Alex Santos enters his 13th season with Washington in 2018 and his fifth as the Redskins’ Director of Pro Personnel after being named to his current role on May 31, 2014. He is responsible for coordinating the advance scouting of Redskins opponents and the evaluation of all professional leagues for potential free agents and trade prospects. He also contributes to the team’s draft preparation, making school visits to help evaluate top college talent.
The other day, Jay Gruden was asked to comment on new veteran guard acquisition, Hugh Thornton. Jay immediately mentioned Alex Santos by name:
Well, I think [Director of Pro Personnel] Alex Santos is the Pro Director and he’s in charge of bringing guys in for a workout. You know, so we – he was on our list and we brought him in and he had a really good workout. He was light on his feet, he was in great shape, so we decided to sign him.
I’ve written several times this off-season that I haven’t been very impressed with the overall quality of the UDFA players signed this off-season, which is in sharp contrast to my impression of the 2018 UDFAs.
It also stands in contrast to what I’ve seen with the signing of veteran street free agents since May, which is where Alex Santos comes in. Alex Santo is earning his salary by halping build the depth of the roster, and, in the face of massive injury problems in 2017 and 2018, he kept the team stocked with NFL talent even in late November and December, when the pickings were slim.
We all know that filling up the team with quality starters is important to success in the NFL, but we also know that this is a game of attrition, and the best teams are the ones with deep rosters. When injuries bite, the best teams have the right ‘next man’ to step up and play. I’m not talking about the insane 52 players on IR that the Redskins suffered in 2017 and 2018; rather, I’m talking about a normal level of injury, where the team loses 5 or 6 guys overall, maybe half of them starters.
Turnover in NFL rosters is huge — I think it is much more significant than most fans realize. Without looking it up, I’d suggest that it wouldn’t be unusual for a typical NFL team to turn over 20% or more of its roster annually, which would mean that if you looked back three years, you’d probably find that less than half the roster is the same.
We get highly focused on the free agent ‘frenzy’ period in March, and — of course — April’s draft in terms of talent acquisition, but the reality is that roster building is a never-ending process for an NFL team. One thing I’ve become increasingly aware of is that NFL teams look at players all the time. The Redskins, based on what I hear from Jay Gruden, typically bring free agents in every Tuesday during the regular season for workouts. When injuries bite, then players who were cut at the end of training camp, or veterans who were cut from other teams and worked out on Tuesdays during the season, are brought back as replacement players in November and December. These are the guys who are often the difference makers in the game of attrition that comprises a brutal 16-game season followed by a month of playoff games.
So the work done right now to build the talent pool and give the coaches opportunities to bolster the roster ahead of the regular season is important. Somebody needs to be constantly on the lookout for veteran talent to deepen the Redskins roster ahead of the start of the regular season, and to provide options when the tough months of November and December challenge every team’s ability to compete.
The past two months have seen a bit of roster churn, especially at the tackle position, but a few veteran signings have stood out to me as being particularly good.
D.J. White, cornerback
Back in 2016, when White was coming out of college, our very own Gabe Ward wrote a positive profile of his abilities.
D.J. White isn’t the strongest, biggest, or fastest but the guy knows how to play the cornerback position. He plays with good game speed, he comes out of his back peddle and can change direction with good fluidity, and he had excellent instincts at the position and he has good hands to intercept or break up a pass. White tracks the ball in the air and reads the receiver very well, though he may not have elite physical traits he more than makes up for that with his smarts. White isn’t afraid to come up to the line of scrimmage and take on the run either. He plays with great effort and energy running across the field to bring down ball carriers. D.J. isn’t being talked about nearly enough in my view he’s in the top 10 on my list of cornerbacks in this draft class. White plays with swag, confidence, effort and smarts he’s been a leader on Georgia Tech’s defense for the past two years.
