5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make Washington Redskins' Final 53-Man Roster

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJuly 6, 2015

5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make Washington Redskins' Final 53-Man Roster

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Quality depth players and niche weapons lead the group of dark-horse candidates to make the Washington Redskins' final 53-man roster. It's a five-player strong bunch headlined by a wide receiver who seemed to enter this offseason as a marginalized, forgotten figure.

    But strong work during OTAs and minicamps has this second-year pass-catcher primed to stand out at the team's training camp. He could even be ticketed for much bigger things once the real action starts.

    The rest of the group is lineman-heavy. A trio of front-seven defenders could stand out, including one of Washington's most intriguing undrafted rookies.

    There's also room for a returning trench warrior to help increase the options along a revamped offensive front.

    Find out who are Washington's most notable dark-horse candidates to make the cut and stick on the final roster.

Willie Smith, T

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Willie Smith rejoined the Redskins this offseason after three seasons plying his trade in the AFC West. His return is an intriguing move given what it could mean for the depth along the offensive line.

    Smith's a tackle who first joined the Burgundy and Gold as a rookie free agent for the 2011 NFL season. He appeared in four games, even making three starts.

    Smith joined the Oakland Raiders a year later and added seven starts to his resume. Two seasons, 16 appearances and one start for the San Diego Chargers followed.

    At the time of his first arrival, Smith looked like an ideal fit for the zone-based blocking scheme favored by then-head coach Mike Shanahan. The 28-year-old is certainly athletic and mobile, even though he's far from the most physically dominant lineman.

    Smith's return is rather strangely timed considering Washington's depth chart looks set at the tackle positions. Tom Compton was re-signed during free agency, while last year's third-round pick Morgan Moses is still around as he recovers from injury.

    Mike Jones of the Washington Post initially saw Smith's signing as part of the team's plan to "upgrade the depth at tackle." That's a smart ploy considering Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams has had some injury issues, while rookie Brandon Scherff is making the switch to the right side.

    In reserve, neither Compton nor Moses particularly impressed when called upon last season. There's a definite opening for a player with Smith's experience and potential.

    He's already anticipating the difference new O-line coach Bill Callahan could make to his career, per Stephen Czarda of the team's official site:

    He’s going to make sure he gets everything out of you, and I can tell that when the season gets here, he’s going to make sure the guys are prepared and ready to go on to gameday ready to take care of business. He’s going to help everybody elevate their game and take it to the next level. I’m excited to be up under him so I can take my game to the next level.

    If Smith responds to Callahan's coaching, he's a good bet to make the final 53. That could even prompt a position switch for Moses, whose size may be better utilized on the inside at guard.

Terrance Plummer, ILB

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    If there's a vacancy for another offensive tackle, there's certainly room for an extra inside linebacker. That's great news for Terrance Plummer, perhaps the most intriguing undrafted player Washington added after the 2015 NFL draft.

    The former Central Florida tackling machine will offer strong competition for fellow rookie Martrell Spaight, as well as Will Compton. That trio is bidding to earn spots behind starting pair Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley Jr.

    The latter may even find his job under threat following a dismal 2014 campaign. Of course, for Riley to be pushed aside, one member of the fringe group must really stand out during training camp.

    Plummer certainly has the potential to turn some heads. He earned some pretty high-profile admiration during UCF's pro day, according to Sports Illustrated: "He impressed at UCF's pro day, and while many scouts were there to see likely first-round receiver Breshad Perriman, Plummer held his own and reportedly caught the eye of Patriots coach Bill Belichick."

    Plummer is a versatile middle 'backer capable of making an impact in every phase of the game. His statistics from his final season of collegiate football help illustrate the point.

    Plummer was in on 97 combined tackles, including 57 solo stops, according to CFBStats.com. Another 13 of those tackles were made behind the line of scrimmage.

    Plummer even tallied four sacks, broke up six passes, forced two fumbles and snatched an interception. Those numbers indicate a complete skill set.

    That's something that can help this stout, thick-bodied thumper in the middle shine during camp. If Plummer can showcase genuine athleticism to go along with his flexibility and range, he'll stand out above big hitters Compton and Spaight.

Jerrell Powe, NT

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    As a natural 0-technique with a ton of experience anchoring 3-4 defenses, Jerrell Powe has to be a candidate to make the final roster. He may not have shined too much during two stops in a four-year pro career, but Powe's size makes him an obvious backup at the most important position in Washington's scheme.

    After five seasons of uninspiring play in the middle, the Redskins finally have the nose guard they need. The arrival of house-sized playmaker Terrance Knighton has seen to that.

    At the moment, though, the depth behind him is uncertain. Knighton's close friend Chris Baker seems like the most obvious immediate deputy.

