Washington Redskins: 3 Pieces Team Still Needs in Order to Become a Contender
Regardless of whether the Washington Redskins reach the playoffs this year, they are not a playoff team. Not yet, anyway.
There has been some spectacular play—mostly on the offensive side—and if that is enough to take the team into the postseason in 2012, then it will rank as an incredible achievement.
Despite the optimism surrounding Robert Griffin III before the season, the feeling was that this was an 8-8 team that would be a building block to better things next year. That feeling remains.
The turnaround from 3-6 to 5-6 demonstrated that the team believes in itself, and that confidence has finally brought about a meaningful December for the fans, despite New York ruining the party and starting to take the team’s destiny out of its hands.
Nevertheless, in order to become true contenders in the NFL, there are areas in which Washington needs to improve. The following slides outline the most important pieces still needed by the Redskins in order to make the transition from “promising” to “threatening.”
It’s fair to say that the Redskins have a deficiency in the secondary and Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall are not the players to shut down opposition receivers. Both are eminently capable of making plays and both have shown that in fleeting glimpses this year, but the consistency just isn’t there.
Wilson is regularly burned for huge gains, while Hall remains content to take plays off. Hall has in fact had a good couple of games since the bye week, but his contract dwarfs his contribution. If the two players are to remain on the team, their contracts will need to be restructured.
If the Redskins are to succeed next year, they need help. Chase Minnifield was promising in OTAs, but his ACL tear sidelined him for the season. Jordan Bernstine can play corner and safety but again was sidelined with a knee injury before he was able to make a contribution.
It’s asking too much of these two players to be immediate starters in 2013, however, so it’s likely that Mike Shanahan will look elsewhere to shore up his secondary for next season. The emphasis on youth so far suggests this is likely to come from the draft.
If a player like Oregon State’s Jordan Poyer falls to the second round, the Redskins would be wise to take him. Working within a fragile OSU secondary—much like Washington this year—Poyer has excelled in his position.
He leads the Pac-12 in interceptions and his 1.22 defended passes per game ranks fourth within the conference. He also ranks second on the OSU team in pass breakups with five (via NWSportsBeat.com).
Brandon Meriweather was impressive during the first half of the 31-6 victory over Philadelphia, but that lone half only illustrated how much the team was lacking at safety.
Tanard Jackson was scheduled to start alongside Meriweather, but his promising preseason performances gave way to disappointment as he was suspended for yet another substance abuse violation.
Meriweather will remain on the roster for next year, but the pressure on him to perform rises even higher after such a promising start. The two-time Pro Bowler needs to return to this form immediately in order to justify his selection.
DeJon Gomes has been better this year, but relying on him, Madieu Williams and Reed Doughty to get the job done is risky at best. Williams redeemed himself slightly last week with a big hit to deny Dez Bryant a late touchdown, but his play this year has been poor.
Williams is weak in coverage and likes to play close to the line of scrimmage, so naturally he gets beat over the top a lot. Telling him he is not a linebacker by shouting at the television doesn’t seem to work, so other means are necessary.
Doughty isn’t a starter at NFL level and was never supposed to be. He has a similar style to Williams, which again makes him an easy target in space.
Ability in coverage is sorely lacking across the whole of the secondary, which is reflected in the yardage totals. Washington gives up 390.5 yards of total offense per game, of which 301.4 yards are through the air.
The lack of draft picks means Shanahan is limited with his options, but Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro would be a valuable addition to the roster. He’s versatile enough to play both safety positions and reads the play well, enabling him to get ahead of the offense and force interceptions.
If Shanahan elects to go elsewhere in the second round, free agency may be the answer here, excluding late-round gambles like Ray Ray Armstrong, of course.
Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd is a free agent next year, and if the Bills don’t make him their franchise player, the Redskins could make a move.
Byrd has had his struggles, but this season has marked the end of his development and the emergence of a real talent. Given the standard of the Bills defense, his play has been all the more impressive and he has four interceptions and three forced fumble so far this year, along with 50 tackles.
This year, we’ve seen that when the Redskins win the turnover battle, they win games. Their new offense has the ability to gloss over the defensive deficiencies, so an improvement in that area would immediately make them more threatening.
Jammal Brown is injured and Tyler Polumbus isn’t good enough. Brown hasn’t contributed enough to keep him on the team, so he doesn’t deserve to be in Washington next year. These are the facts at the right tackle position. If Polumbus is starting over Tom Compton, we can also assume that Compton isn’t yet ready to make his NFL debut.
Therefore, the team is in need of a right tackle. Attacking that side has been an easy way to kill passing plays for opposing teams, so pass protection has to be upgraded before the Redskins can be considered serious contenders.
The sheer variety of play-action passes that the offense calls behind a strong running game helps in this regard, but next season the scheme won’t be new anymore, so pieces must be put in place to increase the options available.
North Carolina’s Brennan Williams was considered to be a possible first round pick before suffering a torn labrum in his left shoulder, sidelining him for the rest of the season. His play hasn’t been as aggressive this year, but reports suggested that he had been playing injured for the whole year, which would account for this.
Depending on his recovery time, Williams could miss some pre-draft workouts, which would actually benefit the Redskins as his stock would fall further.
A true right tackle, Williams started 22 games at the position for the Tar Heels and is ready to start in the NFL. At 6’7” and 315 pounds, Williams is able to use his reach to fend off defensive linemen and his footwork this year showed a lot of improvement.
Praying for a slow recovery from injury isn’t something to base a draft on and it’s still very possible that Williams is out of reach for the Redskins when they’re on the board.
With this in mind, Shanahan could also make a move in free agency to bring in a starter while a late-round prospect like Compton develops.
Honorable Mention: Linebacker
With London Fletcher finally showing signs that he isn’t immune to the effects of time—along with the injury suffered by Brian Orakpo—the Redskins discovered a lack of significant depth at linebacker.
While Fletcher may yet remain—again, on a restructured contract—Shanahan will draft additional help at his position. Keenan Robinson looked to be drafted to succeed Fletcher and is versatile enough to play inside and outside as needed.
It’s unlikely that Shanahan will make the move in the early rounds to address linebacker depth, so look for the team to add new pieces from the fourth round onwards.
New Mexico Highlands’ Jordan Campbell could be a steal in the later rounds of the draft or even as an undrafted free agent. A former USC player under Pete Carroll, Campbell has knowledge of NFL schemes and played on the same team as Clay Matthews.
When speaking to PatriotsGab.com, Campbell confessed that he would “pick their brain [sic]" and “was like a sponge, gathering up information” about the defensive schemes.
Campbell also brings with him an incredible work ethic that saw him break the NMHU record for tackles for loss in 2011. He has a drive to succeed that will serve him well at the highest level, and should find his way onto an NFL roster for the 2013 season.