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Three Washington players who locked up roster spots against the Browns

NFL: Washington Commanders at San Francisco 49ers Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Washington’s 2023 pre-season has been unusual in that it’s felt, from very early on, like the team was going to have to cut several players who, in past seasons, would have made the roster. That’s largely a function of impressive depth in a few units: wide receiver, defensive line, and defensive backs.

As I look to project the 53-man roster going into the season, that’s left me with some question marks, as well as a sense of the overwhelming importance of these first couple of pre-season games in shuffling the back of Washington’s roster.

Several players had stand out performances against the Browns Friday night, and I’ll highlight three here who I think punched their tickets onto the team in September.

Christian Holmes

With as much depth as Washington has at cornerback - Kendall Fuller, Emmanuel Forbes, Ben St-Juste, Quan Martin, and Danny Johnson are locks to make the roster - early on I had a feeling that the 2022 7th rounder, Holmes, might be an odd-man out come cut downs.

However, in only 13(!) defensive snaps against the Browns, Holmes made at least three stand out plays that involved bone-jarring hits where he knocked the ball out of the receiver’s hands.

Holmes was also Washington’s top rated defensive player against the Browns, per Pro Football Focus (PFF), with a defensive score of 91.8.

Given the positional depth at CB, most of Holmes’ snaps during the regular season are likely to come on special teams, where those crushing hits will be very welcomed by Nate Kaczor. Very nice to see his evolution from his rookie year.

Chris Rodriguez

Admittedly, this is a bit of a cheat. There’s never really been much of a question as to whether the 2023 6th rounder out of Kentucky was going to make the team. That said, with Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson established and clearly ahead of him on the provisional depth chart going into the pre-season, I think there was a lack of clarity around how many snaps Rodriguez might have coming to him in 2023.

I’ve been long on Rodriguez this offseason, and Friday against the Browns, the bruising back lived up to that optimism. Of the three backs certain to make the roster, Rodriguez (74.4) had the highest PFF score of the group, with Robinson (69.2) and Antonio Gibson (62.8) looking less impressive against Cleveland.

In 12 snaps, Rodriguez had 5 carries for 39 yards, averaging over 7 yards per carry.

So, my “take” here is not that Rodriguez is simply going to make the roster, but that by the end of the pre-season he should supplant Brian Robinson as the team’s work horse back. This is less a negative commentary on Robinson - whose recovery from his injuries last season was nothing short of miraculous - than it is an assessment that Rodriguez is simply too talented to languish on the bench as RB3.

All this said, Ron Rivera is notorious for letting vets hold on to their starting roles longer than he should have, in the face of surging competition from rookies, so there’s no guarantee it’s going to occur. My hope is that Eric Bieniemy will have the discretion to make the move on his own, if he sees fit.

Kaz Allen

Very early in the offseason - just after he was signed as an undrafted free agent - Allen caught my attention. And then, it seemed, he went into hibernation.

First afflicted with a hamstring injury for much of OTAs, he didn’t get a ton of coverage once training camp began. Was he just going to be another athletic flash-in-the-pan who failed to recognize his potential for one reason or another? Or, was he going to be the sort of special teams player (ala Brandon Banks) who could really only show his stuff in live action?

Based on his performance against the Browns, it appears he may be in the latter category. He certainly got Rivera’s attention.

Washington’s wide receiver room is packed with solid talent at this point, with the top five positions likely already basically locked in place: McLaurin, Dotson, Samuel, Brown, and Pringle. So, the question becomes, with Allen and Mitchell Tinsley making some noise, and Dax Milne already familiar to the staff, how many WRs will Washington keep, and who makes the final cut?

Personally, I think it’s time Washington upgraded from a punt catcher (Milne) to a punt returner (Allen), and I’m comfortable that the coaching staff will come to that conclusion over the next two pre-season games as well.


Which of these players do you think is LEAST likely to make the final 53-man roster?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Christian Holmes (CB)
    (832 votes)
  • 7%
    Chris Rodriguez (RB)
    (237 votes)
  • 64%
    Kaz Allen (WR/PR)
    (1928 votes)
2997 votes total Vote Now