Predicting Last 5 In, Last 5 out for Washington Redskins' Final 53-Man Roster
Draft picks from the ill-fated Mike Shanahan era headline the five players who are likely to be part of the final cuts in Washington. The group includes two fifth-round selections from the 2013 class.
There is also room for a veteran offensive lineman whose high cap value will make him an inevitable casualty, especially considering the increased competition at his position.
In terms of those whose roster places will be secured later on, new head coach Jay Gruden will wait to make decisions on a trio of late-round draftees. He'll also take it to the wire with a useful backup O-lineman.
Here are the 10 players whose futures in Washington will be decided in training camp and preseason.
Out: Chris Thompson, RB
The decision to draft Lache Seastrunk in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL draft has put Chris Thompson's spot under threat. Both offer a change of pace out of the backfield thanks to their ability to attack with field-stretching speed.
Unfortunately, Thompson had little opportunity to show off that quality as a rookie in 2013. He was marginalized thanks to fumbling issues and poor performance as a return man. He appeared in only four games and didn't touch the ball once on offense.
The ex-Florida State ace seemed a great fit for the option-based offense the Shanahans often relied on. Considering Gruden has already indicated he will ditch those schemes, per Sports Illustrated writer Don Banks, Thompson should expect to be shoved through the exit door.
Gruden will want a more functional and reliable ball-carrier to help spell Alfred Morris. The coach will keep the competition for extra carries open for as long as possible, but Thompson will ultimately miss out.
In: Lache Seastrunk, RB
Obviously, the decision to boot Thompson will be great news for Seastrunk. The former Baylor star will then assume the role of a natural supporting runner, particularly on third downs.
He can make his mark as a quick-cut speedster who could be very useful whenever the team shows a one-back set. He will likely have to make his mark on sub-packages this season, and that means honing a different and particular set of skills.
ESPN.com reporter John Keim has emphasized the areas where Seastrunk needs to improve:
Everything that pertains to third downs. He will have to show in a game that his hands aren't an issue, either -- in the pass game or when it comes to fumbling. But this is not just about can he catch the ball; with work I’m sure he can improve if it is indeed an issue. But he needs to learn how to run routes out of the backfield, not just going to the flat but learning how to set up a linebacker and break free. Morris is still learning this. Seastrunk also has to improve in protection; in college he would do it but not with the fire of, say, Clinton Portis (who was unusual in this regard). But Seastrunk will have to learn how not only to block, but who is coming and from where. It takes time. Seastrunk also has to learn how to run out of an I-formation, among other things.
While that reads like a pretty big to-do list, it's nothing he can't manage. He is entering a backfield rotation that is already short on those skills, so any positive impression he makes on third downs will naturally stand out.
There are also few running backs on the roster who can match his quickness. As a more accomplished zone-style runner than Thompson, Seastrunk will be kept around to take a few carries away from Morris.
Out: Evan Royster, RB
Every offseason it seems like Evan Royster gets pushed further down the pecking order. This is probably the year he gets pushed off the roster altogether.
The sixth-round pick in 2011 ended his rookie campaign with consecutive 100-yard games. But since then, he has seen the team draft Morris, Thompson, Jawan Jamison and Seastrunk. Somebody is probably trying to tell him something.
Royster's cause is not helped by his lack of breakaway speed or imposing power. He is a smart and steady runner but not one who will ever dominate a highlight reel.
The Gruden regime seems content to look for complements to Morris' power. That's why Seastrunk and Roy Helu Jr. will make the final roster and Royster won't.
In: Ryan Grant, WR
But as many as 10 players are vying to filling out the depth chart behind that trio. Among them is fifth-round pick Ryan Grant.
