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The ten most important Redskins players

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Who, on the roster, is most critical to the team’s success this year and next?

Washington Redskins Training Camp Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Redskins just released the first official depth chart of the season; as always, it isn’t worth much, coming as it does a few days before the first preseason game. It likely bears little resemblance to the one that will identify the positional depth ahead of the regular season opener in Philly.

But it does put the focus squarely on the players and the positional battles.

Reading through the depth chart got me thinking about the relative importance of each Redskins player, and I thought it might be interesting to try to rank the top ten Redskins players.

Of course, to do that, one has to have some sort of criteria — some description or rubric that explains either broadly or specifically what the basis is for the ranking.

I’ve decided that my ranking will be broadly defined and more subjective than objective. In defining the idea of “most important” I am going to have a two-season focus; that is, I will ask myself about each player’s potential impact on the Redskins in 2019 and 2020. A longer-term consideration is rarely possible for most NFL rosters, as teams are quickly remade. Three seasons is like half a century in NFL roster years.

In very general terms, I will ask myself for each player:

  • How important is this player to the team’s ability to succeed in ‘19 & ‘20?
  • If the player is badly injured or not on the roster in ‘19 or ‘20, how damaging will that be?
  • What are the salary cap implications of having this player on the roster?

Without further ado, here is my personal countdown of the ten most important Redskins players.

#10 Jonathan Allen

I have a hard time picking one guy out of the three-man group of Allen, Payne and Ioannidis. To be honest, my personal favorite is IoanMan - not just because he’s more of a ‘Cinderella story’ but because of the panache with which he plays.

That said, as a fan, I get the sense that the leadership of the DL and, increasingly, the defense in general, comes from guys like Jon Allen.

Washington Redskins v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

More than just his draft pedigree, Allen’s history as part of the Alabama Crimson Tide program, with its national championships, combined with his personal work ethic, his “quiet outspokeness”, and his hatred of losing thrust Jonathan Allen into a leadership role, whether he seeks it or not.

Allen has been emerging as a defensive leader in his first two seasons; 2019 should see that organic process continue. By 2020, his leadership will likely be integral to everything the defense does.

#9 Terry McLaurin

This may seem unusually high for a rookie third-round draft pick, but if the Redskins offense is going to return to the kind of productivity it showed in 2015, 16 and 17, then one or two receivers will need to step up.

Normally, one might turn to the veteran in the group - in this case, Paul Richardson - but I just don’t think Richardson is the kind of locker room leader or on-field producer that is needed. PRich’s injury history — both at Seattle and here in Washington — is troubling, and he has always been more of a complementary receiver than the “go to” guy that might be typified by, say, Pierre Garcon from 2013-2016.

That’s why I’m looking to Terry McLaurin. Forget his limited college production — this guy is a winner, a leader, a worker. He’s a player with outstanding physical size and speed.

NFL: MAY 20 Washington Redskins OTA Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If Scary Terry can achieve his potential by mid-2019, then he could be a team leader in 2020, and provide the cornerstone that the Redskins young receiving corps will need for the next half-decade.

If he fails to develop, then the Redskins offense is likely to flounder, unproductive and leaderless.

#8 Brandon Scherff

The Redskins 5th overall pick in 2015 has been an unqualified success. He is hugely talented, and, with Trent Williams’ current absence and prospective departure, whether by trade, free agency or retirement, Brandon Scherff is poised to take over as the leader of the offensive line.

Cleveland Browns v Washington Redskins

Scherff is a mauler who sets the tone for how Bill Callahan wants his guys to play. His ability to block in space opens up the kind of run game that Jay Gruden wants to have, his pass blocking is key to the future success of a classic pocket QB like Haskins, and his overall athleticism helps other aspects of the offense, like the screen game, succeed.

For all the importance that Scherff’s on-field presence holds for the Redskins, 2019 and 2020 are key years because this season Scherff is playing on his 5th year option. Next season, the last under the current CBA, the guard will become a free agent unless he signs an extension or unless the front office places the franchise tag on him — an extremely expensive move for an interior offensive lineman.

This is one more test of the front office’s ability to negotiate the difficult terrain that comes when a star player’s contract year coincides with other issues (Trent Williams holdout, potential coaching change) and the end of the CBA.

