Washington Redskins: Way-Too-Early 53-Man Roster and Depth Chart Predictions
General manager Scot McCloughan put his second draft in the books after adding some intriguing players to bolster depth and scheme options at key positions for the Washington Redskins.
Of the seven picks McCloughan made during the 2016 NFL draft, only two look like they will see the field regularly for meaningful action next season. Their presence will offer a shakeup at key positions on both sides of the ball.
As for the rest, a pair of Day 3 choices will put the roster spots of two former draft picks of the old regime in jeopardy along the defensive front seven. Speaking of the front, the decision not to add a marquee name or two along the D-line during draft weekend in Chicago was a clear indication of McCloughan and head coach Jay Gruden's faith in their existing options in the trenches.
It's a risk that will look more reckless than calculated if the Redskins' defensive front is still soft on the ground in 2016.
Find out what the depth chart and 53-man roster should look like after another draft was consigned to history.
Depth Chart Player
3 Nate Sudfeld
Drafting a quarterback made sense with only two incumbents already on the roster. The decision to take Indiana's statuesque passer Nate Sudfeld—standing at 6'5"—in Round 6 also provides necessary insurance with starter Kirk Cousins' long-term future far from certain.
The record-setting No. 8 still remains the main man under center headed into the new season. It's a distinction he deserves after a superb campaign in 2015, during which Cousins proved that stable and competent quarterback play was the only thing keeping Washington from winning more games the previous two seasons.
But Sudfeld's arrival is a nod to the future—one of the main themes of this year's draft haul. With Sudfeld, Gruden has a young prospect to develop at a position where the Redskins already know backup Colt McCoy can come in and win if necessary.
Depth Chart Player
1 Matt Jones
2 Chris Thompson
3 Keith Marshall
There were a lot of question marks at what was a position of strength at the start of last season. So it was good to see the Redskins add a running back during this draft.
It may seem like a tall order for seventh-rounder Keith Marshall—the last player McCloughan selected in the Windy City—to make the final roster, but recent history actually favors the chances of late-round runners in Washington.
Backs such as 2012 sixth-rounder Alfred Morris, 2013 fifth-round choice Chris Thompson and 2014 undrafted free agent Silas Redd earned playing time.
So now this is Matt Jones' show. If he can hang onto the ball, then the ex-Florida bruiser has the power and deceptive speed to be a workhorse teams will fear running behind an improving offensive line.
Speaking of speed, that's just what Marshall can provide after pacing all runners at the combine by posting a 4.31 in the 40-yard dash, according to Sports Illustrated's Eric Single.
Things will look more encouraging here if Thompson makes a swift recovery from shoulder surgery and resumes his role as an underrated weapon on third downs. If not, McCloughan would be wise to bring back Pierre Thomas, a late arrival last season whose veteran expertise and natural versatility proved useful down the stretch.
Depth Chart Player
3 Josh Doctson
4 Jamison Crowder
5 Andre Roberts
6 Rashad Ross
Washington's top draft pick will go straight into one of the top three slots at wide receiver. Former TCU big-play specialist Josh Doctson won't alter the immediate futures of primary pair DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, according to B/R's Jason Cole.
But Doctson's arrival offers cover in case either Jackson or Garcon, or even both, walk when they enter free agency in 2017. This is what brings the decision to pick a wide receiver in the opening round into sharp focus.
On the surface, it looks like a luxury move with more obvious needs on the roster. Yet, selecting Doctson could wind up showing a two-pronged benefit.
First, he can help ensure a smooth transition if one or both of Washington's top wideouts depart next year. Their exits would make wide receiver a top priority in the 2017 NFL draft. But rather than relying on a rookie to carry the load at a key position, the Redskins may already have their new No. 1 in Doctson, who would be battle-tested with one year of experience in the league.
Green has made his bones in this league taking the top off defenses, something he did for fun when Gruden called plays in Cincinnati before becoming Washington's sideline general.
Yet despite having a host of big-play targets, Cousins is still a quarterback few associate with the deep ball. Maybe adding Doctson, a 6'2" wideout noted for his jump-ball talent, is the coaching staff's way of preparing to add another string to its quarterback's bow.
