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Rebuilding the Redskins offensive line in 2020: Left Tackle

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What options do the Redskins have?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Redskins offensive line faces dramatic question marks as we head into the off-season. Trent Williams missed the entirety of the 2019 season in a well-documented holdout, followed by being placed on the NFI list when he reported in Week 10. Both starting guards from the 2019 roster — Ereck Flowers and Brandon Scherff — are heading towards free agency in March unless the team re-signs one or both of them. Right Tackle Morgan Moses has seen a sharp fall-off in play in recent seasons; it may be time to move on from the Redskins’ 2014 third-round pick.

Of course, making a murky situation even more complex is the fact that the Redskins spent the early part of January “cleaning house” by replacing nearly the entire coaching staff, replacing and repositioning some key people in the front office, and putting the franchise’s future in the hands of Ron Rivera, who is now clearly in charge. He has no particular attachment to anyone on the roster, meaning that business decisions shouldn’t be too difficult for him (and his staff) to make.

Perhaps the only offensive line starting position that seems secure is at Center, where Chase Roullier, the team’s 2017 6th round pick, has performed well enough to provide stability for the past two seasons.

We will look at the other four offensive line positions one-by-one in a series of four articles.

Today, we will begin by considering the Left Tackle position.


Part One - Trent Williams

Looked at from one perspective, the simplest answer to the Redskins’ critical Left Tackle position is simply to talk to Trent Williams and get him to return to the team.

Looked at another way, this is is highly delicate and complex issue. Trent expressed his deep unhappiness with the Redskins last season. The primary targets of his dissatisfaction seemed to be Bruce Allen, the training staff and the medical staff, but his emotions boiled over when he was placed on the NFI list, and he lashed out, seeming to take a swipe at owner Dan Snyder, whom he had, until that time, avoided criticizing. Bruce Allen is gone; former Head Trainer Larry Hess is gone; a new medical consultant is on-board, and Ron Rivera is re-tooling the entire organization. Rivera has, in fact, stated that he plans to talk to Williams in hopes of getting the former pro-bowl and all-pro tackle to reconsider and come back.

Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Even if Rivera can successfully mend the fences with the Redskins star offensive lineman, when last seen, Trent Williams wasn’t comfortable wearing a helmet. Will he be fully recovered from his scalp surgery and able to play? Trent has grumbled about his contract, as well — specifically about its lack of guaranteed money. Will the franchise want to extend the contract and add guarantees for the tackle, who will be 32 at the start of the 2020, and who hasn’t played a complete 16-game season since 2013?

The return of Trent Williams would fill a gaping hole in the roster, but there’s a lot of communication that will need to take place before #71 suits up again in burgundy and gold — if indeed, he ever does so again.

Part 2 - Filling the starting spot from the 2019 roster

Donald Penn

The Redskins signed an aging and out-of-shape Donald Penn prior to the 2019 season as an emergency bandage for the Redskins’ left tackle position. It seemed as though Bruce Allen thought Penn would be needed for just a few games, as he (Allen) appeared to believe that TW would report for work once the lack of game checks started to bite.

Penn probably deserves a tip of the hat from Redskins fans for stepping up in a bad situation and doing his best, but I doubt many people would like to go into the 2020 season relying on a 37-year-old Penn, who is currently on track to become a free agent in March. I suspect his most likely career outcome will be retirement this off-season.

Redskins summer camp Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Geron Christian Sr.

In the third round of the 2018 draft, the Redskins selected Geron Christian. At the time, it was said that he would be something of a project, but that he would eventually be either the ‘swing tackle’ (expected to back up both LT and RT positions on game day) or potentially the replacement for Trent Williams when the time came.

This was “Tyler’s take” when Christian was drafted:

I’d love for our third round pick to be able to come in and immediately compete for playing time, but for Christian, he’s going to need some time before he’s ready to take on a prominent role in our offense.

