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Washington Redskins: An Early Look at the Depth Chart

Tom NataliCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2016

Washington Redskins: An Early Look at the Depth Chart

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    Is it too early to predict the Redskins depth chart? Um...stupid question. It’s never too early. Knowing me, I could probably write a 2013 mock draft if you give me enough time.

    This upcoming season is going to be an unforgettable one. For better or worse, the Redskins franchise is in the hands of Robert Griffin III. As much as you can rave about the guy, there are no guarantees in the NFL.

    Mike Shanahan and company emphasized improving the offense by upgrading the receiving corps, drafting three offensive linemen and trusting the production from second-year running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster.

    Here's my prediction of what the Redskins depth chart will look like at the start of training camp.

Quarterback

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    1. Robert Griffin III

    2. Rex Grossman

    3. Kirk Cousins

    Even though we all knew the answer, Mike Shanahan pulled a fast one and already named Griffin the starter. The Redskins gave up the house for RGIII, so they are obviously confident in what the former Heisman winner can do from the start.

    Griffin starting is what I prefer, too. Recent rookie quarterbacks have done tremendously well in their first year: Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford (he led the Rams to 7-9, that’s really good), Cam Newton and Andy Dalton.

    Do I expect Griffin to put up Cam Newton-type numbers? Or lead his team to the playoffs like Dalton? Well, it’s possible. But the Redskins are still trying to find an identity.

    What I will be looking for is the overall maturation of him as the quarterback and the leader of the team.

    On paper, I still don’t think the Redskins are a playoff team, especially in the NFC East, which I find to be the best division in football. That being said, with a talent like Griffin on the field, the Redskins will be a threat offensively; something they haven’t been in a very long time.

    I know there’s a lot of media attention about the Kirk Cousins selection and I’ll save that topic for another column. But for now, Cousins is third string, which is where he needs to be for the time being.

    Grossman will be the backup and will take on a new role as a mentor. This does worry me, because I never considered Grossman the “mentoring” type. But his knowledge and familiarity with the Shanahan offense is evident, and it’s good to have at least one veteran around.

Running Back

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    1. Roy Helu Jr.

    2. Evan Royster

    3. To be determined. Veteran free agent

    4. Alfred Morris (practice squad)

    This is one position where the depth chart really doesn’t matter. If you are a running back in a Mike Shanahan offense, you will get your carries. You might have to wait two quarters, two games or even over half a season. But at some point, you will get your 20 carries and rush for 100 yards.

    Second-year players Roy Helu and Evan Royster both shined in their impressive, but limited opportunities last year.

    Helu was second in rushing yards among NFL rookie running backs despite only being the featured back in five games. He’s a change-of-pace runner who can be trusted as a receiver, too. There are some injury concerns that could be alarming, but nothing too threatening.

    Here’s what I’ll say about Royster. If there are four yards to gain, he’ll get you four, no more or no less. He’s also great in pass protection.

    Although the Skins used their sixth-round pick on running back Alfred Morris, I believe they will bring a veteran in. Tim Hightower is still available and obviously the Shanahan thinks highly of him.

    It’s unclear whether Morris will play running back or fullback. Either way, I envision him as nothing more than a practice squad player.

Fullback

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    1. Darrel Young

    2. Chris Cooley

    You have to love Darrel Young. The man has worked his way into the starting lineup and has produced effectively when he’s healthy. While his position isn’t a substantial aspect of the offense, he’s someone the Redskins can rely on for years to come.

    Versatile Chris Cooley showed last year that he can play the position and could also bring different packages to the offense.

    Alfred Morris might be included in this category, but that remains to be seen. Regardless, I still predict that Morris will land on the practice squad, which isn’t a bad thing. That’s where Royster was until the end of the season.

Wide Receivers

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    1. Pierre Garcon

    2. Leonard Hankerson

    3. Santana Moss

    4. Josh Morgan

    5. Anthony Armstrong

    6. Terrence Austin

    7. Aldrick Robinson

    The Skins have longed for a true No. 1 receiver. Well, they didn’t get Vincent Jackson from San Diego and didn’t trade for Brandon Marshall. I’m okay with this, actually. Despite a lot of criticism, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s receivers are open in his offense.

    In Year 1, Santana Moss returned to his Pro Bowl form. Anthony Armstrong came out of nowhere to become a consistent downfield threat, and last year’s leading receiver Jabar Gaffney had a career year.

    Are any of these players No. 1 receiving threats? I would say no.

    Based on his contract, Pierre Garcon will be atop the depth chart. Signing Garcon didn’t confuse me. However, the length and amount of his contract did. Don’t get me wrong, I think Garcon is a solid receiver and will put good numbers. But $42 million?

