The news that Brian Orakpo has been lost for the season, confirmed by The Washington Times, is a major blow for the Washington Redskins defense. There's no doubt the unit certainly missed its best pure pass-rusher after he was forced to the sidelines during yesterday's 31-28 defeat to the St. Louis Rams.
As the weak-side linebacker in their 3-4 front, the Redskins rely on Orakpo for the majority of their pass rush. Replacing the powerful rush end will be no easy task, but here is a breakdown of the three best candidates:
Converted defensive end Rob Jackson was deputised on Sunday and has seen plenty of action at outside linebacker during the last two seasons. Having trod a similar transitional path to Orakpo, Jackson would seem like the obvious choice.
At 6'4" and 266 pounds, Jackson has the frame to man the outside in a modern 3-4 scheme. He should have the power to set the edge against the run, but his pass-rush prowess is questionable.
The 26-year-old has recorded only one career sack. He may have been treated like Orakpo's chief reserve, but expecting Jackson to provide the same level of pressure, or even close to it, appears unrealistic and is therefore a dangerous gamble.
In terms of providing pass rush, Chris Wilson might be the most suitable candidate to step in for Orakpo. The fleet-footed rush end has always had a niche as a situational rusher.
The 6'4", 243-pounder is blessed with a quick takeoff and also has the length and agility to consistently challenge offensive tackles on the outside. The issue with Wilson is that no matter how effective his speed-rush is, he is a little one-dimensional as a pass-rusher.
That's without even considering his probable difficulties making plays out in space, against both the run and the pass. He would need to expand his repertoire of moves and show some scheme discipline.
Rookie Keenan Robinson may be a sleeper candidate for the role, but the 2012 Round 4 pick could be a smart choice to replace Orakpo. The obvious argument against him, would be his lack of elite-level size.
Yet the 6'3", 238-pounder could help improve Washington's coverage schemes. The Redskins' defense isn't particularly good at covering running backs out of the backfield.
As the weak-side 'backer, Robinson could use his quickness and athleticism to be an asset covering in the flats. He was primarily drafted as an inside linebacker, but has spent some time playing on the outside.
Yes, the pass rush might diminish with Robinson patrolling the open side. However, ultimately it will be down to strong-side linebacker Ryan Kerrigan to pick up that slack in Orakpo's absence.
However, many 3-4 schemes have featured their best pass-rusher over on the strong side. Think of the mid-nineties Pittsburgh Steelers, with the undersized Greg Lloyd operating on the weak side, while Kevin Greene provided the lion's share of the pass rush.
Even further back, the mid-eighties New England Patriots utilized coverage 'backer Don Blackmon on the open side, with Andre Tippett rushing over the tight end. Robinson has yet to feature this season, but his quickness and range could now prove crucial.
In truth, it will likely take a combined effort to replace the contribution of which Orakpo is capable. However, there is only so much additional scheming coordinator Jim Haslett can do.
Eventually somebody is going to have to prove he can offer a similar threat to Orakpo. In that sense, Wilson is perhaps the best candidate; otherwise, Kerrigan may struggle to shoulder the pass-rush burden alone.