury to Payne actually helps the Redskins.

Anthony Lanier continues to develop and looks to add to the 6 sack back-half of the year he had in 2017. Coaches love him. Hood is the elder statesman here and is a leader on the defense as a whole. The future is in good shape with Jonathan Allen as an emerging leader, but it’s going to be tough to let go of Hood. It’s going to have to happen in the near future.

Last cut: Phil Taylor

Phil Taylor is a fan favorite and the amount of people telling me he’s a lock to make the team as the THIRD nose tackle is absolutely baffling. Many teams only carry ONE nose…three ain’t happenin’. I hope Big Phil can play well in preseason as an audition for another team, but barring injury, he will not be a Redskin.

OLB (5): Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Pernell McPhee, Ryan Anderson, Pete Robertson

First off, I said Pete Robertson was going to make the team in the first ten minutes of team work on the first day of camp. He looked great. Also I’m smart. Coaches love Robertson and have brought him up unsolicited in media sessions. Jay Gruden dropped a hint in yesterday’s presser stating that the team had to have ‘at least four but hopefully five OLBs’ to be effective. So Pete’s comin’ back, wearin’ the four-five in 2018. Write that down.

Kerrigan looks quicker than in years past and (yes, offseason trope police sirens are sounding) he says he’s healthier than ever and has improved his flexibility. We will see on that.

Preston Smith is in a contract year. If he doesn’t finally produce consistently this year then he never will. Ryan Anderson was a zero last season and began this training camp in the same vein, though I guess he was taking up less physical space with the weight he lost. He reportedly had a couple better days after returning from back spasms, so maybe he will surprise.

I liked Pernell McPhee a lot in camp. Gruden called him a ‘nuisance rusher,’ and that’s exactly what he is; he’s strong and relentless on the edge. At the very least he will be strong against the run and good for a few motor-sacks this season.

Last cut: None

None of the other OLBs are making this team.

ILB (5): Mason Foster, Zach Brown, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Zach Vigil

This one’s going to be close. I think the final roster spot’s going to come down to ILB, OLB, and S. I think that Josh-Harvey Clemons and Shaun Dion Hamilton have enough safety-like qualities in them that Gruden will feel comfortable keeping only 4 safeties. In addition, Anthony ‘Fish’ Smithson (bet you didn’t know his first name) isn’t going to be a huge commodity on the open market and they could scoop him up down the road if needed. ‘PAYNTER THIS ISN’T THE SAFETY SECTION. FOCUS!’ Oh. Yeah. Sorry.

The inside linebacker position is an interesting one. The Redskins waited to re-sign Zach Brown for a reason. They LOVE Josh Harvey-Clemons. In fact, though he has been viewed as a $LB, Gruden said they want to use him in base as well.

Brown’s contract is basically a year-to-year deal, so if he doesn’t improve in coverage in 2018, he likely won’t be back with the team in 2019. Speaking of Brown, he is great against the run, blitzing, and spying mobile QBs. I’d like to see him used in this role more often rather than have him covering backs and TEs where he was continually out of position last year.

Mason Foster is a stud. He’s smart, instinctive, plays through pain, and is the communicator of the defense. His re-signing was massively underrated.

Shaun Dion Hamilton is very fast and instinctive for a LB, but he has to get stronger. He looks tiny next to the other ILBs out there but he made some impressive run-and-chase plays from the weak-side in camp.

Vigil is Foster’s backup just as he was last year (which no one seems to remember). Vigil is a more athletic version of Will Compton. He’s a lock in my eyes to make this roster. In fact, I think all five of these guys are locks.

Last cut: Martrell Spaight

I am a Spaight fan. I liked him when he was drafted out of Arkansas. He has unfortunately had a career riddled with injuries and has never rounded into form in the coverage category. He’s too often out of position in the passing game, and no matter how hard he hits or how good he is filling downhill, backup linebackers don’t make teams for hitting people hard. The only chance he has at this roster is if he shows he too valuable on special teams to let go. Good luck to him.

