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Will the Redskins really have a young roster in 2020?

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NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Louisiana State vs Central Florida Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Ron Rivera has said on a few occasions that part of what attracted him to the Redskins job was the young roster full of talented core players. He has indicated that the allure comes from the ability to build a winner quickly, and maintain the roster over the long-term.

I started wondering just how young the Redskins 53-man roster is likely to be.

To create some points of reference, the youngest roster on cut-down day in 2019 was the Miami Dolphins at 25.2 years, while the oldest was the Patriots at 27.0 years. That’s not a lot of difference when you slice the 1.8-year range that separates oldest and youngest into 32 layers.

On cut-down day 2019, the Redskins ranked in the middle group, at 26.1 years of age — good for 20th on the list. With the departure of Josh Norman, Case Keenum, Donald Penn, and the addition of 8 young rookies, we might expect a big swing in the team’s average age, but, of course, all the players who were on the roster in 2019 that didn’t leave will be a year older.

This all serves to create a lot of consistency from year to year in total roster age.

For example, looking at the Redskins’ post-roster cut down averages and rankings for the past five years, we see that only once have they squeezed (and then, just barely) into the youngest half of the league:

  • 2019 - 26.1 - 20th
  • 2018 - 26.2 - 23rd
  • 2017 - 25.9 - 15th
  • 2016 - 26.4 - 26th
  • 2015 - 26.2 - 17th

Of course, a raw average is a blunt instrument for defining roster age. Somewhat more useful may be snap-weighted average age in which a player’s age counts more heavily if he plays more snaps.

The Redskins were 6th in the league in this metric in 2019. Most teams are older on a snap-weighted calculation as compared to the raw average. For example, Jacksonville was the youngest in the league here, at 25.5 — 0.3 higher than the Dolphins’ league lowest raw average — and the Patriots snap-weighted average climbed 1.6 years to 28.6. But the Redskins were actually a bit younger, dropping from 26.1 to 26.0.

Of course, being younger doesn’t equate to being better. Having an old roster with a lot of talent (the 2019 Patriots) is almost certainly better than having a young roster bereft of talent (the 2019 Dolphins). The best situation is probably to have a young, talented roster — especially if the key playmakers are young, and the team has a limited number of older veterans who provide leadership, but are also easily replaceable in coming seasons. In Redskins terms, Alex Smith was not easily replaceable; Colt McCoy was.

I was curious to look forward to September 2020 and learn what the average age of the Redskins Roster is likely to be.

Just how “young” a team will Ron Rivera field in Washington?

I projected the roster, and filled in the ages of the players. At first, I was surprised to see an average age of 25.7, which would have tied the Broncos for 11th place in 2019, but then I remembered that I was working with current ages, but comparing them to the September ages of Week 1 rosters.

I adjusted, adding .2438 to every player’s age to account for the 89 days from now until final cut downs. This changed things.

After adjustment, the new average age for my projected roster one week before opening day is 26.0 years of age, which would be the second-youngest roster for the Redskins compared to the 5 seasons from 2016-2019, and would have moved the Redskins up only one spot on the roster-age ranking for 2019.

So, is the Redskins roster really young, as we are so often told? Or is it more average?

I think the answer is a bit of both. The Redskins average age is pretty middle-of-the pack, but the Redskins, as indicated by their snap-weighted average age in the 2019 season, have an unusually large number of young players in starting positions, with older veterans often adding depth.

In fact, when I looked at my projected offensive and defensive rosters, I realized that the Redskins have only 3 players over the age of 30:

  • Adrian Peterson 35
  • Thomas Davis 37
  • Ryan Kerrigan 32

The average is dragged up a bit by three high-quality players on the back end of their careers, each of whom should fill a significant role with the team in 2020, and then, with the possible exception of Kerrigan, likely make way for younger players at their positions.

But if you look at the chart above, a few additional ideas reveal themselves.

First, the oldest group on the team is the three special teams specialists, comprising Tress Way, Dustin Hopkins and Nick Sundberg. The youngest of the three will be 29.9 years old on opening day. I think we can agree that if you’re going to be carrying older vets on your roster, punter and kicker are the two spots that are least likely to show great degradation due to age.

Meanwhile, the three youngest positions on the team are QB, WR and Safety.

The QB group, of course, consists of 2nd year QB, Dwayne Haskins and 3rd year player, Kyle Allen, which is almost certainly the youngest quarterback duo in the NFL. If Haskins turns out to be the franchise quarterback that he was drafted to be, the Redskins could be set at the position for a decade or longer.

Of course, the Redskins were notorious for having the only all-rookie starting wide receiver group in the league last year. That group will stay young with the addition of 22 year old Gandy-Golden, who was drafted in the 4th round in April.

The youth at safety is rather surprising when you consider that the Redskins’ two starting safeties were both signed as free agents after completing their rookie contracts with other teams. But Landon Collins and Sean Davis are young free agents — both 26 years old — and I am expecting the Redskins to hold onto two young draft picks for special teams — Khaleke Hudson (22) and Kamren Curl (21).

On the other hand, the average age of 28 for the Redskins at the linebacker position speaks to the relative lack of success in drafting for the position and the continued reliance on free agents to fill the roster — especially this season as the team goes from fielding 2 off-the-ball linebackers in base defense to 3. Thomas Davis will be the team’s oldest player at 37, and the inclusion of 29 year old Jon Bostic, with no linebackers under the age of 23, means that the Redskins will be reliant on a veteran group at the second level of defense. This indicates that linebacker will be a high priority roster spot in the 2021 off-season.

While RB has a high average age, this is primarily due to 35-year-old Adrian Peterson’s influence on a fairly small group. The Redskins have used 2nd, 4th and 3rd round picks in the past three drafts to keep the running back pipeline stuffed with talent, and this season’s crop of free agent running backs focused on a pair of 26-year-olds (McKissic and Barber).

Despite being a bit below the team average, tight end is a position where the Redskins went from incredible depth a few seasons ago, to a motley collection of limited players, albeit not an old group. The issues at the tight end position do not revolve around the age of the players, but the talent and completeness of their relative skills.

All in all, while the Redskins roster is actually just middle-of-the pack with regards to average age, it’s easy to see why Coach Rivera is excited by what he sees on the roster. The 2021 roster will have obvious needs at OL, TE, LB and CB, but the Redskins will have both the cap space and draft picks needed to address those needs and field a strongly competitive roster in Rivera’s second season.

Here’s my complete roster projection for Opening Day of the 2020 season: