As the Washington Commanders prepare to move into training camp this week, the clock is ticking on several players from Washington’s 2020 draft, all of whom enter their third season not having made much, if any impact on the NFL. That group includes 4th rounders Saadhiq Charles (G) and Antonio Gandy-Golden (TE), and fifth rounders Keith Ismael (C) and Khaleke Hudson (LB). Both Gandy-Golden and Ismael have already been waived and re-signed. Charles, who was drafted as an impressive, if immature, talent, has yet to show much, and could legitimately end up being pushed by rookie Chris Paul if he doesn’t get his act together quickly.
For the past two years, Hudson has been used almost exclusively as a special teamer, averaging 82% of special teams snaps each year. He’s only averaged about 4% of defensive snaps.
Sure, Hudson could continue on largely as a special teams contributor, but that’s a difficult path to a second contract in the league, and almost certainly a way to have to keep looking over his shoulder for the next scrappy Day 3 pick (or UDFA) seeking to make his mark in the league.
The reality is, with the departure of Landon Collins this offseason, the defense has a gaping hole at Buffalo nickel, and, in my opinion, Hudson is primed to be the best person to fill it, particularly without causing issues at other positions (by, say, shifting Kam Curl into the role). A good primer on the Buffalo nickel position, by Mark Bullock, can be found here.
Jamual Forrest wrote about this option last August.
The famous “Buffalo Nickel” role seems primed for a player of Hudson’s stature. One who can maneuver well at both the linebacker position and safety position. Further, the best thing about Hudson isn’t that his athletic profile allows for it; he did this in high school and at the University of Michigan.
Ron Rivera toyed with the idea about the same time last year.
Ron Rivera said Khaleke Hudson is a player they believe deserved a longer look. Said Hudson is playing the role that LB Shaq Thompson played for him in Carolina.— Rhiannon Walker (@InstantRHIplay) August 2, 2021
They have about five different players rolling in and out of the Buffalo Nickel position
Hudson is listed as a backup linebacker (most likely a WILL), but played a hybrid role at Michigan under Don Brown. The 6’0” 220 pounder has the size and speed to play the Buffalo Nickel, but his spacial awareness in coverage may leave a little bit to be desired against larger tight ends and quicker slot receivers.
Hudson does have decent speed, and with his stopping power against the run, he’d probably play a bit more like Landon Collins in this role.
If Hudson wishes to crack the lineup as a pseudo starter, Buffalo Nickel may be where he’s best suited to do so.
Ok, so why Hudson, and who else is in the running? The table below contains a fairly comprehensive list of all the current players on the roster (with the exception of Collins) who might be considered for the role in 2022:
Potential Commanders “Buffalo Nickel” Options in 2022
Though all roughly same height - right around the 6’ mark - the weight variance for this group is dramatic, ranging from the 240 lb linebacker, Walker, at the top end, to the relatively slight Butler at 194 lbs. Perhaps not surprisingly, Butler is also the fastest, and Walker the slowest, with the other four options clustering around 4.4-4.5 speed. The bench press data is more sparse, but Hudson’s reps stand well above the rest of those where data is present.
Why does any of this matter? This blend of size, speed, and strength is critical to the position for the reasons Mark Bullock outlines below:
The ability to run and cover is a huge part of the Buffalo nickel role, but the run game is also a significant part of it. The hope of having a safety in a linebacker position is to gain the coverage ability of a defensive back without losing so much of the physical run defense from not having an extra linebacker.
The run coverage element of the position is, in my opinion, disqualifying for the smaller guys, most notably Percy Butler. And that seems fine, since Butler has already been touted by some as as the best pure free safety in the draft.
I see no reason to be moving him out of his ideal position. I also worry though that Curl and Forrest may be too undersized to stand up to the continual wear and tear of the position, and that they’d be inviting injury if deployed there for long.
Walker is bigger, but more lumbering, and while able to play stronger against the run, could be a liability in coverage. Gardner, as an undrafted rookie, is simply not likely to win a starting role out of the gate.
Hudson, in almost every key respect, mirrors Collins’ composition, and more importantly, he basically played the position in college.
The Michigan Viper
At the University of Michigan, Hudson followed Jabril Peppers in filling the “viper” position in the Wolverine’s defense. Read the description below and compare it to Bullocks’, above, of the Buffalo nickel:
A position specifically concocted to cause havoc in defensive coordinator Don Brown’s system, viper is a hybrid that encompasses the role of safety, linebacker and pass rusher depending on the down.
Watch Hudson in the video below menacing the University of Minnesota from a variety of looks in Michigan’s viper role.
By almost all accounts, Hudson is ideally situated for this hybrid role:
“He’s one of the most explosive people I’ve ever seen, which is extremely important for the position,” senior linebacker Jordan Glasgow said. “Just look at Khaleke and you’ll see what you need to play the viper position in our defense. He’s textbook for it.”
Hudson’s pass rushing ability is “innate.” It helps Hudson is abnormally strong for his size, allowing him to engage (and quickly disengage) with larger blockers along the line of scrimmage. His speed, much quicker than that of a normal linebacker, aids that too. - Michigan safeties coach Chris Partridge
“It fits him perfect,” Josh Metellus said of his teammate. “Khaleke is a downhill player. He likes playing in the blocks, and he likes playing physical.”
Khaleke Hudson is a weird projection for the NFL due to his “viper” role status. But he’s athletic, can blitz, can play up in the box, and has natural coverage skills. Projection is the issue, but his talent certainly is not. He’s impressive. pic.twitter.com/ySg4dLVZ7q— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) June 8, 2019
Khaleke Hudson plays the same "viper" role that Jabrill Peppers played for Michigan. He's a better athlete and playmaker in coverage. Hudson sees the tight end down the seam, picks him up, finds the ball to break up the pass, and it leads to an INT. pic.twitter.com/RFf0HB5hf9— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) July 21, 2018
The delay in moving Landon Collins to Buffalo nickel was, perhaps, mildly understandable, since that wasn’t the position Washington expected him to play when they picked him up as an expensive free agent, and since he pushed back hard against the shift. But, the delay in exploring Hudson in the role has no such analog. Hudson was essentially built for the hard-hitting safety role, and excelled at it for several years in college.
Now two years into the pros, it’s time for Hudson to sink or swim, and for Washington to give him a shot to see if he can fill Collins’ shoes. Let’s hope he steps up and excels this pre-season.
Who would you like to see the Commanders deploy at Buffalo nickel to start the season?
Someone else (ID them in the comments)