Washington Redskins: Grading the Strength of Every Unit at the Start of Camp
As the Washington Redskins, and the rest of the NFL, prepare to start training camp, the feeling that football is back begins to register with fans. Robert Griffin III is healthy, Jay Gruden brings a new, fresh look to the team and the roster additions all look promising.
Training camp is the time for all of the offseason work and changes—additions and subtractions—to be put to the test and graded accordingly.
At this stage, however, there is very little concrete evidence to grade as training camp gets under way. No one knows how the rookies will adjust to the big stage or how the free agents will mesh with established players.
All you really have is how the team looks on paper, and here is how the Redskins grade out position by position heading into training camp.
Much of Washington's success relies on the health and progress of Robert Griffin III. After an electric rookie season, he suffered through a season of visible discomfort and a public disconnect with his coaches.
A year later, with new coaches, improved supporting cast and minus one knee brace, Griffin is poised to recapture his playmaking ways.
Behind Griffin is Kirk Cousins, who still has yet to spark enough interest with other teams willing to trade for him. He is a capable quarterback, built for a pro-style offense, but how he figures into Jay Gruden's plans remains to be seen.
Free-agent addition Colt McCoy is a bit of an anomaly, since he has no prior experience with Gruden or his offense. However, he is somewhat experienced and could produce in a pinch. Don't expect him to do much more than hold a clipboard in 2014, though.
Pending proof that Griffin is, in fact, back to 100 percent, the quarterback position earns a "B" heading into training camp. Cousins has shown his worth through adversity, and he gives the Redskins a backup who is fully capable of starting in more than just emergency-duty situations.
How is it that even after amassing over 2,800 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns, Alfred Morris remains an afterthought in the NFL? From a pure rushing standpoint, Morris has more yards in the last two seasons that Matt Forte, Reggie Bush, Frank Gore, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy, each of whom made the NFL's Top 100 players list for 2014.
Granted, Morris does not have the pass-catching credentials to bolster his position as one of the NFL's best, but to ignore him completely is criminal.
Morris is a lock for another 1,000 yards, even in Gruden's offense, which relies on a strong rushing attack. Roy Helu is a capable backup, offering a nice change of pace as a more elusive runner and an excellent receiver out of the backfield.
Rookie Lache Seastrunk has yet to play a single down for the Redskins, but he's a playmaker with deceptive home run speed.
Morris is, at worst, a top-six running back, and Helu is underrated as both a runner and receiver. Adding Seastrunk doesn't do much to alter the "A" grade the unit earns going into training camp.
Fullbacks are the forgotten heroes of the power-run game, but that hasn't stopped Darrel Young from being one of the best bulldozers in the NFL. He's not without his flaws, he is not an overwhelming blocker, but he is efficient in paving the way for Morris and Co.
Young doesn't get a ton of touches on offense, but he has shown he can be both a productive rusher and receiver. In 2011, he caught 15 passes for 146 yards. In 2013, he plowed into the end zone for three touchdowns on short-yardage situations.
In a league that favors wide-open offenses with more receivers, Young fits into the generation of playmakers both as a blocker and with the ball in his hands.
The Redskins signed Stephen Campbell to presumably give Young some competition in training camp. He played tight end at Clemson and is built like a tight end, which doesn't suit him to being a pure fullback.
Aside from Campbell's potential role as an H-back, Young is the guy at fullback and he is headed for what could be an excellent season.
There seems to be very little standing between Jordan Reed and stardom save for some injury concerns. As a rookie, Reed finished second on the team with 45 receptions, which not only speaks volumes for his ability, but it also speaks to the lack of reliable receivers on the roster in 2013.
Now, having worked through his hip issues and post-concussion symptoms that plagued his rookie season, Reed is now just one of many playmakers in the passing game.
After Reed is the reliable Logan Paulsen, who is the best blocking tight end the Redskins have and is capable of catching passes in a limited role.
Niles Paul and rookie Ted Bolser make up the rest of the depth chart, and both factor more into special teams than the offense.