    The Redskins front office sees great potential in Garcon. In addition, they see him as a young receiver who best fits with Robert Griffin. Garcon is a downfield threat and the deep throw is one of Griffin’s strengths.

    Other than that, I have high expectations for Leonard Hankerson as long as he comes back healthy. Even though his rookie season was cut short due to injury, I was extremely impressed with Hankerson. The best way to describe it is that he attacks the ball.

    Even though he’s coming off a poor season, I’m still confident in Moss as long as he’s working in the slot where he’s best suited. Once known for his speed, Santana will not be catching 50-yard bombs anymore.

    He’s very efficient in the slot and will take on the role as a mentor to a very youthful receiving corps.

    I’m predicting that Hankerson will start opposite Garcon. But I can see Josh Morgan competing with him for that position. What’s great about this is that the Redskins have legitimate depth at this position for the first time that I can remember.

    Last year, the Skins kept seven wideouts on the roster. I think Armstrong will make the team, given his familiarity with the offense and ability to play special teams. Austin could do the same, and I’m interested to see what Robinson can do in his second year.

    Technically, Brandon Banks is a receiver. He really doesn’t have a role on the offense nor should he. Even though I’m down on Banks, he will be given another shot.

Tight Ends

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    1. Fred Davis

    2. Chris Cooley

    3. Niles Paul

    We’ve been talking about it for two years, but are Fred Davis and Chris Cooley ever going to mesh? They better or Redskins fans will be saying goodbye to their beloved Cooley.

    Kyle Shanahan gets his third attempt to develop a scheme that effectively uses the talented tight ends, and I’m still optimistic about the idea.

    Cooley appears to be fully recovered, and I can only hope Fred Davis is motivated to bounce back from his embarrassing suspension.

    Here are two things to consider. First, rookie quarterbacks tend to rely on their tight ends as a security blanket, so what could be better for Robert Griffin than having your two best receiving options at that position. Second, the NFL is a copycat league, and the team to copy on offense is the Patriots, as tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were mismatches the entire 2011 season.

    Do I think Davis is as good as Gronkowski and Cooley as Hernandez? No, but there’s no reason why the two can’t co-exist.

    Lastly, it appears that second-year receiver Niles Paul is transitioning to tight end. He showed promise with his blocking and I’m very interested to see how that turns out.

    The Redskins can’t go with a Logan Paulsen-type player again. That didn’t work.

Left Tackle

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    1. Trent Williams

    2. Willie Smith

    If Trent Williams doesn’t make the Pro Bowl (if they have one, which they shouldn’t, but I’ll save that for another debate) this year, then I will consider his season to be a disappointment.

    The talent, experience and knowledge of the offense was there. But then, just when he was finally starting to turn the corner, he gets inexcusably suspended.

    A lot is riding on Williams this coming season, more than ever before. He now has to protect the blind side of the organization’s shining star. The pass rush of the other teams in NFC East only seems to be getting better as well.

    I like second-year tackle Willie Smith as his primary backup and the “swing tackle.” What I mean by that is if one of the tackles gets injured, Smith can get the job done. He would basically be a more reliable version of Stephon Heyer.

Left Guard

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    1. Kory Lichtensteiger

    2. Maurice Hurt

    By default, I think the Skins will start off with Lichtensteiger. I know I’ve been critical of him in the past, but I was actually impressed with him prior to his knee injury last season.

    He’s familiar with the scheme and will give the line some continuity, which I feel to be imperative on any offensive line.

    What I’m looking forward to is the competition at this position and center. Josh LeRibeus, Adam Gettis and second-year guard Maurice Hurt are all going to be fighting for a starting position.

    As of now, I see Hurt as a backup, I think it was good for him to get some exposure as a rookie, but he still has a lot to learn.

Center

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    1. Will Montgomery

    2. Josh LeRibeus

    This is by default as well. Will Montgomery will enter his third season with Washington and provided steady, but rather mediocre play on the line.

    Was center a huge need for the Skins? No, I think they can survive with Montgomery, but I’m always looking for an upgrade.

    It has been reported that third-round pick LeRibeus can play center. I would expect him to compete with Montgomery and eventually transition into being the starter.

Right Guard

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    1. Chris Chester

    2. Adam Gettis

    Chris Chester was signed last season to a long-term deal and he’s not going anywhere. Personally, I don’t think he’s that good. He’s okay, but was he really worth a 5-year, $20 million contract? Not in my opinion.

    My hope is that he improves upon his second season in Washington. After that, I can see Iowa rookie Adam Gettis providing depth, so they don’t have to play someone out of position in case of injury like they did last year.

