Offseason work-outs. Rookie mini-camp. Optional Team Activities. Mandatory mini-camp. All of these offseason activities are done and dusted, and the players are now on a six week break leading up to the start of Training Camp in Richmond on July 27.
That means that, for now at least, we know as much as there is to be known about the forming shape that is the Washington Redskins 2017 roster.
With the reshuffled Redskins front office personnel department this offseason, the way the roster is put together now takes a communal approach, with Head Coach Jay Gruden having the leading voice, but with input from key figures such as Doug Williams and Bruce Allen. At the end of the day, all involved share the goal of wanting to put the best possible team on the field, and now that we have had multiple practice sessions to observe, a clearer picture is beginning to form of whom rests where on the proverbial pecking order.
And so, as we do annually, here is Redskins Capital Connection’s first attempt at projecting what the Redskins final 53 roster will look like:
Irregardless of the ongoing uncertainty that is Kirk Cousins and his contract status, he is firmly this team’s Quarterback for season 2017. In fact, the only real mystery in projecting the Quarterbacks this year lies in answering two questions; will the team carry two or three total on their roster, and will Colt McCoy be able to hold of Nate Sudfeld for that number two spot?
For now at least, the primary backup Quarterback position is McCoy’s role to lose. Gruden still rates McCoy highly as an alternate if, for whatever reason, Cousins is unable to take the field. Sudfeld will have to burn the house down in Training Camp and preseason to supplant McCoy on the depth chart, and given the need to carry depth and talent at other positions, it really doesn’t seem likely that the Redskins will carry three Quarterbacks. Last year they carried three Quarterbacks and only three Running Backs. This year, we project that to change.
At this point of proceedings last year, the Running Backs depth chart looked vastly different. Matt Jones was the assumed starter, Keith Marshall the hot young rookie, and Chris Thompson the reliable third down back.
Thompson has retained that role, and his level of play got even better last year as well, to the point where Gruden called Thompson the “NFL’s best third down back“.
Matt Jones’ days in Washington are numbered, with the Running Back seeking to be released to pursue opportunities elsewhere. While the Redskins don’t seem eager to acquiesce, with Jones reluctance (or flat-out refusal) to play Special Teams and his inability to hold on to the football mean that when the time comes for the roster to be trimmed, he finds himself on the wrong end of the depth chart.
Rob Kelley enters the season as the presumptive starter, a role that he earned with patient running and an impressive work ethic. Backing up Kelley will almost definitely be rookie Samaje Perine, who will get opportunities and could be a difference maker in preseason games, if you’re the gambling type.
We have the Redskins carrying four running backs, given the youth at the position. Fresh legs will be important, as will versatility and Special Teams availability. It is the latter that sees Mack Brown just edge out Keith Marshall for the fourth and final spot in this projection.
Perhaps no position group will look and play as dramatically different this season when compared to last. Terrelle Pryor has taken on the mantle of ‘number one’ receiver, and every single practice has demonstrated that he is likely going to be a force to be reckoned with this season for opposition defenders. At 6’4 and lightning fast, Pryor has all the tools required to be a dynamic play maker.
All indications have been that Josh Doctson is fully healthy and ready to contribute, but he’s essentially entering his first offseason/preseason in the NFL, and that means working his way up the depth chart. According to reports, Doctson has been splitting his time as the third or fourth receiver with the first unit, or the first or second receiver with the twos, but his talent is obvious and it won’t be long before he likely cements himself as a starter.
It’s arguable that Jamison Crowder has been the MVP of the offseason sessions thus far, and even though we have him listed as the starting ‘slot receiver’ for the purposes of this projection, don’t be surprised at all if he lines up outside the hashes often, and to great success.
We have the Redskins carrying six Wide Receivers this year, meaning that Maurice Harris, who continues to make the most of every opportunity he gets, will make the roster. As will Brian Quick and Ryan Grant, who despite failing to produce anything tangible in his previous three years on the Redskins roster, appears bulletproof in the eyes of Coach Gruden. To his credit, Grant is a serviceable run-blocker.
Jordan Reed is a superstar. It really is that simple. There are scant few players in the NFL, at any position, who draw the eye like Reed does anytime he is near the ball. In terms of ‘roster locks’, he’s at the very top of the list.
In 2016 the Redskins carried three Tight Ends on their roster, and it doesn’t seem likely that will change this season. Niles Paul is too valuable on Special Teams, and Vernon Davis contributes solidly in both the air and ground game, and both are pretty safe bets to make the final cut.
Rookie Jeremy Sprinkle will certainly get the opportunity to make his case during camp and preseason, but he faces an uphill battle against three savvy and solid veterans.
One of the only position groups that didn’t see a huge injection of new talent either via the draft of free agency, with the only significant new face being Chase Roullier.
Across the line from Left to Right, the starters in week one 2017 will be the same starters as week 17 2016. With the retirement of Kory Lichtensteiger, Spencer Long enters the season as the starting Center, but apart from that adjustment, this is a stable and cohesive unit – exactly as it should be.