First, despite excellent measurables, he’ll need to add some functional playing strength to his massive frame. He has long arms (35”) and huge hands (10 3/4”), but he lacks the initial pop needed to jar defensive linemen at the point of attack off the snap. He does show good leg drive and the ability to roll his hips into his defender, but he’ll need to work on staying a bit lower in his stance, and not just rely on his length to “steer” defenders. He has the frame to be able to carry an extra 10-15 pounds of good weight without losing any athleticism.

Second, Christian does show very light feet for a big man. He plays with excellent balance, and always seems to be under control. He will need to hone his technique a bit, and learn to shoot his hands a bit better to neutralize his defender. Once he cleans this area up, he can then use that great length even more effectively, instead of over-relying on it to compensate for [lack of] technique.

The Redskins will likely only have swing tackle Ty Nsekhe for another year or two... This could force Christian into a more prominent role a bit earlier than expected.

If Geron can come in and learn from coach Callahan and the established veterans on this team, he may be a guy the Redskins look to to eventually replace Trent Williams in a few years. Development will be key for him, but he has the tools to become an excellent player in time.

Clearly, Christian wasn’t ready in 2019. I question whether Ron Rivera will be willing to bet that Christian will be ready to go this season.

Part 3 - veteran free agency

This is not an exhaustive list of projected free agent offensive tackles. I have not included any players aged 33 or older, and I have tried to work from lists of players rated in the top-100 of the upcoming 2020 expected free agent group. However, this section should give the ‘flavor’ of what talent is available for the Redskins to consider for the LT position if Trent Williams does not return.

Anthony Castonzo - Colts - age 32

Castonzo was the starting left tackle for the Colts in 2019. He has been with Indianapolis for his entire career since being drafted 22nd overall in the 2011 draft. He is basically the same age as Trent Williams, but has been on the field more consistently in his career.

Cleveland Browns v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Castonzo has played a full 16-games in 6 of his 9 NFL seasons, never appearing in less than 11 games, and averaging 14.66 starts per year.

The Colts are sitting on a ton of cap space, so they don’t need to let Castonzo go, but they have a pair of first rounders in Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson, a 2018 2nd rounder at RT in Braden Smith, a talented RG in Mark Glowinski (whom I wanted the Redskins to sign as a free agent last off-season), and — backing up Castonzo — 2016 3rd round draft pick Le’Raven Clark, who is also headed for free agency, but is 5 years younger, so they have a lot of people to pay, and Castonzo is the “old man” of the group. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Colts prioritize extending Clark and letting Castonzo walk, hoping to get a comp pick in return.

Castonzo was rated 8th among all OTs by PFF in 2019, with an offensive rating of 81.3. Based on his PFF scores, he is a slightly better pass blocker than run blocker.

In 2018, Castonzo was rated 17th by PFF, while Trent Williams was rated 22nd.

Castonzo averaged about $10.9m per year over his last two seasons (‘18-’19) on a contract he signed in 2015. He would probably command between $11m and $14m per year on a relatively short (say, 3 years) contract.

He appears to be a very solid replacement for Williams, and I wouldn’t be disappointed to see the Redskins target him in free agency if Silverback isn’t buying what Riverboat Ron is selling.

Jack Conklin - Titans - age 26

Conklin has spent his entire 4-year NFL career as the right tackle for the Tennessee Titans, who declined his 5th year option, leading him to be projected as a free agent in March.

The Titans aren’t really deep at the position, and may well try to re-sign him to a mid-range contract. Conklin was graded as the #15 OT in 2019 by PFF, two spots ahead of Tyron Smith.

Los Angeles Chargers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Conklin has played 16 games in three of his four NFL seasons, but he has been, in his short career, a full time right tackle, although a pretty good one. He would likely prove largely inadequate as a replacement for Trent Williams, but we may want to keep him in mind when we look at Morgan Moses in a future article... assuming, of course, that the AFC championship-contending Titans don’t re-sign him.

D.J. HumphriesCardinals - age 26

Humphries was the first-round pick of the Cardinals in the 2015 draft.