D.J. White he could come in and compete immediately for the starting gig at slot corner. White is a football player and though he isn’t physically flashy he make plays regardless. He has a never settle / never give up mentality and it’s clear on tape he takes pride in not letting his opponent win. He has a solid record of production at Georgia Tech most impressive may be his 21 passes defended and 4 forced fumbles during his time there. White is a competitor and will fight to the last millisecond to ensure the receiver doesn’t make a play.
This week, I’ve seen a lot of comments on Twitter from journalists and other NFL talent evaluators who have been recalling how impressed they were with White when he was coming out of college.
The Kansas CIty Chiefs had to make room. With Tamba Hali officially ready to join the team and contribute in-game after missing the first half of the season on the Physically Unable to Play list, the Chiefs had to place someone on waivers, even if they secretly hoped they could keep that player on the practice squad. Unfortunately, they lost a young defensive back in the process after the Indianapolis Colts claimed cornerback D.J. White.
White is one of a number of young cornerbacks competing for a spot on the Redskins roster in training camp, but he isn’t just fodder — he’s no ‘camp body’.
#Redskins newly signed CB DJ White in coverage vs. Jehu Chesson. Chesson Tries the in route with the outside release. Club back inside doesn't work great. DJ White with great coverage #Redskins pic.twitter.com/Ux5NgRM5sA— Paul Conner (@P_ConnerJr) August 4, 2019
Instead, D.J. White is an NFL-quality cornerback whose career has gotten off-track, partly due to difficult circumstances. He may or may not make the 53-man roster ahead of the Eagles game, but he has a fair chance of doing so, and, even if he doesn’t, we could see him back in burgundy and gold in November and December if the DB depth gets tested.
Hugh Thornton, Guard
Thornton was a 3rd round selection of the Colts in 2013 - the 86th player taken in the draft that year. That’s a pretty strong pedigree for an offensive guard.
There have been a number of comparisons made between Thornton and players that we’ve seen in Redskins uniforms in the past. Two of those comparisons: Shawn Lauvao and Jonathan Cooper. Neither of these two players is going to the Hall of Fame, but each was a capable player who could contribute to the team’s depth.
With the Ereck Flowers experiment offering an unknown outcome and the two strongest alternatives being rookies Wes Martin and Ross Pierschbacher, the Redskins really need a fourth alternative to the LG situation.
Thornton seems to be a good option. He has a history playing in the league - 37 games with the Colts, 32 of those as a starter.
His problem was injury. Thornton missed the entire 2016 season on IR, and he missed games in 2014 and 2015 as well.
As a free agent, he was signed by the Falcons in 2017, but abruptly retired from the NFL in May that year, during minicamp, citing physical, emotional and spiritual issues. He was 25 years old.
After sitting out for two years (2017-18) and getting his body, mind and spirit back in order, Thornton began a comeback this year by signing a contract with the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF. His team went 5-3; Thornton was listed as the backup right guard by the OurLads website.
I tend to look at a guy who went through a crisis, took time to get himself right, then return to doing what he loves as being a mature guy who is likely better prepared to face what is coming. I add an ‘experience and maturity premium’ to Hugh Thornton’s evaluation when I look at the totality of his resume.
The Redskins have a history of problems at the guard position. Hugh Thornton isn’t likely the long-term solution to finding a starter on the left side, but he may provide valuable depth and badly needed experience at a time when it is in short supply. As has been mentioned a few times already in this article, even if Thornton fails to make the 53-man roster for the Eagles game, he could provide a “go to” option in November and December when NFL rosters are being stretched.
Locating and signing Thornton in early August strikes me as good work from the Redskins Pro Personnel department.
Jon Bostic, ILB
Bostic played for the Steelers in 2018, starting 14 games. He started 14 games for the Colts in 2017.
A second-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 2013, Bostic became a bit of an NFL journeyman with subsequent stops in New England, Detroit, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh before joining the Redskins in May. In 2015, as a member of the Bears, Bostic was teammates with Mason Foster, but he was traded to New England prior to the 4th game of the season. He was a backup to Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, and ended up starting several games when Hightower was injured.
