Washington Redskins Rookie Report Card Grades After Week 7
The team's top two picks have played differing roles in the improvement along the front seven, while a mid-round draft choice has taken on a key role in the secondary.
Offensively, the Redskins have gotten useful contributions from a running back who has added power and relentlessness to a ground game still overlooked too often by coaches.
Typically, some rookies are making a mark on special teams, arguably Washington's most improved unit in 2017. Then there are the rookies who have barely seen the field but can take heart from the strides made by a player who found himself on the practice squad a year ago.
Find out how each of the Redskins' rookies grade on a team so far boosted more by veterans than young talent.
Jonathan Allen, DT
Sadly, it's going to be a case of what might have been for the Redskins and their top draft pick this year, after Jonathan Allen was lost for the season following surgery to fix a Lisfranc injury.
Before the injury, Allen was steadily beginning to justify his status as the 17th-overall pick. The versatile defensive tackle was fulfilling his remit as an interior pressure specialist in Washington's nickel sets.
Along with second-year pro Matt Ioannidis, Allen generated a ton of pressure on the inside. His numbers weren't great, though—10 total tackles and just a single sack through five games—hence his grade.
Yet Allen's true value was often hidden beneath the brass tacks of mere numbers, as the Washington Post (h/t the Richmond Times-Dispatch) showed:
"Washington has blitzed only on 30 percent of its defensive downs this year — down slightly from 34 percent in 2016 — but its big bodies up front have been able to keep opposing quarterbacks on their toes.
"Pro Football Focus tracks 'pressure percentage' — taking into account sacks, hits and hurries of the quarterback — and Allen was rated the team’s second-best defensive lineman, applying quantifiable pressure on 13 of 80 pass-rush snaps. Only Ioannidis graded higher."
Allen's pressure stats offer a direct hint about his undoubted upside. He would have gotten better as his debut season progressed, with more tangible production sure to come from the consistent pressure.
The same ability to regularly disrupt the pass pocket has been at the core of Washington's defensive improvement this season. Allen needed only five games to prove himself a vital cog in this process.
It's just a shame the Redskins will have to wait longer to see how good No. 95 can become.
Ryan Anderson, OLB
Just getting on the field has been a problem for Ryan Anderson so far. Washington's second-round pick has yet to make a dent in a strong rotation at outside linebacker.
Anderson's case hasn't been helped by the solid play of the Redskins' more seasoned players at the position. Preston Smith is playing the best football of his career in his third year, while veteran Junior Galette is slowly but surely making himself a feature as a situational pass-rusher.
It means Anderson has spent most of the first six games on the outside looking in. When the former Alabama edge-setter has seen the field, he has struggled to make plays. A mere two tackles is all he has to show on his stat sheet, despite appearing in every game.
Washington's coaches had better hope the quiet start to life in the pros is only a precursor to bigger and better things from Anderson. His importance could be about to grow with news Smith may miss Week 8's game against bitter NFC East rivals the Dallas Cowboys, per Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post.
Smith's absence is sure to thrust both Anderson and 29-year-old Galette into action more often. Hopefully, Anderson, 23, has used his time as an observer well and is finally ready to impact games as an edge-rusher.
Fabian Moreau, CB
Like Anderson, third-round pick Fabian Moreau has had a hard time seeing the field as a starter. Again, the lack of playing time is due to the solid performances of the more established players in front of him.
Moreau has the talent and size to make the third cornerback role his own. Yet the 6'0", 206-pounder has been forced to bide his time while second-year cover man Kendall Fuller has manned the slot.
Even an injury to Josh Norman on the outside hasn't opened the door for Moreau to feature more often. Instead, Quinton Dunbar and Bashaud Breeland were the starting cornerbacks for Week 7's defeat to division rival the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.
At least Moreau has still been a part of the special teams. He's been a solid member of the coverage units in football's third phase.
Even so, the 23-year-old will ultimately be judged by what he adds to a still-suspect secondary. His chances of playing more have been reduced further by Norman's anticipated return to practice, per Rich Tandler of NBC Sports Washington (h/t Yahoo Sports).
Moreau will have to keep waiting for his moment and making the most of his limited snaps on defense.
Samaje Perine, RB
Samaje Perine actually leads the Redskins in rushing attempts, but the fourth-rounder hasn't exactly made the most of his 55 carries. In fact, Washington's fourth-round pick has already missed an opportunity to become the feature of the team's ground attack as a rookie.
His opportunity came when Rob Kelley missed time with a rib injury. Yet as RotoWire (h/t CBS Sports) pointed out, Perine couldn't generate enough big plays in Kelley's absence: "In the three full games Kelley missed, Perine recorded 49 rushes for a putrid 2.84 yards per carry."
The same source also noted how "Perine did not see the field for an offensive snap during Monday's 34-24 loss to the Eagles." His lack of action came as Kelley returned to the starting lineup.
However, Week 7's lack of carries needn't be an indicator the 22-year-old is going to be a forgotten figure as the rest of Washington's 2017 season unfolds. Sure, he is only averaging three yards per carry, but he has value to a ground attack still searching for an identity.
He's a tough grinder between the tackles, one who can take on a lot of carries and absorb a plethora of hits. Along with Kelley, Perine can give the Redskins two smash-mouth runners who can wear down defenses and offer a contrast in style to the speed and elusiveness around the corner possessed by Chris Thompson.