Paul is a converted receiver, but he has never had the chance to showcase his ability. He’s done well on special teams, but the best player on the worst unit isn’t really a credit to his abilities. Bolser will either push Paul to be better or supplant him as the special teams ace.
What was once a glaring weakness became a strength in just one offseason. Before the addition of both DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts, it looked like the Redskins were going to have to stick Aldrick Robinson in as the second receiver.
Now, Pierre Garcon, who led the NFL in receptions in 2013, has the electric Jackson to take the pressure off and Roberts to run underneath and spread the defense even thinner.
The trio of Garcon, Jackson and Roberts is among the best in the NFL and changes everything for the Redskins' passing attack.
As far as depth goes, Santana Moss is still a veteran presence capable of producing as a slot receiver. Robinson is still a great deep threat, even if he doesn't add much of a threat anywhere else on the field.
Leonard Hankerson is a question mark as he is still recovering from tearing his right ACL and LCL in November. He may find himself fighting against the undrafted Cody Hoffman and rookie Ryan Grant.
The top of the depth chart is what dictates the grade, though depth could be a concern should anything happen to Garcon or Jackson.
Where would the Redskins be without Trent Williams as their rock at left tackle? With arguably the best left tackle in the NFL right now, Washington needs to work harder to build up the rest of the line before it is too late.
By drafting Spencer Long and Morgan Moses to succeed Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus at right guard and right tackle, respectively, the Redskins showed they are thinking about the future.
Unfortunately, the future is not now, and Washington still has Chester and Polumbus as their starters on the right side.
Shawn Lauvao was signed to fill in the void at left guard left by Kory Lichtensteiger moving back to a more natural center position. Lauvao is nothing special, but he fits the position better and the Redskins had to dispose of Will Montgomery in the offseason.
Until Long and Moses earn their starting roles, the right side will be a question mark. It is still unknown what Lichtensteiger and Lauvao actually add to the offensive line.
As far as depth is concerned, there is no experience behind the starters. Josh LeRibeus was once viewed as a potential starter until he showed up to camp out of shape last year. Adam Gettis has yet to prove his worth, Tom Compton remains a raw prospect with potential, Mike McGlynn is, at best, an emergency starter along the interior.
Training camp should shed some light on everything in question, but will it be too late to do anything about it if things turn out worse than expected?
On paper, the Redskins have an exceptionally talented defensive line. Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield are quiet leaders who have a positive impact on the game, Chris Baker is a big body capable of stuffing the run and pressuring the quarterback.
Jarvis Jenkins is a physically gifted player, Jason Hatcher recorded a career-high 11 sacks just last season.
Of course, very little of that matters because Bowen is recovering from microfracture surgery, Cofield had surgery to repair a hernia and Hatcher had arthroscopic knee surgery that could limit him until the start of the season.
Based on talent alone, the defensive line is an "A." Health, however, bumps the grade down. Jenkins and Baker as the only healthy players in the rotation is not enough.
Short of signing a young, proven All-Pro linebacker to replace him, there was very little the Redskins could do about the void London Fletcher’s retirement left in the middle of their defense. They re-signed Perry Riley, who is talented, but inconsistent, and that only maintains half of their starting tandem from the last two seasons.
Enter Keenan Robinson, who has missed most of his first two professional seasons with torn pectoral muscles.
What Robinson lacks in experience, he makes up for in physical ability. He is bigger and stronger than Fletcher and is a better fit for the coverage demands of an inside linebacker.
He will have to learn on the fly or else he’ll lose his starting gig to Darryl Sharpton, formerly of the Houston Texans.
Sharpton filled in well for Brian Cushing at inside linebacker and is arguably the better option to start based on experience and production.
After Sharpton is Akeem Jordan, who figures to be a special teams contributor.
Too much of the strength of the unit relies on Robinson proving capable of being the starter in the thick of it all. Heading into training camp, it is impossible to give the unit a high mark.
Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan should be a terrifying pass-rushing duo, notching double-digit sacks apiece and wreaking havoc on any and all quarterbacks.
As it stands, the duo has been pretty good—but largely disappointing—considering both were top-16 picks. Orakpo is one of the most physically gifted linebackers in the league, but he has failed to make the statistical impact expected from a player of his ability.
