Training camp in Richmond is a month away, so, with little in the way of NFL news to discuss, it seemed like an appropriate time to publish an early prediction for Washington’s 53-man roster.
However, there are lots of caveats here.
It’s June, and there’s a lot we won’t know about new players and rehabbing players till preseason, so this is similar to an early mock draft — it’s more for discussion and distraction than a strong expectation that the final roster will look identical to what I’ve got here.
There will be injuries between now and September that will change the complexion of the roster. There will be players cut from other teams that the front office will target for both the regular roster and practice squad. There’s no way to anticipate those now, so this roster projection is limited to the 91 players currently under contract with the Washington Football Team.
If you’re not sure why the Football Team has 91 players instead of 90, it’s because the team receives a roster exemption for International Player Pathway program participant, defensive lineman David Bada from Germany.
I left all 91 names on the chart so you can see who didn’t make the cut as well as who I projected to make the team.
My practice squad projections are visible on the right.
I sometimes start out feeling one way and changing my mind. Early in the offseason, I was on the Jeremy Reaves train, partly because I was also on that train in 2020 and, to some extent, in 2019. But in writing player profiles and position articles this offseason, I’ve seen too much evidence that points to Bobby McCain as the starter at FS and Deshazor Everett, the special teams captain, as the backup.
After that, it’s a numbers game. I’ve got 5th round pick Darrick Forrest making the roster as the 5th safety partly just because of his draft status and partly because I think the front office sees him as Everett’s eventual successor. On top of that, Reaves has proven over the previous three seasons to be pretty ‘safe’ on the practice squad.
Landon Collins and Kamren Curl are the two roster locks at this position.
Kendall Fuller and William Jackson III are both roster locks. Outstanding reports from OTAs and minicamp have Benjamin St-Juste’s stock rising even higher than his 3rd round pedigree would call for. He should see significant playing time this season.
The flexibility of players like Bobby McCain, Kam Curl and Kendall Fuller to play in the slot could mean that only one slot corner is kept on defense. If so, then I would expect Jimmy Moreland, who is still on his rookie contract, to keep his roster spot, but I’m including Darryl Roberts in the 53 because of his experience, quality of play, and flexibility to play several DB spots.
The 6th and final spot goes to Danny Johnson, who is an average backup corner but an above-average kick returner.
Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis are the only roster locks here, but I strongly believe that Jon Bostic will be retained for one more season, though his snap count — which was higher than any other WFT defensive player in 2020 — will be reduced.
David Mayo is a low cost veteran who has played pretty good football for the past couple of seasons. He is an ideal player to combine with this very young group of linebackers, and he plays special teams. Mayo should get a pretty healthy percentage of defensive snaps.
Jordan Kunaszyk is a special teamer who played two seasons with Ron Rivera in Carolina. I doubt he’ll see many defensive snaps, but he’ll be a regular in 4 phases of special teams.
Khaleke Hudson is a second year player who played almost exclusively on special teams as a rookie. Ron Rivera spoke recently about the use of the “Buffalo nickel” position on the Washington defense, and identified Hudson as a linebacker with the experience to play the position (he played a hybrid LB/S position in college). Look for Hudson’s role in the defense to expand in 2021 while he remains an integral part of special teams. I believe Hudson’s role on Ron Rivera’s team will get bigger every year.
I have Joe Walker as the 53rd player in my projections. If David Mayo and/or Shaka Toney can provide sufficient depth, I could see Walker being released or signed to the practice squad, and another offensive player being kept on the roster in his place. (no room for Joe Walker - he’s cut)
Defensive Ends (5)
Two players are locks at this position — Montez Sweat and Chase Young.
Behind the two budding stars, Washington has four 7th rounders who each entered the NFL in 2020 or 2021. Handicapping the backups is tough, as there is not much separating them.
Mark Tyler has argued repeatedly that Shaka Toney should or will be moved to SAM linebacker. I heard Jack Del Rio say that Toney will get some looks in that position, but until I hear or see something more definitive, I’m gonna keep Toney in the DE group, but say that his flexibility and athletic profile as a natural LB make him a bit more valuable to the team, so he makes the 53, getting snaps at both DE and LB in 2021.