At Left Guard, Shawn Lauvao still holds on to that starting spot, and after a 2016 campaign where he never really took the field at 100%, he is looking to redeem himself and get back to the flashes of high-level play Redskins fans have seen from him.
In stark contrast to the stability of the Offensive Line from last season, the Defensive Line going into the 2017 season is drastically changed, from new Coach Jim Tomsula all the way down to the last guys on the depth chart.
It’s important to note that the composition of the Defensive Line changes from formation package to formation package as well, with guys shifting positions accordingly. Therefore, unlike other position groups in this projection, don’t put an enormous amount of stock into which side of the line we have plugged different players in; expect them to move around as needed.
Two sizeable (both in contract size as well as body mass) free agent additions in Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain join the team, and when combined with first round pick Jonathan Allen (and the departure of Chris Baker) the interior of the defensive front will have a lot of new faces. And yet it is perhaps 2016 practice squad player Joey Mbu who will surprise the most people with his inclusion. Throughout the offseason so far, the immense 6’3, 325lb Mbu has been the teams starting “Nose Guard” (or more traditional Nose Tackle), a position that the Redskins are likely to see much higher use of under Tomsula than they did under the previous defensive coaches.
Whatever superstitions you may hold, enact them now. So far, Junior Galette has progressed from his recovery and through the offseason program with no concerns, and although the Redskins are likely to limit his downs should he make it to the regular season healthy, he could represent a great and disruptive addition to this position group.
The ever-reliable Ryan Kerrigan leads the Outside Linebackers once again, and he’ll almost certainly be joined by veterans Preston Smith and Trent Murphy, but watch for second round rookie Ryan Anderson to make his presence felt at every opportunity as well.
Many observers thought that the addition of free agent Zach Brown would see a change in the primary, or ‘Mike’, Inside Linebacker. Yet at almost every practice session this offseason, that role has still been Will Compton‘s, with Brown and Mason Foster rotating as the ‘Will’ Linebacker.
Regardless, as there is no need to carry a 5th Inside Linebacker this year now that Su’a Cravens has transitioned to Safety, all three of Brown, Compton and Foster, as well as Martrell Spaight, will see plenty of playing time.
In previous years the Redskins have usually carried six Cornerbacks on their initial 53 man roster, and while that is certainly possible once again this year, we project only five here. That is because we project five Outside Linebackers and, as you’ll see below, five Safeties as well. To do that, another position group needs to take a hit, and the Cornerbacks are the ones who do so here.
It’s not all negative though, as the five Cornerbacks that we project making the roster represent the cream of the crop. Josh Norman needs no introduction, and as one of the elite players in the NFL at his position, he elevates the level of play of those around him.
Bashaud Breeland will be interesting to watch as he enters into the final year of his contract with the Redskins. The feisty and temperamental-yet-talented Cornerback will be looking to play the best football of his career to maximize the value of his next contract, whether that’s in Washington or not.
Third round rookie Fabian Moraeu may struggle to be available for week one as he recovers from a torn pectoral muscle, and if that happens then look for Dashaun Phillips to start the season on the roster in his place.
Two new starters this year as free agent D.J Swearinger and newly transitioned Su’a Cravens look to cement themselves and establish an effective rapport. The good news for Redskins fans is that the early indications suggest that this duo works great off of each other, and it should be the strongest level of Safety play that Washington has had in almost a decade.
DeAngelo Hall is an enormously well-respected veteran who took a pay cut just to keep his place on the team, which suggests that he’s safe for now. But given that it’s unlikely that he’ll be seeing any sort of time on Special Teams, then it’s imperative that backups Deshazor Everett and Montae Nicholson establish themselves as versatile options, which is exactly what they’ve done. Everett started life as a Cornerback who moved to Safety to help out a depleted group, and in a pinch he can still be plugged in there if necessary. Rookie Nicholson is still raw, but has the physical traits coaches love at Safety, and will be given every opportunity to cement a spot on the roster.
A unit that needs no fiddling with. Dustin Hopkins, Tress Way and Nick Sundberg have established themselves as reliable specialists.
Who Missed the Cut
In projecting a roster cut down to 53 spots, there will inevitably be a few players at different players who were close to making the cut but were edged out for whatever reason. Here’s the five players who were the closest:
RB Keith Marshall
We love Marshall’s speed, but he faces a difficult task at supplanting guys like Perine and Brown.
DT Phil Taylor
It’s still early in the offseason, and obviously camp and preseason can change things, but for now it appears that Mbu has the advantage in the sole Nose Guard race.
TE Jeremy Sprinkle
As a rookie, Sprinkle has a slight advantage over Derek Carrier in terms of trying to crack the roster, but as we discussed, there’s three rock-solid veterans above him.
CB Dashaun Phillips
Like we mentioned above, if any of the five Cornerbacks we have above Phillips can’t start the season, Phillips will be the next man up.
OLB Houston Bates
The numbers game doesn’t add up to a great outcome for Bates after the drafting of Ryan Anderson, and it seems highly unlikely that the Redskins will carry six Outside Linebackers.
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