Kerrigan is a high-motor player with excellent ball skills. He’s not expected to be a 20-sack player, but he hasn’t put together the great performance he is capable of having.
Rookie Trent Murphy’s role in the rotation is unclear at this point, but like Kerrigan, he is a relentless player as opposed to an explosive athlete. Being a second-round pick means that the Redskins are likely to work him into their scheme somehow.
Rob Jackson is a veteran capable of producing in limited time, evidenced by his 4.5 sacks and two interceptions in 2012 in relief of the injured Orakpo. Brandon Jenkins has a ton of potential, but he has yet to have a chance to show his skills, which typically means he hasn’t shown he’s worthy of it just yet.
The pass rush will be a point of emphasis in 2014, and the talent loaded on the Redskins' roster has the makings of a special group.
The safety positions are still a huge question mark for the Redskins, even with the improvements and changes made this offseason. Brandon Meriweather was brought back on a one-year deal to be the strong safety, where he has belonged the entire time.
More importantly, Ryan Clark was signed as a veteran free safety to not only provide a stable presence where the Redskins need it most, as well as providing a bridge between now and the future starter at free safety.
Clark is headed for 35 and is likely done in the NFL within the next three years. The Redskins need to consider the future, which is either Bacarri Rambo or Phillip Thomas.
Thomas missed his rookie year with a Lisfranc tear, but he was on track to be the starting strong safety. He is a promising prospect, but he's still largely unknown in terms of his NFL ability.
Rambo was horrible at free safety as a rookie and needs to improve for Washington to have any confidence in him as the future at free safety.
DeAngelo Hall returns as the Redskins' top corner, which can mean that he’s still at the top of his game or there are no better options to be found. Hall has slowly progressed from an overeager ball hawk to a solid cover corner with excellent ball skills.
David Amerson steps up in place of Josh Wilson, who proved to be an awful free-agent addition and lost time to Amerson last season.
Amerson is still learning the nuances of his position, but he has a ton of upside and ball skills to rival Hall’s. The question about Amerson is can he make the jump from third corner to the second starter without falter?
Rookie Bashaud Breeland and free-agent addition Tracy Porter will battle for the nickel and dime duties, and their combined skills will make passing downs fun to watch. It's a notable change from the sometimes cringe-worthy play of the corners in the past few seasons.
E.J. Biggers returns with solid versatility, but the real questions are Chase Minnifield and Richard Crawford.
Crawford missed the 2013 with a torn ACL, and Minnifield once again was held off the active roster until late in the season. The former needs to prove he’s recovered and able to be a corner as opposed to a return specialist.
The latter has the skills to at least be a third corner, but he has never had the chance to prove as much. As much as the group has improved over last season, there are too many questions to be answered in training camp.
Kai Forbath proved he could be a consistent, if not clutch, kicker for the Redskins when he connected on 17 of 18 field goals in 2012, including a stretch of 13 straight. Where Forbath falls short is on kickoffs, where he had the Redskins in the bottom third of the NFL in touchbacks.
As dreadful as the kick coverage has been, Forbath forcing them to cover more kicks than necessary was a drawback.
The Redskins decided it was worth it to draft Zach Hocker out of Arkansas to spice up the offseason competition at kicker. Hocker hit 13 of his 15 field-goal attempts last season, but more importantly, he boomed 34 kickoffs for touchbacks out of 50.
If nothing else, the Redskins can stash Hocker on the practice squad to call up as necessary.
The punting situation is not so promising or intriguing. After parting ways with Sav Rocca earlier in the offseason, the Redskins brought in Robert Malone and Blake Clingan, neither of whom have a wealth of experience.
Dollars to donuts, neither Clingan nor Malone get the job, and the Redskins go after a veteran free agent such as Mat McBriar or Zoltan Mesko, that latter of whom spent a part of 2013 with Gruden in Cincinnati.
As it stands now, the punter situation is a bit of a cluster. If not for the actual competition for a good kicker, the training camp grade for the kicking specialist would be a lot worse.