Away from the big three, expect last year's rookie find Jamison Crowder to continue wowing from the slot and making defenders snatch at air in space. His rapid progress, along with Doctson's arrival, likely kicks Ryan Grant off the roster.
Andre Roberts and Rashad Ross stick thanks to their return skills, something that's more theory for the former, but reality for the latter.
Depth Chart Player
1 Jordan Reed
3 Logan Paulsen
There's a few key changes at tight end after last season, but not at the spot that matters. Jordan Reed is still the kingpin of the depth chart, and you all know the book on No. 86.
Reed is one of the most spectacular "Joker-style" tight ends in football and a game-changing weapon who can beat defenses from everywhere—provided he stays healthy. Luckily there's less pressure on Reed for next season thanks to better options behind him.
The decision to sign Vernon Davis—one of the better moves of this offseason—changes quite a lot at this position. Davis won't start, but his presence will shake things up for a pair of incumbents.
His ability as a blocker will prove invaluable to the running game. Davis has already expressed the importance he attaches to the more unfashionable side of his position in an interview with ESPN 980 (h/t CSNMid-Atlantic.com's Tarik El-Bashir):
I’ve never looked as myself as a blocker, never have. I’ve always looked at myself as a threat in the passing game. I’ve always had confidence in myself. But, you know what? I block because I want to win. I block because I can’t stand to lose.
But don't think Davis is washed up as a receiving threat, even after a being a passenger on the Denver Broncos' Super Bowl-winning squad last season.
In fact, one of Davis' more positive efforts in a Broncos uniform—a six-catch outing to help beat the Chicago Bears in Week 11—was a reminder of Davis' enduring threat as a playmaker at every level of the passing game.
But what Davis' presence will really do is revive the use of a formation that proved very effective before Derek Carrier was hurt last season. Anthony Gulizia of the Washington Times described the formation: "One Redskins player said that without Carrier available, the team had to scrap a formation which features one wide receiver and one tight end on each side of the formation."
Davis now takes the dual blocker-receiver role, making the less dynamic Carrier expendable, especially after Logan Paulsen was re-signed. He's the most natural blocker at this position, a trait McCloughan values but feels is increasingly rare in today's game, according to Rich Tandler of CSNMid-Atlantic.com: “It’s a dying breed. It really is. And you can’t invent them, you know? You see what you see, and that’s what you get."
With fullback Darrel Young no longer on the roster, Paulsen's experience using his 261-pound brawn from the backfield looks like it will be a feature of the rushing schemes.
The three-headed monster at this position will prove as important to what should be an even more high-powered and creative offense as the bounty at wide receiver.
Position Player (Backup)
LT Trent Williams (Ty Nsekhe)
LG Shawn Lauvao (Arie Kouandjio)
C Kory Lichtensteiger (Josh LeRibeus)
RG Brandon Scherff (Spencer Long)
RT Morgan Moses
The continued success of an O-line that made great strides last season will depend on the return to fitness and form of a pair of key interior maulers.
When left guard Shawn Lauvao was lost for the season, the Redskins lost arguably their toughest run blocker. But it was perhaps the savvy and technical acumen of center Kory Lichtensteiger that was missed the most.
Lichtensteiger's age (31) and injury problems appeared to make the center position a priority heading into this draft. But as ESPN's John Keim revealed, the Redskins are content to lean on in-house solutions to any potential problems:
I know there’s some who predicted Alabama center Ryan Kelly to the Redskins, but I also know that they still want to try Spencer Long at center so they don’t have to draft one. They have faith in what Long can do combined with the coaching of Bill Callahan.
However, center won't be an issue if Lichtensteiger stays healthy. Remember, this is a skilled road grader who started every game for three seasons prior to problems in 2015.
Depth is also solid thanks to the versatility offered by Long and LeRibeus. However, Brandon Scherff's ability to play tackle on either side will need to be employed should injuries strike on the edges.
Depth Chart Player
1 Kendall Reyes
2 Chris Baker
3 Matthew Ioannidis
4 Ziggy Hood
There was only one new face added to the D-line during the draft, fifth-round pick Matthew Ioannidis, who should quickly push for playing time in a new-look rotation at defensive end.