    His 6'2", 325-pound frame offers two-gap potential, but Baker has often looked better shifted out a little wider at defensive end. New signings Stephen Paea and Ricky Jean Francois can both play over center, but both seem ticketed for the edges, and each represents a major loss of bulk in the middle compared to Knighton.

    At 6'2" and 331 pounds (conservatively speaking), Powe has the size and temperament to fill the space between both A-gaps. He's spent his career operating over center in traditional versions of the 3-4 scheme.

    That experience has come under the tutelage of Romeo Crennel, a true master of the system, with both the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans. The Redskins aren't planning on running a traditional version of the 3-4 in 2015, opting to dump some of their two-gap techniques for a more attack-minded philosophy.

    Yet this defense still needs big men in the middle to act as the focal point of a stout run defense. That's vital in an NFC East loaded with quality runners and powerful offensive lines.

    So there may be a spot for Powe as a rotational player who can help keep Knighton fresh.

Corey Crawford, DE

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Corey Crawford has tremendous upside as a versatile weapon along the front seven. He went undrafted, but has the frame and flexibility to flip flop between defensive end and outside linebacker in Washington's hybrid 3-4 defense.

    Versatility is the defining feature of Crawford's game. CBS Sports' Rob Rang and Derek Stephens described the multiple roles he was asked to play while at Clemson:

    As a rusher, he flashes both power-rush ability as well as the natural ability to cross the blocker and turn the corner with enough sink to get under the blocker. Occasionally asked to slide inside to DT at Clemson, showing the length and anchor to operate here, at times, at the next level.

    Was asked to rush out of a two-point stance, showing the balance and steady acceleration to potentially handle a stand-up OLB role in a 3-4 alignment. Locates the ball quickly and pursues hard.

    Where the 6'5", 299-pounder struggles is with a lack of natural explosiveness. NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein pointed to "disappointing play speed," as well as a lack of "upfield burst off snap to threaten the edge."

    Those deficiencies are why Crawford doesn't stand out at any specific position. His struggles are highlighted by statistics barely above meagre from his final season playing collegiate football.

    Crawford registered a mere 24 tackles and just a pair of sacks in 2014, per CFBStats.com. The limited production and athleticism are a couple of reasons why Crawford could transition to a 5-technique defensive end and add to the rotation at that key position.

    Then again, there aren't many near-300-pounders who can rush from a standing position. If he could establish a niche from a two-point stance, Crawford cold bolster the depth behind edge-rushers Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy and rookie Preston Smith.

    Basically, new Washington defensive coordinator Joe Barry has a fascinating lump of clay to work with here. How he decides to mold Crawford, in terms of what position he chooses, will determine the player's chances of making the final roster.

    This is a rookie with too much versatility and upside to simply write off.

Ryan Grant, WR

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    Skip Rowland/Associated Press

    OK, so this one's a bit of a cheat. Ryan Grant isn't so much a dark-horse candidate to make the final roster, as he is to play a bigger role in the offense during his second season.

    Both seemed in doubt earlier this offseason. Grant finished his rookie year with just seven catches for 68 yards, despite joining the team as a fifth-round pick with a reputation for excellent hands and smart route running.

    It didn't help that Grant had been vying for playing time in a rotation featuring Andre Roberts, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. His task appeared to be made tougher when new general manager Scot McCloughan selected two wide receivers in the 2015 NFL draft.

    One of the newbies, fourth-rounder Jamison Crowder, immediately impressed in the slot receiver role, the same position Grant seems like a natural fit for. But Grant hasn't been deterred by the increased competition. In fact, he's thrived on it.

    Head coach Jay Gruden has been particularly impressed by the former Tulane star this offseason, according to ESPN's John Keim:

    He’s awesome, man. He really is. He runs every route exactly like you tell him to run it. He doesn’t make any mental mistakes. He’s got big, strong hands. It’s just right now with Pierre, DeSean. Andre, we draft Crowder, it’s a crowded room right now with a lot of skill.

    Gruden also indicated he "won't hesitate one bit" to put Grant in the lineup this season. That's good news for a player whose niche skill set faces a lot of challenges.

    Not only do Roberts and Crowder seem like options for the possession-style receiver role, but tight end Jordan Reed is also a very useful short- and intermediate-range target.

    But Grant has done his chances a lot of good with his fine work so far this offseason. If he continues that progress during training camp, Grant will not only be guaranteed a spot on the final 53-man roster. He'll also be set to play a bigger part in the passing game.

    The players on this list reflect the improved depth on Washington's roster headed into the new season. The Redskins now have several options at every key position. That's a great scenario for any rebuilding team.

    All statistics and player information via NFL.com, unless otherwise stated.

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