#7 Quinton Dunbar

We saw in 2018 what happened to the defensive backfield when Dunbar was lost to a nerve issue in his leg. It wasn’t pretty.

Josh Norman is a highly capable cornerback, but he can only take care of one side of the field; 2018 proved that the Redskins didn’t really have anyone to take care of the other side in Dunbar’s absence. I think that Quinton Dunbar’s presence (or lack thereof) on the field has a very direct impact on the ability of Greg Manusky’s defense to succeed. His presence on the field limits the opponents’ passing game; his presence stops drives and limits points; his presence increases the win total.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The reason that I point to Dunbar instead of Josh Norman here is that I fully expect JoNo to be a salary cap casualty in 2020, pushing Dunbar up into the leadership of the CB group. The Redskins have been drafting CBs consistently, one or two per year, since 2016. That should pay off next year when the team can say goodbye to the big cap hit of former free agent Norman and rely on a home-grown group led by the former undrafted free agent wide receiver-turned-cornerback, Quinton Dunbar.

Dunbar’s health and success will be a key to the Redskins’ ability to win games in the coming two seasons.

#6 Ryan Kerrigan

Leadership and production have marked Kerrigan’s career. This season, 2019, is likely to be a key transition year for the roster as the wide receiver group takes shape and the quarterback position is stabilized. A very young team (with a few notable exceptions like Adrian Peterson and Donald Penn) needs the kind of guidance that Kerrigan can offer, and the roster will likely be at its peak in 2020, with a number of long-term roster stalwarts likely reaching the end of their Redskins careers as the young players that the front office has done such a good job drafting since 2017 come into their own.

NFL: Washington Redskins-Minicamp Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Kerrigan is the iron man of the defense, having never missed a game in his career. He is the model of consistency, averaging 10.5 sacks per year with at least 8.5 sacks per season every season since 2012.

Kerrigan is 30 years old, but pass rushers tend to do well at this age. He seems likely to continue his on-field productivity in ‘19 and ‘20, and will hopefully finish his outstanding career as a Redskin.

#5 Derrius Guice

The 2nd round draft pick used to select Derrius Guice in 2018 was expected to pay handsome dividends a year ago, but when the running back was injured in the first preseason game and lost for the season, things went on hold.

Guice will have plenty of help in the backfield in 2019 in the form of Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, and potentially a fourth running back. By 2020, the team should be able to rely on Guice and Love as a powerful one-two punch that may be reminiscent of what the Falcons were able to do with Davonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman for a number of years.

NFL: AUG 09 Preseason - Redskins at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Guice has yet to show what he can accomplish in an NFL regular season game. This season, he will likely be allowed to share the load, especially early in the season, but the construction of the Redskins offense — especially the team’s likely reliance on a rookie quarterback for most or all of the coming two seasons — makes a dynamic running game incredibly important. Additionally, Guice’s ability to enhance his skills as a receiver and blocker in the passing game will be key to his development into a true 3-down back, and open up options for Jay Gruden as a play-caller.

If Guice is able to progress quickly into the role of lead back, it will be good for the Redskins this season, but it will be huge to the team’s playoff hopes in 2020.

#4 Jon Bostic

Bostic?!

I can hear your best Jim Mora voice screeching now.

Jon Bostic?!?!

Yeah, Jon Bostic. Number 4 most important Redskin. And, yes, I know he’s not under contract for 2020.

But the Redskins front office and coaching staff basically went “all in” on Jon Bostic when, after releasing Zach Brown and seeing Rueben Foster’s season ended by injury, they made the decision to cut Mason Foster immediately prior to the start of training camp.

The defense is filled with — if not star power — at least very good players that fans know and that the coaches should be able to count on.

  • DL = Payne, Allen, Iaonnidis
  • OLB = Kerrigan, Sweat
  • CB = Josh Norman
  • S = Landon Collins

But ILB is really nothing but question marks. Shaun Dion Hamilton is a second-year player who needs to take a forward step in his development. Josh Harvey-Clemons, in his 3rd year, still needs to continue his development and demonstrate consistency. After that, we are looking at 5th round rookie Cole Holcomb or UDFA B.J. Blunt.

Jon Bostic has to come up big for the Redskins in 2019. He’s the seasoned veteran. He’s the one who will have the green dot on his helmet — the one who will call the defense and control the all-important defensive communication. He’s the center of the defense, and if he fails, the defense fails.