The Cardinals picked up the fifth-year option on Humphries’ contract, and he started the first nine games of the 2018 season at left tackle before suffering a knee injury in Week 10. He missed the next three games before being placed on injured reserve.

He did, however, come back and play a full 16-game season in 2019.

Carolina Panthers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

That full season is the only one of his career. When I initially looked at his stats and saw that the first-rounder had not played at all in his rookie season, I assumed it was due to some devastating injury suffered in his 2015 training camp.

Not so.

When I researched to find out what happened, I found this from Daniel Jeremiah:

I expected him to start right away for the Cardinals, but he landed in doghouse of the head coach as a result of revolting play in practice and the preseason. He needs to reclaim the trust of the organization in the offseason.

During the offseason, Humphries earned the nickname, “Knee Deep” because according to Cards head coach Bruce Arians, you have to keep “a knee in his ass every day” to keep him motivated.

Humphries eventually got playing time, starting 43 games in 4 seasons, and, as mentioned above, earning a 5th year option.

  • In 2016 he missed the last three games with a concussion.
  • In 2017, he suffered a sprained MCL in the opening game that kept him out until Week 5, then dislocated a kneecap and injured his MCL in Week 10, ending his season.
  • In 2018, as mentioned above, he missed that last 7 games of the season with another knee injury.

For 2019, the only season in which he played the full 16 games, PFF had him ranked #56 among all NFL tackles, with an overall grade of 64.5, a pass-blocking grade of 76.3, and a run blocking grade of 52.3.

A former first-round pick with 5 years of NFL experience, but a history of knee issues and a middling to low rating from PFF, it’s hard to see Humphries as an ideal veteran free agent solution for the Redskins at Left Tackle.

Kelvin Beachum - Jets - age 31

For 2019, here are the PFF ratings for offensive tackles just above and below Kelvin Beachum:

48 - Ty Nsekhe - 67.3

49 - Kelvin Beachum - 67.1

50 - Cedric Ogbuehi - 67.0

51 - Greg Robinson - 66.9

52 - Morgan Moses - 65.2

Since most readers are likely to be aware of the skills of Ty Nsekhe and Morgan Moses, this should give an idea of roughly where Kelvin Beachum slots in.

Beachum was a 7th round pick by the Steelers in 2012, going to Jacksonville in free agency in 2016, and then three seasons with the Jets.

Beachum fits right in with the rest of the NY Jets offensive line, which includes:

  • a 6th round pick at LG
  • a 2014 UDFA at C
  • a 2017 UDFA at RG, and
  • a 2016 5th round pick at RT

When healthy, Beachum has been a starting LT since 2013, but his contract history may help define how teams see him:

  • 2016 - Jaguars - $5.4m (declined to exercise option)
  • 2017 - Jets - $5m
  • 2018 - Jets - $9.5m
  • 2018 - Jets - $9.5m

Based on APY, Over the Cap has Beachum as the 18th highest paid LT in the league, with the players on rookie contracts showing up at 26th.

New York Jets v Washington Redskins Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Beachum is likely to be a competent starting left tackle for the Redskins if they choose to sign him, perhaps reminiscent of Ty Nsekhe — capable, but a big step down from Trent Williams. The 31-year-old is likely to be a step up from Donald Penn (who, by the way, was ranked 59th by PFF in 2019), and can probably be signed on a cheap enough contract that he could probably shift to a backup role in 2021-22 if the Redskins were able to draft or sign a superior starting left tackle next year.

I would see Beachum as a stop-gap contract to get the team through 2020 while they looked for a guy to displace him on the roster.

Part 4 - The 2020 draft

The Redskins, if they don’t fill the starting Left Tackle spot with either Trent Williams or a veteran free agent, will not be looking for a backup tackle in the draft, but a starter. That severely limits the options, and would put a lot of pressure on the front office to draft for a very specific need, which is never a good idea, but seems worse, given that the franchise currently holds only two picks in the top 100 (#2 and #66).