He'll join free-agent arrivals Kendall Reyes and Ziggy Hood, along with incumbent Chris Baker. The latter's position is secure as arguably the most effective down lineman on the roster.
There are questions about Reyes' effectiveness on the other side, despite his familiarity with coordinator Joe Barry from their days with the San Diego Chargers. But, Reyes is still a big body at 6'4", 300 pounds offering natural two-gap qualities on the edge.
It's those same qualities that leap off the screen when you watch former Temple mauler Ioannidis ply his trade. His thick arms, bulky upper body, remorseless engine and natural toughness compare favorably with Mike DeVito, a longtime two-gap disruptor in the NFL.
Like DeVito, Ioannidis can play anywhere up front. But at the moment, he'll pencil in as cover at end.
The wild card here is Hood. A former first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hood never really delivered on his potential. At times he's shown some pass-rush chops, but rarely stayed consistent.
Yet, Hood can get the edge over 2014 second-round pick Trent Murphy by combining his experience in 3-4 fronts and adding another 300 pounds of beef to the trenches.
Murphy, who once led the nation in sacks as an edge-rusher at the collegiate level, is now transitioning from outside linebacker to D-line, according to Gruden via CSNMid-Atlantic.com's Rich Tandler's Twitter account.
Murphy hasn't made the grade as a pass-rusher at the pro level, and the position switch reeks of a desperate attempt to recoup something from the player the Redskins used their primary pick to select in the 2014 NFL draft.
Depth Chart Player
1 Stephen Paea
2 Ricky Jean-Francois
3 Kedric Golston
In retrospect, those clamoring for McCloughan to draft a defensive tackle in the first round probably should have known better.
From the moment Washington's general manager added Reyes and Hood, as well as brought back Kedric Golston, it was clear he's confident in his team's options on the inside.
That's not to say McCloughan is right, or that he'll regret choosing to plunder a very deep rookie class at defensive tackle. But it looks as though the Redskins are content to roll with those they know at this vital position.
How about shifting Stephen Paea over the ball?
The former Chicago Bears 3-technique tackle didn't deliver as an inside pass-rusher last season, collecting just 1.5 sacks. But Paea's play strength and low center of gravity at 6'1", 300 pounds make him a natural nose tackle.
This option has more merit than trusting McCloughan favorite Ricky Jean-Francois, who has rarely been more than rotational fodder on three different NFL rosters.
Depth Chart Player
1 Preston Smith
2 Ryan Kerrigan
3 Junior Galette
You can flip the positions of Preston Smith and Junior Galette if the latter can prove he is fully healthy and focused in time for the new season.
It's not that Smith didn't impress as a rookie last season. In fact, he proved to be one of McCloughan's best picks after logging eight sacks as a converted rush end on the outside.
But Galette in peak form is a more dominant speed rusher. The 28-year-old is a nightmare for offensive tackles and quarterbacks whenever he adopts a four-point stance and kicks it into high gear.
Galette needs to show he's healthy following the torn Achilles that wiped out his debut year with the Redskins. McCloughan believes one of his biggest gambles will be ready to play this season, according to Anthony Gulizia of the Washington Times.
Ryan Kerrigan will look to rebound from what was a down year on the other side. But despite a slight dip in overall production, Kerrigan remains the key difference-maker up front.
Depth Chart Player
1 Will Compton
2 Mason Foster
3 Perry Riley Jr.
4 Steven Daniels
5 Terence Garvin
Seventh-round draft choice Steven Daniels was one of my favorite picks from McCloughan's second draft. He's a highly productive and ultra-active throwback middle linebacker in a massive frame at 5'1", 243 pounds.
Shortly after the Redskins selected the former Boston College sledgehammer, Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post relayed comments from NFL Network's Mike Mayock indicating Daniels has a great chance of making a roster and maybe even growing into a pro starter.
That may sound like pie in the sky stuff now, but the Redskins were thrilled to land this thumper in the last round. Gruden expressed the team's surprise to see Daniels still on the board at 232, per the Washington Post's Mike Jones.