CB (6): Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Orlando Scandrick, Greg Stroman, Adonis Alexander

*This assumes Joshua Holsey starts out the season on PUP*

Cornerback is another exciting group going into the 2018 season. Viewed as a position of weakness heading into the season, the young talent showed well in training camp. It also helps tremendously to have a coach like Torrian Gray who is such a great technical teacher. He might be the most important coach on the staff in 2018.

Josh Norman looks great and will remain one of the better CBs in the league. Quinton Dunbar has grown in leaps and bounds from years past. He’s embraced his role as a vet and is now giving some of the young guys pointers. His communication is great, he is keeping his hands off receivers, and his feet are staying within his frame beautifully. With his length, Dunbar could emerge as a legitimate elite corner if he can keep his footwork tight and doesn’t rely on getting handsy like he has in the past.

Orlando Scandrick has been starting on the outside with Norman in base and shifting inside in nickel. He is a smart player who gets his guys in the right position. Though I think Dunbar starts on the outside in base in week 1, Scandrick will prove important to this defense because of his communication.

Moreau looked great when Scandrick got a day off. I think he might be a year (or injury) away from being featured, but he has a bright future and is a special teams ace.

Stroman makes this team only because Holsey will start the year on PUP (if he isn’t released with an injury settlement). Stroman has not been returning punts and has drawn the ire of coaches (and offensive teammates) throughout camp for holding. He isn’t ready. Danny Johnson is nipping at his heels and I believe Stroman sticks because of his connection to Torrain Gray.

Adonis Alexander also isn’t ready and holds on almost every play, but man, he has all the physical tools-he looks like a TE playing CB. You don’t use a Supplemental Draft pick on a player and then cut him. He’s a lock.

Last cut: Danny Johnson

Danny Johnson looks GREAT in the slot. He caught my eye on day 1 playing with the second team. He sticks with receivers seamlessly and really has an effortless fluidity about him. He was likely undrafted because of his lack of height (he’s only 5’9”), but he has long arms for his height to go along with sprinter speed and impressive quicks. Don’t be surprised if he’s on my final roster projection.

S (4): DJ Swearinger, Montae Nicholson, Deshazor Everett, Troy Apke

Viewed as a strength of the defense, the Redskins’ safety position is one that scares me. Swearinger and Nicholson are both decent in the deep middle of the field and their physicality is impressive, but they are NOT good man-to-man safeties. In today’s NFL you’d like more versatility there. I think JHC and Shaun Dion Hamilton might be able to cover up some of those mismatches, but if JHC isn’t in base, I’m not comfortable with DJ or Montae covering TEs.

However, Montae showed off impressive range last year and could emerge as a legit starting FS in 2018. DJ’s communication and leadership is incredibly important as well.

Everett and Apke, self-named ‘Wonder Bread and Nutella,’ looked OK with the second team, but Troy Apke isn’t ready for the spotlight. He got fried in camp on multiple occasions, though he still somehow caught back up to the ball. His recovery speed is real and his athletic ability is impressive, so hopefully Torrian Gray can turn him into a solid player down the road. Everett is special teams captain and is a dependable backup safety that can come in and play both strong and free.

Last cut: Anthony ‘Fish’ Smithson

Smithson is good on special teams and didn’t show terrible in spot-play last year, but he just doesn’t have any defining qualities beyond his name that would warrant a roster spot.

That’s it for the defense; feel free to reach out on Twitter (@Kennedy_Paynter). Thanks for reading!

HAH! You thought I forgot! The cliffhanger ends here…

Special Teams (3): LS Nick Sunderberg, K Dustin Hopkins, P Tress Way

Nick Sunderberg is the longest-tenured Redskin. Dustin Hopkins kicks footballs hard and sometimes well. Tress Way throws a mean spiral. That is all.