Right Tackle

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    1. Jammal Brown

    2. Tyler Polumbus

    3. Tom Compton (practice squad)

    The biggest question on the offensive line is this. Why is Jammal Brown being given a third chance? Mike Shanahan has been ruthless at times, but he’s still not giving up on Brown.

    I mean, I’m rooting for the guy. I would hate to see another trade go to waste like it has thus far. There was a fairly decent market for right tackles in free agency, which I expected to be explored.

    Well, apparently Brown is finally healthy, which I will remain fearful of. The Skins signed reserve James Lee, retained Tyler Polumbus and drafted Tom Compton.

    Compton seems to be a practice squad candidate. That leaves it up to Lee and Polumbus to battle for that position. I’m going with Polumbus. He's shown versatility and played decently in limited duty.

Defensive Ends

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    1. Stephen Bowen

    2. Adam Carriker

    3. Jarvis Jenkins

    4. Kedric Golston

    I love our defensive ends. Stephen Bowen proved to be a solid signing, Adam Carriker seems best suited to this style of defense. Jarvis Jenkins is healthy and Kedric Golston is a team leader and great for depth purposes.

    Technically, there are only two starting defensive ends, but here’s how I envision it: Carriker and Bowen starting with second-year pro Jarvis Jenkins rotating with either one.

    It’s good to keep the defensive line fresh, especially to counteract the popular no-huddle offense. Defensive linemen in the 3-4 take a beating as they face double-teams frequently. Using a three-man rotational system seems ideal, with Golston filling in occasionally.

    I have big expectations for the front three.

Nose Tackle

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    1. Barry Cofield

    2. Chris Neild

    Last year was Barry Cofield’s first at nose tackle. Although his transition turned out to be a success, he definitely had some ups and downs.

    Without question, Cofield will remain the defense’s nose tackle. That's what the Redskins front office is paying him to do.

    It can be argued that nose tackles are the most important players in a 3-4 defense. They create the penetration that allows the defensive ends and outside linebackers to make plays.

    However, Cofield’s production will be heavily reliant on the overall play of the defense. And after a much improved second season in defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s scheme, I expect more.

    Cofield’s backup will be second-year player Chris Neild. An immediate fan favorite after his Week 1 performance against the Giants last year, Neild turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise after being selected in the seventh round.

    While he’s not going to be the starter, I would like to see Neild’s role increase, which would keep Cofield fresh throughout the season.

Inside Linebackers

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    1. London Fletcher

    2. Perry Riley

    3. Lorenzo Alexander

    4. Keenan Robinson

    5. Bryan Kehl

    What took so long to re-sign London Fletcher? Don’t scare us like that again. Fletcher is the Washington Redskins. He’s the heart and soul of the team.

    If I was the owner, I would make sure that he remains with the team even after his playing days.

    We know how Fletcher will play. He’ll get his 100 tackles and go unnoticed yet again. Alongside him, I’m really excited about Perry Riley.

    Physically, I think he’s there. He’s shown the ability to fight off blockers and is more than willing to do the dirty work. What Riley needs to work on is to be a more cerebral linebacker.

    He would get confused in coverage at times by the different formations thrown at him. That should improve with experience, film study and being tutored by Fletcher.

    I like Lorenzo Alexander moving inside. Although he’s known for his excellent work on special teams, he can seemingly do anything. He’ll probably be the first linebacker off the bench if there is an injury.

    I really like the Keenan Robinson selection. He’s a bit undersized, but he’s a great athlete who will most likely be used on special teams. I watched a lot of Texas games this year and Robinson was involved in almost every play.

    I figured the Redskins front office would sign a veteran inside linebacker, but signing two in Jonathan Goff and Bryan Kehl was somewhat confusing.

    Last year, they only kept four inside backers, so maybe they are keeping five this time and will let Kehl and Goff battle it out? I don’t know, but Robinson and Alexander aren’t going anywhere.

Outside Linebackers

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    1. Brian Orakpo

    2. Ryan Kerrigan

    3. Rob Jackson

    4. Markus White

    Brian Orakpo will be on one side and Ryan Kerrigan will be on the other, as they form a very dangerous young duo.

    In the past, I have been overly critical of Orakpo. When the Redskins made the transition to the 3-4 defense, I thought this was going to be Orakpo’s calling. I envisioned double-digit sack seasons and numerous Pro Bowls.

    Since then, he’s been solid, but has played at the level that I know he’s capable of. Yes, he gets held by offensive linemen more than anyone else I’ve seen, but he needs to get at least 10 sacks a year.

    Let’s see how it will turn out. On the other hand, I was very impressed with Kerrigan. He’s only going to get better. I don’t consider it unrealistic to think these two linebackers can lead the NFL in combined sacks.