As a free agent in 2017, Bostic signed a one-year vet minimum deal with the Colts, and earned a starting role, ending his season on IR following a knee injury in Week 15.
The Steelers gave him a 2-year, $4m contract last year, and — as previously mentioned — he started 14 games for them. He became expendable when Pittsburgh drafted Devin Bush with the 10th overall pick.
Here in DC, Bostic beat out his former Bears teammate Mason Foster, even after the team lost Rueben Foster to a season-ending knee injury in mini-camp (in fact, Bostic was signed right after R Foster’s injury). Coaches have clearly been impressed with Bostic, and reports throughout the off-season have been positive. With 28 starts in the past two seasons, Bostic provides a quality option for linebackers coach Rob Ryan.
It appears that Bostic will start for the Redskins and will call the defense, playing with the green dot on his helmet. He signed for a one-year vet minimum deal, and so far, at least, appears to be bringing great value to the Redskins organization.
If the coaches’ faith in Bostic is rewarded with good on-field play, his signing would have to be seen as a ‘win’ for Alex Santos and his team.
A few other “street free agents” of note on the current Redskins roster
Shaun Wilson, RB
Wilson was signed in late July after appearing in 5 games as a UDFA with Tampa Bay in 2018. While he is unlikely to make the Redskins roster in 2019, he looks like a good possibility for the practice squad, and could provide positional depth in 2020.
Check out the speed on RB Shaun Wilson! I've been harping on it all camp but haven't been able to show it in a play. And just saying it hasn't done it justice. He takes hand off and is GONE. Different gear. #Redskins pic.twitter.com/em6ndbHW2p— Paul Conner (@P_ConnerJr) August 6, 2019
Jehu Chesson, WR
Chesson was picked up on waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs in September last year after being drafted in the 4th round of the ‘17 draft. Chesson is a marginal roster player at this point, but he has been on the active roster for 24 games in his career and offers a certain level of experience to a very young Redskins receiving group.
Tony Bergstrom, C/G
Bergstrom was signed to the Redskins roster in October 2017, as a veteran option to deepen the Redskins interior offensive line group, which was heavily reliant on unproven rookie Chase Roullier. Bergstrom’s role became much larger after Spencer Long was injured and lost for the remainder of the season. Bergstrom has been more than mere depth, starting 11 games for the Redskins as they have struggled to keep the offensive line intact for the past two seasons. He has been one of the more valuable October signings of recent years for the Redskins, and finding a player of his quality available late in the season is why Alex Santos has a job.
Cassanova McKinzy, OLB
Undrafted in 2016, McKinzy had stints on the practice squads with the Bucs and the Rams before signing a futures contract with the Redskins in January last year. McKinzy has seen less than 40 regular season defensive snaps as a Redskin, but he has flashed on the field at times, and is considered a legitimate possibility for making the roster in 2019.
Marquis Flowers, LB
The signing of Flowers is notable in that he became a Redskin on 26 December last year — at a time when the available talent pool for the NFL is nearly dry. If he had played one game and disappeared, we might none of us even remember his name, but he has stuck with the team throughout the offseason, and is considered to have a chance of making the regular season roster. Finding and signing this guy a day after Christmas is the kind of headache that probably keeps Alex Santos awake at night.
Zac Kerin, OL
Kerin was another December signing from last season. He was one of the guys brought in, signed, introduced to the rest of the offensive linemen, given a uniform and told to read the playbook since he’d probably be needed on the field on Sunday. Having been signed on 4 December, he appeared in 2 games for the Redskins last season. Importantly, he was re-signed in March and has gone through the entire off-season program with the Redskins. Like many others, even if he does not make the 53-man roster to start the season, Kerin could once again be called on to don the burgundy and gold in December if injuries strike.