There’s a general ‘doom & gloom’ feeling about the Redskins at the moment; I don’t think I need to write out the laundry list of reasons.
But casting an eye over the Redskins roster shows that there is plenty of talent on the roster, and much of it is young, developing talent — especially on the defensive side of the ball, where the Redskins have focused in the draft in recent off-seasons. The Redskins will have the chance to add to that young talent pool in the draft in late April, with a likely 8 picks available to them after the announcement of compensatory pick allotment on 22 February.
Today, though, I wanted to cast an eye at the existing roster, and take a moment to appreciate many of the young players — primarily guys under the age of 27 and on their rookie contracts — who will be starting, or at least playing a significant role in the future of the Redskins over the next few years.
Seemingly the most popular Redskin to have never played in a regular season game is Derrius Guice, and he offers fans a tantalizing promise of explosion in the offense in 2019, but there are a number of other players on the team that are young — mostly in their rookie contracts — and offer promise for the future.
Let’s have a look at some of those players.
Defensive Line - Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Matt Ioaniddis, Tim Settle
The Redskins drafted these 4 young defensive linemen over three drafts (‘16, ‘17, ‘18) investing a pair of first round picks and a pair of 5th rounders. Ioannidis has probably exceeded expectations and draft status, while Allen and Payne have played extremely well in the short time they’ve been in the NFL.
Tim Settle spent the 2018 season developing — getting stronger and improving his technique — and was looking dangerous when he got on the field late in the season.
It’s easy to dismiss Redskins players as not being elite because it has been so long since the team has played and won two games in the postseason, but let’s not confuse lack of team success with lack of individual or unit talent.
There is every reason to believe that these four players, each of whom should be better in 2019 than they were in 2018, will be one of the elite DL units in the NFL this season. No, I don’t think that’s hyperbole. Payne and Allen both won national championships at Alabama and were drafted in the top of the first round — they have the pedigree to back up the high expectations. Ioannidis has played at a very high level for three consecutive seasons, and Settle should benefit from a full off-season of NFL training.
This unit is good and getting better. Recent reports indicate that Jim Tomsula may stick around and continue to coach them. In many ways, this might be considered the heart of the Redskins team going forward.
Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Josh Harvey-Clemons
No one is blind to the problems that Reuben Foster has dragged around with him in his short NFL career, and it may yet prove to have been a colossal mistake for the Redskins to have claimed him off of waivers, but Foster was a very talented college player who has tons of potential. Playing at Alabama, he was part of a 3-time SEC championship team that also won a national championship. He was the Butkus Award winner and named first team All-SEC in 2016.
Despite a number of off-field issues and character concerns, Foster was taken 31st overall in the 2017 NFL draft. He finished his rookie season with 72 combined tackles (59 solo) and a pass deflection in ten games and ten starts. Pro Football Focus gave Foster an overall grade of 90.7 for 2017. His overall grade ranked first among all rookie linebackers and fourth amongst all linebackers.
If he can get on the field for the Redskins and keep his nose clean enough to stay there, he could prove to be a huge upgrade at a position that has been a bit spotty since London Fletcher’s last good season in 2012.
Shaun Dion Hamilton was drafted by the Redskins in the 6th round of last year’s draft — one of many Alabama players (and national champions) on the Redskins roster. His late round draft position was largely driven by his injury issues.
The thing about Hamilton is that he didn’t miss many games in college. He just missed them at unfortunate times. He started playing regularly in 2015, his sophomore season, and played in the Tide’s title-winning game against Clemson to end that year. He appeared in 10 games, then in 12 as a junior, the last of those being the SEC title match.
“No doubt,” he told SB Nation at the combine. “I hate to say it, but I mean, it’s reality. For teams, my medical history, I’m sure it’s gonna affect me probably sliding a little bit in the draft. But I mean, hey, whoever takes a chance on me, they’re gonna get a hell of a football player.”
Part of the trouble is that both of his injuries have been around his right knee. A torn ACL and a broken patella less than a year apart is a lot to get over.
At the combine, Hamilton said he was about 55 percent healthy.
Of course, Foster and Hamilton played together at Alabama.
NFL.com wrote about the two of them playing together in Hamilton’s draft profile last year:
Hamilton combined with Reuben Foster to form one of the best inside linebacker duos in the country in 2016, at least until he tore his right ACL in the SEC Championship Game. In the first 13 games of the year, Hamilton had 64 stops, nine for loss, two sacks, and two interceptions; he was a downhill player and showed the coverage ability NFL teams need today. Hamilton started the first nine games of his senior season before another injury (fractured right kneecap) sidelined him for the rest of the Tide’s playoff run (40 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks).
Zach Brown and Mason Foster have played reasonably well for the Redskins over the past two seasons, and were certainly upgrades from Will Compton, Perry Riley and Keenan Robinson.
In 2018, the Redskins substituted Josh Harvey-Clemons for Zach Brown in apparent passing situations. With his linebacker/safety skills and size, JHC proved to be a valuable contributor to the Redskins linebacking corps this past season.