The ex-Tulane ace is not the most physically imposing wideout at only 6'0" and 197 pounds. That lack of size could cause him problems in the new offense, as ESPN.com scribe John Keim has noted:
Being able to defeat press man coverage will be a challenge, though if he’s in the slot he can at least buy himself a little more space to try and win the route. His lack of speed hurts him here, too, as corners won’t be afraid to play him tight. The lack of strength also will hurt his blocking. Despite his route-running ability, he did not always create great separation because of his speed (this was definitely an issue for teams). He dropped too many passes during our one day watching him in the rookie minicamp, but has shown the ability to make excellent catches.
Meager physicality may cast a bad light on Grant, especially considering how much Gruden favors big-bodied receivers. However, Grant's slight frame and limited athleticism won't necessarily doom his chances of succeeding in D.C.
A credible slot receiver is something Washington's passing game has been missing for too long. Grant has the qualities for that job—qualities that convinced Gruden to draft him, per Keim:
The Redskins like Grant because he offers some versatility, able to run routes from outside or inside. But his ability to break quickly and catch in traffic will give him a chance inside. He’s not a big-play threat on the outside. But he is a savvy route runner against zone coverages, understanding where to settle. He’s also competitive, which always helps.
However, Grant faces a lot of competition to make this key role his own. After all, the team did sign five undrafted receivers, including Jerry Rice Jr. Yet Grant's excellent hands can give him the edge in this intense competition.
NFL.com draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki credited Grant with "one of the best pair of hands in the draft." The offense has been plagued by too many drops in recent seasons and needs a catcher as sure-handed as Grant.
Gruden has to find a dependable, underneath outlet for Robert Griffin III, a quarterback who tends to obsess about going long, even if it means forcing the ball. Grant can be that player after surviving a lengthy and crowded competition this offseason.
Out: Niles Paul, TE
The arrival of a seventh-round draft pick makes Niles Paul a strong candidate not to escape final cuts. The former wide receiver has never really mastered the conversion to tight end.
He has made just 10 starts and caught only 14 passes since 2011. At 6'1" and 233 pounds, he offers little as a blocker to offset the lack of production as a pass-catcher.
He has mostly been confined to a role on special teams. While he's had some decent moments as a returner, he has barely been a factor in the coverage units.
Given Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen's significant commitment to fixing the special teams this offseason, Paul may struggle to find work on the new-look unit.
Gruden has already indicated that last season's personnel won't be counted on for this year's special teams, according to Brian McNally of The Washington Times: "Washington had the worst special teams unit in the NFL last season and returning with the same cast of players won’t cut it. Gruden said as much in another candid remark."
If he's no longer a feature on special teams, there won't be a place left for Paul on the final roster.
In: Ted Bolser, TE
If Paul is pushed off the roster, it will likely be to make way for rookie Ted Bolser. One of the team's two seventh-round picks this year, he is a natural tight end with outstanding special teams skills.
In particular, Gruden was quick to endorse how Bolser will help on kickoff coverage, per Brian McNally of The Washington Times: "What kind of stuck out, [Bolser] runs down on kickoffs like a war daddy. He’s a fun guy to watch running down on kicks and obviously I’ve mentioned special teams on here a lot.”
It's difficult to remember an offseason when the Redskins committed so much to getting better in football's third phase. They added linebackers Adam Hayward, Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan in free agency. All three are noted for their strong work on special teams.
Meanwhile, Bolser is one of three draftees, along with kicker Zach Hocker and cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who were selected with special teams as a primary focus. Bolser's skills in this area will be enough to earn him a spot on the final roster.
Out: Chris Chester, G
Few fans in Washington can be comfortable if four of last season's five starters are still in place along the offensive line in 2014. So far, only former Cleveland Browns starter Shawn Lauvao has been added to take over at left guard, while Kory Lichtensteiger shifts to center.
But more changes are needed, and one strong candidate to make way has to be right guard Chris Chester. Signed from the Baltimore Ravens in 2011, the 31-year-old has consistently struggled to make the grade.
He has been pushed around too easily along the interior, particularly in pass protection. He struggles to identify pressure and react to stunts and games up front.