Daniels' chances of sticking on the roster and earning reps will be high because Washington is relying on a starting duo that really only blossomed late last season. Will Compton and Mason Foster offer speed and savvy in the middle, which are qualities Perry Riley Jr. has seldom exhibited with any consistency.
Yet, the underperformer who just never seems to shift will once again keep his roster spot. His presence, along with free agent Terence Garvin, should push Adam Hayward out the door after never having the impact expected on special teams.
Meanwhile, last year's fifth-round pick Martrell Spaight is likely to pay a cruel price for an injury-ruined rookie season, even though many would probably like to see him emerge and take Riley's place.
Depth Chart Player
1 Josh Norman
2 Chris Culliver
3 Bashaud Breeland
4 Kendall Fuller
5 Will Blackmon
6 Greg Toler
More than any other move he made this draft, the decision to draft Kendall Fuller in Round 3 showed McCloughan was more focused on events beyond this season.
There's just no other way to explain the decision to use a prime pick on adding a player with major injury concerns to an already densely populated depth chart. Fuller is coming off knee surgery and will be monitored by team doctor James Andrews, per Mike Jones of the Washington Post.
The former Virginia Tech ace represents the kind of gamble that makes or breaks the reputations of general managers. If he gets healthy, he'll look like a steal as an instinctive and physical cover man.
At 100 percent, Fuller is a good bet to become this team's primary slot corner. He might even take over for Chris Culliver, who had an underwhelming his first year in Washington and is coming off a torn ACL.
The position on the other side is the one certainty at cornerback after McCloughan snagged prized free agent Josh Norman. Gruden, per the team's official Twitter account, said landing one of the few shutdown corners in this league was like using a first-round pick on defense.
Signing Norman means Bashaud Breeland initially becomes the third cornerback—still a vital position in today's game. Meanwhile, new signing Greg Toler and last season's pleasant surprise in Will Blackmon round out the depth chart.
Six cornerbacks may seem a lot to carry, but it fits a defense seemingly built with stopping the pass as its primary focus, while negating the run appears as an afterthought.
Depth Chart Player
1 Duke Ihenacho
2 DeAngelo Hall
3 Su'a Cravens
4 Kyshoen Jarrett
5 David Bruton Jr.
6 Will Blackmon
Taking Su'a Cravens off the board in Round 2 was the best and most intriguing move McCloughan made during the draft. While the 226-pound hybrid rover has crossover potential at a variety of positions, he initially projects at safety.
The cost of using a second-round pick to take a player set to make his mark in sub-package sets may seem high, but Cravens' value will be obvious in how he'll expand the schemes. Specifically, he'll give defensive coordinator Joe Barry the freedom to deploy a "Big Nickel" three-safety set more often.
It's an essential front for defenses wanting to be in pass-first mode in today's game, but still retain run integrity.
Just as important, Cravens can be a vital matchup player against the pass. The former USC standout can help Washington corral players such as tight ends Jason Witten and Zach Ertz and pass-catching backs Darren Sproles and Shane Vereen.
All four represent major threats in the NFC East, threats Barry has to have an answer for.
Cravens can provide one and also offset the potential loss of last season's late-round gem Kyshoen Jarrett, whose season may be in jeopardy.
The rest of the rotation is crowded and not without questions. Specifically, can Duke Ihenacho stay healthy and can DeAngelo Hall master a new position? The latter question may also apply to Blackmon.
Kicker Dustin Hopkins
Punter Tress Way
LS Nick Sundberg
For the first time in a long time, the kicking game in Washington looks very solid. Specialists Dustin Hopkins and Tress Way have added quality and efficiency to their respective positions.
Nick Sundberg is still around as the long snapper of choice. Like those he supplies with chances to kick, the 28-year-old rarely makes a mistake.
Being able to depend on this trio is very welcome news for a team playing on the unpredictable surface at FedExField. While that might trouble visiting ball clubs, Washington can rest easy.
Expect the return game to continue being handled by receivers Ross, Roberts and Crowder. The latter pair need to step up in this area in 2016.
53-Man Roster Projection
Here's what the final 53 looks like after the draft:
|37||Perry Riley Jr.||ILB|
|50||David Bruton Jr.||S|