I’m projecting the team to stick with last year’s draft pick, James Smith-Williams and this year’s draft pick, William Bradley-King, with last season’s waiver wire pickup, Casey Toohill heading to the practice squad.
Defensive Tackles (4)
This position group writes itself down:
- Matt Ioannidis
- Jonathan Allen
- Daron Payne
- Tim Settle
As part of the International Player Pathway program, David Bada qualifies for a roster exemption if he spends the entire season as the 17th member of the practice squad, and that’s exactly what I expect to happen.
Wide receivers (7)
I’m projecting a 6-man wide receiver group plus DeAndre Carter as the primary punt returner making the team as a 7th receiver.
There are three roster locks: Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown.
I think Adam Humphries makes the team as the primary slot receiver and backup punt returner.
Cam Sims has toiled away as a backup and special teams player for a couple of years, and I think he did enough last season to secure a spot on the roster as a core member of the receiving group. Kelvin Harmon has a lot of flexibility and played well in the latter half of his rookie season. Unless he looks bad in the preseason games (remember that he has never played for Rivera before) I believe the 3rd year receiver will stick on the roster.
Antonio Gandy-Golden, drafted last year, and Dax Milne, drafted this year, should go to the practice squad along with Isaiah Wright. I think Steven Sims’ inconsistency and issues with muffs on punt returns catch up to him this season and he fails to make the final roster. I suspect he will get signed to another team’s practice squad.
Tight ends (3)
Logan Thomas and John Bates are roster locks.
The primary question here is whether the coaches opt to keep 3 or 4 players at the tight end position. I’m assuming right now that Sammis Reyes won’t show enough to justify a roster spot and that Rivera & Co. will go into the regular season with three tight ends on the 53-man roster and two more on the practice squad.
The competition for that 3rd spot is between Deon Yelder and Ricky Seals-Jones, who were teammates in Kansas City last year. Yelder won that competition in KC, getting significantly more snaps and targets than RSJ, so I’m assuming he’ll do the same thing here in DC. I’ve got Yelder winning the roster spot with Reyes and RSJ going to the practice squad.
Offensive Line (9)
I just published my offensive line analysis a few days ago, so I’ll just list the 9 guys here who I think make the roster:
- Charles Leno
- Wes Schweitzer
- Ereck Flowers
- Chase Roullier
- Keith Ismael
- Brandon Scherff
- Saahdiq Charles
- Sam Cosmi
- Cornelius Lucas
The only position I’m waffling on here is Keith Ismael vs. Tyler Larsen. I’m really 50/50 on the two of them. I know that Ron Rivera wants a young core to grow together, but he’s also a coach who is always in ‘win now’ mode...Ron is the type to worry about next season after this one is over. If Larsen is the better player in training camp and preseason, then, despite his age, I don’t think the head coach will hesitate to keep him and waive Ismael.
As far as I’m concerned, the other 8 are roster locks unless something incredibly unexpected happens in the preseason.
Running Backs (3)
I could easily see the team keeping 4 guys here and cutting a WR or LB from my projection instead, but I’m taking the view that the team will move on from the limited role player, Peyton Barber, and rely instead on the young and explosive rookie Jaret Patterson, who surprised coaches in camp with his receiving abilities.
Clearly, Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic are roster locks.
I don’t think that any other team is likely to be keen to sign 30-year-old Lamar Miller, so I expect him to be signed to the practice squad as the emergency back. If he gets ‘poached’, then the coaches can find someone else — backup running backs are a dime a dozen in the NFL at the moment.
This is another position group where I could see the front office keeping 3 guys instead of the two I projected.
Ron Rivera’s comments this off-season have indicated strongly that there’s a clear hierarchy:
- Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Taylor Heinicke
- Kyle Allen
- Steven Montez
I see Fitzmagic and Heinicke making the opening day roster, with Allen as the only QB on the practice squad. If the coaches keep three on the 53-man roster, then Montez has a shot at another season as the PS QB.
Special Teams (3)
Absolutely no surprises, as long as the new long-snapper, Camaron Cheeseman, doesn’t shit the bed in the preseason.
Kicker - Dustin Hopkins
Punter — Tress Way
LS - Camaron Cheeseman