That point was brutally demonstrated when former New York Giants pass-rusher Justin Tuck routinely used a twist move inside to attack Chester and log four sacks in Week 13.
Since Gruden felt compelled to use a third-round pick to draft Spencer Long, Chester's position is under obvious threat. Real Redskins blogger Rich Tandler has stated he expects Long to supplant Chester sooner rather than later:
The more I think about it, the more I think that Spencer Long has a decent shot at beating out Chris Chester for the starting right guard job. Although Jay Gruden dished out a few platitudes about the line that has been in place the last two seasons I don’t think he was really happy with what he saw from it. It’s difficult to see him getting the Redskins’ new beginning underway by starting four of the five members of that line. Besides the departed Will Montgomery, Chester was the weak link on the line last year. It’s easy to see Gruden going with Long, assuming that he can show he is close to Chester’s equal.
Chester's risk of being cut is compounded by his $4.8 million cap hit for 2015, per Spotrac.com.
If Long makes anywhere close to a favorable impression during the remainder of the offseason, expect Chester to be a late casualty.
In: Adam Gettis, OL
He may be one of the lightest linemen on the roster, but guard Adam Gettis has a good chance of avoiding the final cuts. The 6'2", 292-pounder has versatility and a natural affinity with zone-based blocking schemes on his side.
He is a skilled and mobile zone-blocker. Considering Gruden is wisely retaining those techniques up front, Gettis can be a valuable reserve.
His value increases thanks to his ability to anchor the O-line at center. That position remains in a certain amount of flux following the release of veteran Will Montgomery.
Real Redskins blogger Rich Tandler has identified Gettis as a candidate to succeed Montgomery, noting his agility as a potentially decisive factor:
Looking at the other potentially vulnerable holdover, what are the chances that Kory Lichtensteiger gets bumped from his center position? Gruden could pick from veteran Mike McGlynn or third-year lineman Adam Gettis if he wanted to replace Lichtensteiger in the lineup. McGlynn is the bigger player and has 48 career starts under his belt; Gettis is more athletic and could fill the position for the long term.
Even if he can't win the job as starting pivot man, Gettis' ability to provide cover at all three positions along the interior, along with his scheme suitability, makes him too useful to cut loose.
Out: Brandon Jenkins, OLB
Brandon Jenkins was plucked from the fifth round in last year's draft to provide some playmaking skills as a situational pass-rusher. He was also taken to be competent depth behind outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
Sadly, he offered neither of those things. Injuries and early struggles meant he barely saw the field as a rookie. He appeared in only five games.
Jenkins' chances of making a better impression in Year 2 have not been helped by some poor showings during OTAs, per ESPN.com scribe John Keim:
Did see Moses push linebacker Brandon Jenkins to the ground on one rush outside. Jenkins had earlier beaten Maurice Hurt to the inside on another rush. Jenkins is going to have a much tougher time making the team this season.
Since the team added Trent Murphy with its top pick this year, Jenkins' chances have taken an even greater tumble. He won't make the final roster without significant improvement.
In: Robert Thomas, NT
If one undrafted free agent has a great chance of making the final roster, it has to be nose tackle Robert Thomas. As a big man in the trenches, the former Arkansas ace is an excellent fit for the team's 3-4 scheme.
He possesses natural two-gap skills, something noted by NFL.com draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki: "Has good body mass. Can keep blockers occupied, fight the double team and control gaps."
Those qualities make him a good fit for the 0-technique role that is a feature of coordinator Jim Haslett's base defense. It's a position where the team sometimes struggles to cover.
Starter Barry Cofield is aging and has struggled with injuries in recent seasons. Chris Neild has covered at times, but it's telling that Gruden and Allen still felt the need to add Thomas to the ranks.
Expect this one-time Razorback to be kept around as depth at the most important position in the team's defensive scheme.
The final roster is beginning to slowly take shape. Predictably, many newbies will be in the mix, given the Gruden-Allen regime's attempts to beef up a thin roster that went 3-13 last season.
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