Washington Redskins Training Camp Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

If Bostic is an improvement from Mason Foster then the Redskins should want him back in 2020, meaning that he will be integral to the team’s success for two seasons. If they don’t want him back, it will be because of his failure to launch in 2019, which will likely signal a failure in the defensive strategy.

Bostic has the reputation of being a solid but unspectacular player, but the Redskins have pushed all their chips to the middle of the table with him and are looking for him to come up with a career year. If he can do it, the payoff for Bostic, and for the franchise, should be significant.

#3 Jordan Reed

I get that a lot of Redskins fans have already given up on Jordan Reed. He’s injury prone. He’s a waste of salary cap space. He’s a black hole on the roster due to the number of games lost every season.

But, when I evaluate Jordan Reed’s importance to the Redskins, I ask: What if he’s healthy for 16 games? What would that mean for the team?

Jordan Reed is a mismatch for pretty much every defense in the NFL. He has reliable hands and gets YAC. His presence on the field creates opportunities for the rest of the offense, and he has proven himself reliable when it counts the most — on third down, when the team needs to keep a drive alive.

Washington Redskins v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If Jordan Reed is healthy and productive in ‘19 and ‘20, you can probably add 3 or 4 games to the win total. If he is not healthy, then the offense is likely not to reach its potential. Jay Gruden knows how to use Reed and loves to design offensive schemes around his abilities. He is, in my opinion, the single most important on-field difference maker for the Redskins when it comes to sustaining drives, scoring points and winning football games.

#2 Dwayne Haskins

Haskins is the future of the Redskins. If he isn’t, then something is horribly wrong. He should, under any scenario imaginable, be the starting quarterback on opening day of the 2020 season.

By contrast, whether he plays or not in 2019 is beside the point. If he’s ready, he’ll start Week 1 against the Eagles. If not, he won’t. If he’s on the sidelines in Week 1, he’ll stay there as long as the Redskins have any legitimate shot at earning a playoff spot, but he’ll take over as the starter as soon as the playoffs are no longer a realistic goal in order to give him experience and enhance his development.

If Dwayne Haskins turns out to be what everyone hopes, then he will be the key to success, not just in 2020, but for a decade or more beyond that. Make no mistake, the Redskins sorely need a ‘win’ on a drafted quarterback. The fact that his rookie salary will help see the team past the difficult salary cap bind that resulted from the Alex Smith injury is merely icing on the cake.

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

This is a franchise that has a history of mediocrity at the QB position, and a history of misses in drafting quarterbacks that dates back far beyond the beginning of Dan Snyder’s tenure. The last big swing & miss (probably the biggest in franchise history) was Robert Griffin in 2012, and the organization and its fan base are still scarred by that debacle. If Dwayne Haskins can succeed in becoming the franchise quarterback that the Redskins have been searching for, the bad memories can be eased and the bad taste in our collective mouths can be cleansed. If not, though, Haskins will just be another name on a long list of disappointing results.

#1 Trent Williams

There is no bigger issue for the franchise than the eventual outcome of Trent Williams’ holdout. With Trent on the team, the opportunities to win are greatly enhanced. He is probably the most athletic lineman in the league, and among the elite at his position. If he is not on the roster this year or next, the team loses talent and leadership. The salary cap implications, of course, are huge, as Trent’s cap hit over two years is the third-highest on the roster.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Even so, what really makes Trent Williams the most important Redskin right now goes beyond his on-field performance. Trent is the latest litmus test for the maturation of the franchise. The Washington Redskins have developed a reputation for coming up small in every challenging situation. If the TW holdout ends in tears with an ugly separation and public smear campaign similar to what what we saw with Scot McCloughan, or just a general breakdown of communication and trust like we saw with Kirk Cousins, then it will be one more black mark in the ledger for Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen. However, if the organization can defy expectations, heal the rift with their star tackle, bring him back into the fold and see him to the end of his career (or at least his current contract) playing in burgundy and gold, then it would go a long way towards establishing badly-needed credibility both internally and externally.

A “fail” with Trent Williams will be another lightning strike against a deeply wounded franchise, while finding a path to restoring the relationship would give a sense of progress at an organizational level and reason to hope.