The cut down to the Washington Football Team’s 53-man roster looks like it’s going to be unusually difficult, and while many observers seem to think the position battles on the team will be fairly limited, I actually expect there will be small competitions all across the roster, generally between players with fairly similar skill sets. What follows is a deeper dive into those battles for the final spots on the 2021 roster.
Taylor Heinicke vs. Kyle Allen - Some people are of the opinion that the team will keep 3 QBs on the 53-man roster. I think the roster is tight enough elsewhere that that’s a luxury we simply can’t afford. With Ryan Fitzpatrick sharpied in at QB1 now, and with Heinicke having failed to clearly lock up QB2, I think Kyle Allen’s return from injury makes the next two pre-season games a battle for that second QB slot, with the loser going to the practice squad.
It goes without saying that Steven Montez ends up either on the PS or cut.
Wide receiver is the one position where there is universal agreement that the team has serious competition, and near universal disagreement on who the final 5-7 WRs left standing will be. Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and Dyami Brown are all safe. Beyond those three, things get murky.
Cam Sims vs. Antonio Gandy-Golden - Call this the “Battle of the Big Guys.” Sims and AGG are the tallest WRs on the roster, at 6’5” and 6’4”, respectively. Cam Sims was a lightly used college WR who was picked up as an undrafted free agent in 2018. His first two seasons were unremarkable, catching two balls for 27 yards. Finally, last year, Sims made a mark, with 32 receptions for 477 yards. Gandy-Golden was taken in the 4th round of last year’s draft, and spent most of last season injured, garnering only a single reception. Given that they’re competing for the WR 5 or 6 roster spot, their retention seems highly dependent on their ability to contribute on special teams as well as their perceived performance “ceiling.”
Steven Sims Jr vs. Dax Milne vs. Deandre Carter - The second WR battle is the “Battle of the Back-Up Slot WRs.” Given his performance in camp and connection to Fitzpatrick, I think Adam Humphries is fairly close to a sure thing - though, at some level, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him cut to keep two of these guys. Assuming Humphries sticks, however, the question is which of these three fills in behind him. Sims has had the most productive NFL season - though his 2020 was decidedly pedestrian. Milne is the biggest unknown, and is also under team control for 4 years. Carter appears to be the best punt returner, but he’s bounced around the league a lot in the past 3 seasons. The decision(s) made at this position will give important insight into how forward looking the team is really willing to be: Sims/Milne are potential future contributors. Humphries and Carter feel more “now” focused.
Advantage: Sims Jr.
Tyler Larsen vs. Keith Ismael - Going into the offseason, I assumed Ismael - a 2020 5th round pick - was a lock as the back-up center/guard. With the addition of Tyler Larsen and John Toth, and no pre-season hype on Ismael, I no longer feel that way. Larsen has the advantage of 4 years with Coach Rivera in Carolina. I’d peg him as the odds-on favorite to back-up Chase Roullier this season, with the possibility of Ismael to the PS.
William Bradley King vs. Shaka Toney - Fans surely hope Montez Sweat and Chase Young can collect as many EDGE snaps as possible this year, but even these titans need a breather every so often. 2020 7th rounder James Smith-Williams appears to be acquitting himself well, and I’d guess there’s probably one (maybe two) addition EDGE spots on the final roster. I think that comes down to WBK and Shaka Toney, two 2021 7th rounders. Both players were described as “underconditioned” after the first pre-season game, with WBK, in particular, looking overmatched at times. I, like several others at HH, would like to see Toney playing at LB instead of EDGE (where he’s undersized), but assuming he sticks where he is, I see these two competing for one spot with the other going to the PS.
David Mayo vs. Jared Norris - Fundamentally, this battle for the last LB slot comes down to who the better special teams player is. Mayo was originally drafted by the Panthers in the 5th round of the 2015 draft, and played substantial time at LB for the Giants in 2019. Norris was an UDFA picked up by the Panthers in 2016 and hasn’t done much since.
Torry McTyer vs. Troy Apke - As with WR, there are a number of CB locks: William Jackson III, Kendall Fuller, Benjamin St-Juste, and Jimmy Moreland. Beyond those four there’s considerable mediocre talent. I think this is the year that Danny Johnson’s kick return duties are usurped by someone else (Jaret Patterson?) and he’s rendered dispensable. Two cornerbacks who surprised a bit in camp though are Torry McTyer, a journeyman vet, and Troy Apke, the team’s former safety. At one level, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both these players make the team if Rivera decides to keep 6 CBs. If there can be only one, I think it’s the player with the most special teams upside.
Deshazor Everett vs. Darrick Forrest - For the first time in a very long time, Washington has an abundance of safety talent. Landon Collins, Kam Curl, and Bobby McCain appear to have the starting slots wrapped up. Jeremy Reaves came on strong at the end of last season, and was recently described by Rivera as embodying “grit.” By my count, that leaves one safety slot left. Everett played well last year, before getting injured, and was a special teams captain. Forrest was drafted specifically because he was seen as one of the better special teams players in the draft. This is another case of old guard/new guard. Forrest was essentially drafted to be the new Everett, as I see it. The question is, is the time now?
How many legitimate position battles do you think there are on Washington’s roster?
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