Montae Nicholson, S
Considering he was pressed into service late, Montae Nicholson has performed quite well as a surprise rookie starter. The fourth-round pick this year has filled the Su'a Cravens-shaped hole the Redskins were presented with just prior to the start of the season.
It's been left to Nicholson to partner free-agent pickup D.J. Swearinger on the back end. The first-year strong safety hasn't let Washington down, getting in on 15 tackles—including 11 solo stops—as well as registering an interception and breaking up a pair of passes.
While there have still been some blips in coverage, Nicholson has also shown flashes of playmaking potential in space.
Pro Football Focus applauded his performance during Washington's win over the pass-happy Oakland Raiders in Week 3, per D.J. Bland of USA Today's Redskins Wire: "Nicholson also made the Pro Football Focus team of the week receiving a grade of 88.6 for his performance against Derek Carr and his offensive weapons of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper."
Nicholson has also earned praise from Mark Bullock of the Washington Post, both for his range as well as recognition skills which belie his lack of experience.
Things have been rocky in the secondary, particularly last week. Yet they could have been so much worse if a rookie such as Nicholson hadn't stepped up the way he has.
Jeremy Sprinkle, TE
Just like many members of Washington's rookie class this year, Jeremy Sprinkle has found it hard to earn playing time among a crowded rotation at his position. Unfortunately for the Redskins' fifth-round pick this year, the position in question is tight end, arguably the strongest on the roster.
Sprinkle was always going to face an uphill struggle getting reps ahead of Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis. Even veteran holdover Niles Paul has received snaps, with the 28-year-old making three starts and hauling in two catches for 29 yards.
By contrast, Sprinkle, 23, doesn't have a catch to his credit despite making a pair of starts. It's difficult to see how and when the rookie tight end is going to make an impact in the offense.
Sprinkle doesn't boast the speed, dynamism and sure hands of Reed, the key playmaker in Washington's passing attack. Then there is Davis, who is "averaging a career-high 19.5 yards a catch," per Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith.
What Sprinkle needs to do is prove his chops as a blocker. The 6'5", 252-pounder's frame could be useful for supplementing an offensive line hit by injuries at key positions.
Chase Roullier C/G
Chase Roullier's introduction to life in the NFL should worry the Redskins. The team's sixth-round pick this year was thrown around like a rag doll by the interior of Philadelphia's deep and talented defensive line.
Tackle Fletcher Cox and rookie pass-rusher Derek Barnett put Roullier on skates more than once. His inability to stand firm meant quarterback Kirk Cousins found himself besieged by Eagles pass-rushers in the second half.
Roullier was only in the game because of an injury to right guard Brandon Scherff. The latter suffered a sprained right knee in Philadelphia, so Roullier could be called upon again, either at guard or center, with Spencer Long moving out of the middle, according to ESPN.com's John Keim.
Roullier, 24, would likely be more comfortable at center, his natural spot along the front five. However, being thrust into starting regularly at either position would surely heap the pressure on this raw late-rounder to get up to speed ahead of schedule.
Several rookies wound up on the team's practice squad, including sixth-round pick wide receiver Robert Davis.
A wideout not making the final roster has to count as a disappointment for a Redskins offense still struggling for solutions at the position after DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon moved on during free agency.
The Redskins hasn't been able to get consistent production from their receivers through six games, according to JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington (h/t Yahoo Sports).
"No Redskins wide receiver ranks in the Top 10 in receiving yards in the NFL," he wrote. "No Redskins wide receiver ranks in the Top 20 in receiving yards in the NFL. No Redskins wide receiver ranks in the Top 50 in receiving yards in the NFL."
Of course, there's no guarantee Davis would have solved any of these problems. Yet it wouldn't hurt for Washington to have another option able to catch passes and stretch coverage.
Davis has been joined by safety Fish Smithson and nose tackle Ondre Pipkins on the practice squad. Both could yet feature at rotations hit by injuries this season.
If they need inspiration, Pipkins and Smithson need only look at Ioannidis' progress this year. Ioannidis spent portions of his rookie year as a member of the practice squad after being drafted in the fifth round in 2016.
However, Ioannidis has since played himself into a regular spot in the D-line rotation, where he has become a key inside pass-rusher in nickel sets.
At least defensive backs Josh Harvey-Clemons and Joshua Holsey made the final roster. The latter stood out when he recovered a fumble by Redskins punt returner Jamison Crowder against the Eagles, per AL.com's Mark Inabinett.
Holsey also saw the field against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6 and could feature more often if injuries mount in the secondary.
Holsey's initial contribution has come on special teams, a unit with a new kicker after the Redskins replaced Dustin Hopkins with Nick Rose. It's only been one game and one field-goal attempt, but Rose was error-free against the Eagles.
Finally, rookie free agent Tyler Catalina has offered swing depth to the offensive line. The versatile road-grader is one blocker line coach Bill Callhan could call on against the Dallas Cowboys this week, per ESPN.com's John Keim.
So far, Washington's season hasn't been defined by contributions from the team's rookies. Instead, the Redskins are improving thanks to the performances of veteran free agents such as Swearinger, along with incumbents like Smith, Davis and Thompson.
As the season progresses though, the Redskins are going need one or two rookies to step up. In particular, Anderson and Perine can help further boost the variety and talent at two vital positions.