Ranking Strength of Every Washington Redskins Positional Unit
Considering that many of the team's core pieces participated both in last season's debacle and in 2012's surprise playoff run, one question looms.
Which season was the real baseline of Washington's talent level?
Judging from the moves the team's made this offseason, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Washington retained 15 starters from last season's squad. At the same time, the team divvied out new contracts to marquee free agents Jason Hatcher and DeSean Jackson.
With the offseason coming to a halt, now is the time to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of Washington's roster.
Will the team's defense again put pressure of Robert Griffin III to win shootouts? Or will Hatcher's pairing with Brian Orakpo give opposing quarterbacks nightmares?
Let's find out by taking a glimpse at Washington's positional units.
Using their 2013 performance as the baseline, these groups will be ranked on the impact, both positive and negative, each will have on the upcoming 2014 season.
With that said, here are the rankings of the Redskins' positional units.
On the coattails of a mediocre secondary, Washington was 20th in pass defense a season ago.
Furthermore, opposing quarterbacks completed over 65 percent of their passes in 2013.
And what major changes did the 'Skins make to alleviate this problem?
The team signed Ryan Clark and Tracy Porter. An over-the-hill veteran, but also a valued leader, Clark's impact is most likely to be felt in the development of young safeties Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas.
Cast to replace the departed Josh Wilson as Washington's nickel back, Porter's aversion to tackling makes any gain in coverage a moot point.
On his fourth team in five years, Porter very well could just be a placeholder for the No. 3 job until raw rookie Bashaud Breeland is ready.
With any improvement on the back end reliant on Washington's front-seven, there's little question that the secondary is the defense's and the team's weakest positional group.
6. Defensive Line
As Washington's signing of Hatcher in free agency would indicate, the team had a keen interest in improving the play of its defensive line entering the offseason and for good reason.
While a defensive front in a 3-4 scheme isn't typically saddled with expectations to pressure the quarterback, the 5.5 sacks the team's defensive line collectively amassed in 2013 is beyond disappointing.
Then there's the 'Skins run defense.
While missed tackles from the linebackers and secondary played a part in the defense finishing with the 17th-ranked run defense last season, Washington's defensive linemen struggled to get off blocks and allowed opposing offensive linemen to get their hands on the team's linebackers, limiting their effectiveness.
A mediocre front at stopping the run and rushing the passer, it makes you wonder why Stephen Bowen told ESPN980's Chris Russell (via ESPN.com) that the Redskins "could have the most dominant D-line in the NFL."
Bowen himself is coming off of microfracture knee surgery, and Chris Baker and Jarvis Jenkins have hardly shown enough consistency to evoke much confidence that they can match his production—and that's from the 2011 season.
While it's a step up from the secondary, Washington's defensive line has to rank as one of the team's most glaring weaknesses.
5. Offensive Line
Although the Redskins' offensive line played an integral role in Griffin's disastrous sophomore season (what other healthy quarterback has ever been benched because of his line's poor play?) this unit's struggles was just limited to pass protection.
A stark contrast from the equally inept defensive front, Washington's offensive line paved the way for the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing attack last season.
Factor in the players acquired to strengthen the depth of this position group (Spencer Long, Morgan Moses and Shawn Lauvao), and this unit could soon become a strength once the team's young prospects make their way in the starting lineup.
Backed by a secondary that can't tackle or cover consistently, and fronted by a defensive line that struggles to get off blocks, an effective run and pass defense hinges on the impact Washington's linebackers can make.
Headlined by Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, rushing the passer is this group's forte. Of the defense's 36 sacks last season, 26.5 came from its linebackers.
While they too were plagued by missed tackles, the retirement of London Fletcher and the signing of Akeem Jordan should help Washington's linebackers improve on this front.
According to Pro Football Focus (via SB Nation), Jordan was second among inside linebackers in tackling efficiency last season, Fletcher was 63rd.
With rookie Trent Murphy and Perry Riley Jr. also members of this unit, the 'Skins actually have a defensive position group that other teams might envy.
3. Running Backs
In two NFL seasons, Alfred Morris had embodied the word consistency.
After rushing for 1,613 yards in his inaugural season, Morris had 1,275 rushing yards in his sophomore season.
While on the surface this appears to be a regression, Morris' decline in yardage is due to a drop in carries. Morris averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 2012 and 4.6 last season.
What's keeping this position group from cracking the team's top two spots, though, is explosive plays and depth.
The quartet of players backing up Morris are Roy Helu, Lache Seastrunk, Chris Thompson and Evan Royster.
A non-factor in the passing game and more of a punishing runner, Morris' ideal complement is a pass-catching back who excels in space.
Problem is, none of his backups possess both qualities. Although he's an owner of good hands, Helu, like Morris, isn't a big play threat.
In Seastrunk's and Thompson's case, the speed and elusiveness is there, but durability, for Thompson, and pass-catching, for Seastrunk, remain an issue.
Hence the No. 3 ranking.
With standout rookie tight end Jordan Reed and record-setting receiver Pierre Garcon already in hand, receiver wasn't an absolute necessity for the Redskins this offseason.
Nonetheless, Washington went ahead and acquired Jackson and Andre Roberts in free agency to further bolster its receiving corps.
Considering that the 'Skins top four pass-catchers combined to average over 252 yards per game last season, you have to like the odds that Griffin will bounce back from a lackluster 2013.
Then there's the team's depth.
Leonard Hankerson, Nick Williams, Ryan Grant, Aldrick Robinson and Santana Moss will battle it out for the No. 4 receiver spot. And of the five players, three have starting experience.
A group that probably can rival the Carolina Panthers' starting unit, it's likely that at least two of these players don't make Washington's roster.
With size as the lone deficiency, the Redskins' receiving unit is clearly among the NFL's best.
How hard is it to find a starting-caliber quarterback?
Since 1999, the Cleveland Browns have had 20 starting quarterbacks. In all likelihood, first-round pick Johnny Manziel will be No. 21.
A 15-year journey to just find one quarterback, and here the Redskins are with two on their roster.
With Griffin and Kirk Cousins in tow, Washington is certainly in an enviable position.
Such a position of strength that it masked an inept defense en route to the playoffs in 2012, should the possibility present itself—and it reportedly has, per Mark Maske of the Washington Post—Washington could further strengthen its team by trading Cousins.
Whether it's a second or third-round pick, the way Bruce Allen batted in the early stages of the draft, the more selections Washington has next year, the better shot Allen has at finding an impact player, ideally on defense.
A flawed roster by all accounts, the Redskins' strength at quarterback nullifies the team's weaknesses and enables them to have a fighting chance in every game.
With Griffin unable to carry the team on a bum knee in 2013, we saw where this over-reliance on the quarterback got the 'Skins last season.
But provided Griffin returns to his rookie form, Washington has constructed a roster that's capable of making a run at the NFC East crown.