    Backing up the two starters are Rob Jackson and Markus White. I like Jackson as a backup, he’s a high motor guy who can provide energy. White is entering his second year and drew high praise from his coaches last year. I would expect White’s role to increase.

    Recently signed Chris Wilson can provide some competition at training camp.

Cornerbacks

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    1. DeAngelo Hall

    2. Josh Wilson

    3. Cedric Griffin

    4. Leigh Torrence

    5. Kevin Barnes

    6. Richard Crawford (practice squad)

    7. Chase Minnifield (practice squad)

    This position is a major concern for me. DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson are the starters, despite Hall coming off probably his worst season.

    So what’s after that? Kevin Barnes lost his job as the nickel corner last year, so I’m assuming he won't start again. They signed veterans Cedric Griffin and Leigh Torrence, but are they the answer?  Griffin has lost a step and Torrence was primarily a special teams player while in New Orleans.

    Although the Skins used their seventh-round picks to select defensive backs and also signed high- potential but often injured undrafted free agent Chase Minnifield out of Virginia, none of those guys are proven. Also, seventh round and undrafted free agents are not usually heavily relied upon.

    So by the process of elimination, I guess Griffin will play the vital nickel corner role. There’s certainly going to be some competition at this position, but I thought better upgrades could have been made.

Free Safety

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    1. DeJon Gomes

    2. Tanard Jackson

    3. Jordan Bernstine (Practice Squad)

    Is DeJon Gomes ready to become the starter? Probably not. Is he even a free safety? I don’t think so, but I’d rather give him the shot than aged veterans like Madieu Williams and Tanard Jackson.

    I’m not comfortable with this position or the secondary as a whole. However, given the circumstances, I think Gomes filled in fairly well while replacing free-agent bust O.J. Atogwe.

    As long as Gomes enters training camp in shape and ready to expand his role, he should be given the first opportunity to become the full-time free safety.

    I can’t imagine the Skins front office retaining three free safeties, especially veterans. I would expect Jackson and Williams to battle it out for the final spot.

Strong Safety

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    1. Brandon Meriweather

    2. Reed Doughty

    If you can’t tell by now, I’m not happy with the secondary. By default, once again, I give this to Meriweather over Reed Doughty.

    If there was a way to combine Meriweather’s natural athleticism, speed and power with Doughty’s mindset, our problems would be solved.

    Let me say this, it’s sad to see LaRon Landry not on the roster anymore, I know if he ever gets healthy again, he’s doing to dominate. But Landry wasn’t buying into being a Redskin. That appeared obvious to me. If he’s not happy in Washington, then let him walk.

    I love Doughty. I think coming from a small FCS college like he did and making a name for himself as a starter, backup and special-teamer is a great story, but his lack of athleticism has crippled him in coverage.

    Being a former Pro Bowler, Meriweather has the ability. It’s his job to lose.

Kicker

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    1. Neil Rackers

    Can Graham Gano withstand another kicking competition in training camp? I think his time is up. I would take veteran Neil Rackers over Gano.

    I’m still not sold on Gano. The ability is there. He can make a field goal from 50-plus yards on occasion. But when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter, can Gano come through?

    I’m not sure if he can and that’s not a good answer. Rackers has done this before, so I’m giving him the edge.

    The placekicker position has haunted the Redskins for a very long time. John Hall, Shaun Suisham, Scott Blanton and David Akers (I still get mad about that) are just a few who haven't panned out.

Punter

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    1. Sav Rocca

    Sav Rocca might have been our best signing last offseason. He’s great, he can kick for distance and consistently drop punts inside the 20-yard line, which is about all you can ask from a punter.

    I wish I could elaborate more on this, but I find it pretty difficult to write more than a paragraph about a punter. I’m all for Rocca, though.

Kick/Punt Returner

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    1. To be determined

    2. Terrence Austin

    I really don’t know. I think the Brandon Banks story is a great one, but he simply didn’t produce last year. The NFL is a performance-based business and he didn’t perform his job.

    Despite my reluctance to embrace the speedster, he’ll be given another shot. I am pretty surprised that Shanahan didn’t address this position in the draft or in free agency.

    Other than Banks, I can see Terrence Austin and Anthony Armstrong competing for the job. Both might have the advantage over Banks, since they have the ability to play offense as well as return punts and kickoffs.

    Maybe the Redskins will get lucky and pick up another undrafted free agent who could do a similar job. However, this needs to be addressed. We can’t survive another season without talent at this position.

    Special-teams plays can win games, I would have liked to have seen more of an emphasis put on this, but it looks like we’re creating a bridge for the time being.

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