The opportunity to take a step up in terms of athleticism and overall speed and explosion in 2019 is exciting. There’s no guarantee that Reuben Foster will play for the Redskins, but it seems increasingly likely. We haven’t seen enough of SDH to feel absolutely confident that he will perform in the NFL like he did in college. JHC was a 7th round pick who is still developing his game, but the three young players offer a lot of promise for the middle of the Redskins defense, and these 2nd level defenders should represent a step up in the athleticism of the Redskins defense going forward.
Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Greg Stroman, Adonis Alexander
Quinton Dunbar was one of the truly wonderful surprises and successful development stories that the Redskins have been able to produce in recent years.
Undrafted in 2015, and a wide receiver in college trying to make a team that featured Pierre Garcon, Desean Jackson and Jamison Crowder, Dunbar was an unlikely player to emerge from the crowd. His opportunity was almost accidental. With a bunch of injuries biting into the depth of the DBs in training camp, Dunbar was asked to fill in on defense for some plays. He caught the eye of the coaches, and in short order, was offered the opportunity to change position, which he did, making the final roster. When he was a Resricted Free Agent, the Redskins went ahead and gave him a multi-year extension, something the franchise is often slow to do.
By 2018, Dunbar was a starting cornerback for the Redskins, and seemed at times to be outplaying his more famous running mate, Josh Norman.
A mysterious nerve condition in his leg wrecked Dunbar’s 2018 season, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll be back healthy in 2019, though Jay Gruden has expressed confidence in Dunbar’s recovery. When healthy, he is a very good boundary cornerback.
Moreau, Stroman and Alexander are three Redskins players that represent 3 good opportunities to get some return out of the team’s draft picks. Moreau was drafted in the 3rd round of the ‘17 draft after getting injured at the Comibine. Alexander was selected in the supplemental draft less than 6 months ago, using a 2019 6th round draft pick. Stroman was drafted in the 7th round of the 2018 draft.
None of these three players has yet shown consistent performance on the field, but they each hold promise. It seems likely that one or two of them will emerge as reliable players in the coming season.
With Josh Norman still capable of taking care of one side of the field, the four young players — Dunbar, Moreau, Stroman and Alexander — one undrafted, and the others taken using picks from the ‘17, ‘18, and ‘19 drafts, offer the opportunity for the Redskins to put a young and talented group of cornerbacks on the field this year and beyond.
Brandon Scherff, Chase Roullier
The offensive side of the ball has fewer young players, as the Redskins have spent the past two or three drafts making up for years of neglect on the defense. The projected starting offensive players are mostly, with the primary exception of Derrius Guice, already out of their rookie contracts.
Brandon Scherff was drafted 5th overall in 2015 — Scot McCloughan’s first draft pick for the Redskins. He will play 2019 as his 5th year option year if the Redskins don’t extend his contract this off season. Although Scherff’s season came to an end when he tore his pectoral muscle in November, prior to the injury he was probably the offensive MVP, and playing at a very high level.
Scherff should have another good season in 2019, and should prove to be, at right guard, what Trent Williams has been at left tackle — one of the best in the game year in and year out.
Chase Roullier has been a pleasant surprise. A 6th round draft pick in 2017, he started out as a backup guard and center, and was called into action in the middle of his rookie year when Spencer Long was lost to injury.
Roullier played pretty well in his unexpected promotion to starting center, and returned in 2018 as the presumptive starter. While PFF hasn’t always graded Roullier very highly, Redskins fans know that he shows up and plays every week, and rarely gets beaten. Roullier is a consistent player in a group that has been inconsistent for two years due to injury.
There’s every reason to be optimistic about the Redskins offensive line with Roullier and Scherff expected to be two of the 5 starters in 2019.
Geron Christian was taken in the 3rd round of the ‘18 draft, and he’s all about potential and about the future. The Redskins needed some youth at the OT position, and Christian needed some time in an NFL strength and conditioning program to improve power, and in an NFL team to improve technique.
Christian’s first step will likely be to replace Ty Nsekhe as the team’s swing tackle, and his future may well be as the eventual starter at left or right tackle when one of the current starters retires or moves on in free agency.
Christian may not show much on the field in 2019, but by 2020 or 2021, he may well be lining up as a starting offensive tackle for Washington.
Another player who impacts the Redskins offense — primarily in the run game — is Jeremy Sprinkle, currently the 3rd tight end behind Reed and Davis, but likely to rise to greater promise soon.
Mr. Irrelevant was the last player chosen in the 2018 draft, and he quickly developed a reputation among Hogs Haven readers as a special player.
After years of assuming that the Redskins would re-sign Jamison Crowder at the end of his rookie contract and rely on him as a key part of the Redskins offense, a number of analysts and fans now think that the Redskins may rely on Trey Quinn instead.
Quinn, unfortunately, had a difficult time staying healthy enough to be on the field much in 2018, making it a bit of a gamble for the front office to allow Crowder to walk in free agency and rely on Quinn to step up and fill the dual roles of punt returner and slot receiver, but that may be exactly what happens as the organization deals with the salary cap fallout of the Alex Smith injury.
These 15 highlighted players (plus Derrius Guice) represent a large part of the Redskins roster. When you think about this core of 16 young players, how would you grade them as a group?
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