If the Redskins do look to the draft for a starter however, these seem to be the players that should be under consideration. Comments on each player are from the Draft Network.

Strong prospects

Andrew Thomas - Georgia

Georgia v Georgia Tech Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

A three-year starter at left tackle for Georgia, Thomas enters the NFL experienced in a pro scheme and executing against the best opponents college football has to offer. As a run blocker, Thomas is outstanding and profiles as an immediate impact blocker in that regard. With that said, there is a need for growth with his footwork in pass protection to develop consistency handling speed. There may be some lowlights early on as he irons out his technique but Thomas has all the gifts needed to become a high quality left tackle in the NFL.

Mekhi Becton - Louisville

Georgia Tech v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Mekhi Becton projects as a starting left tackle at the NFL level — and a damn good one. Becton has all the length and functional power in the world, pairing it with a rare blend of flexibility and size. Becton is a brawler in the run game and his pure size overwhelms many pass rushers off the edge. There are still some technique consistencies to still be ironed out but generally speaking the ceiling here is sky high and there’s a foundation that should allow early production at LT.

Transition from right guard

Jedrick Wills - Alabama

Alabama v South Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A two-year starter for Alabama, Wills enters the NFL with 28 career starts and developed into a polished blocker over [his] career. Wills is a refined pass blocker with exceptional technique, mobility, power and body control that makes him a dominant performer in pass protection. As a run blocker, Wills has tremendous functional strength and a maulers’ mentality to create vertical push and work angles in the run game. While he has developed wonderfully at right tackle, there is no reason to believe he could not transition to the left side if needed. Wills is a blue chip talent and a plug and play starter in the NFL. He has the upside to become one of the top offensive tackles in the league by Year Three.

Maybe not an NFL Left Tackle

Tristan Wirfs - Iowa

Rutgers v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Wirfs became the first Iowa freshman to start at offensive tackle since Kirk Ferentz took over the program in 1999. Coming in at No. 1 in Bruce Feldman’s annual freak list, Wirfs rewrote the weight room records for the Hawkeyes and is one of the strongest overall prospects in the class. Oh, by the way he’s an excellent football player and prospect. While he has some technical items to address, Wirfs has the skill set of an impact starter, most likely at right tackle where he started at Iowa over the last 3.5 years. With that said, his best position in the NFL could come at guard but there is little reason to think he won’t be just as dominant outside at tackle. Wirfs is a powerful man with impressive mobility that should make him an asset in the run game and out in space. Wirfs has the upside to become one of the better offensive linemen in the game by Year Three.

Poll

Which of the following do you think describes the guy who will line up at Left Tackle for the Redskins for the opening game of the 2020 season?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Trent Williams
    (1029 votes)
  • 4%
    A different player from the Redskins 2020 roster
    (78 votes)
  • 24%
    A veteran free agent
    (420 votes)
  • 12%
    A 2020 draft pick
    (222 votes)
1749 votes total Vote Now

Poll

If the Redskins signed one of the veteran free agents highlighted in this article, which one would you prefer it to be, taking into account, skills, age, expected cap hit, etc?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Anthony Castonzo - Colts LT - 32 yo
    (459 votes)
  • 54%
    Jack Conklin - Titans RT - 26 yo
    (852 votes)
  • 11%
    DJ Humphries - Cardinals LT - 26 yo
    (182 votes)
  • 4%
    Kelvin Beachum - Jets LT - 31 yo
    (71 votes)
1564 votes total Vote Now

Poll

If the Redskins drafted a college player highlighted in this article, which one would you prefer it to be?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Andrew Thomas, LT, Georgia
    (569 votes)
  • 39%
    Mekhi Becton, LT, Louisville
    (613 votes)
  • 11%
    Jedrick Wills, RT, Alabama
    (188 votes)
  • 12%
    Tristan Wirfs, RT, Iowa
    (200 votes)
1570 votes total Vote Now