This offseason, I’ve reviewed a number of the Redskins transactions and have offered my opinion on them, concluding that I didn’t really understand where the Redskins chose to invest the majority of their resources. It’s clear that the Redskins put the vast majority of their resources into their passing game. They identified their three biggest passing weaknesses as 1) quarterback play, 2) interior OL protection, and 3) explosive plays from the receiving corps. The Redskins were able to address all three of those issues, although they more than overspent their means to get Robert Griffin III. That’s been a common criticism of the deal, but the good news is that if Griffin can go out and have success as a rookie, the Redskins should be able to work around not having a first round pick in each of the next two drafts. Despite having overspent their means, the Redskins improved the interior of their offense through the draft, and spent all remaining available cash on receiving talent.
Today, my aim is to look at the entirity of the Redskins roster. It’s pretty clear who is expected to take the majority of playing time on both side of the ball, and all the interesting camp battles will come down to roster spots between young players who aren’t particuarly established. It was an interesting way for a team that complained about it’s depth to build a roster, but the Redskins deserve some credit for identifying specific weaknesses and taking steps to address those weaknesses. Too often in the last decade, the Redskins responded to losing by making unreasonable assumptions about being close and needing to avoid injuries. There’s some evidence that the Redskins are still making both of those flawed assumptions, but the personnel decisions — for all the ways they can be criticized — are far more targeted than they have been in the past.
Let’s start the roster evaluation by looking at the players that are expected to eat a majority of the snaps in 2012:
Offense (15): Quarterback Robert Griffin III, Runningback Roy Helu, Runningback Tim Hightower, Wide Receiver Pierre Garcon, Wide Receiver Santana Moss, Wide Receiver Leonard Hankerson, Wide Receiver Joshua Morgan, Tight End Fred Davis, Tight End Niles Paul, Offensive Tackle Trent Williams, Offensive Tackle Jammal Brown, Guard Kory Lichtensteiger, Guard Chris Chester, Guard/Center Josh LeRibeus, Center Will Montgomery
One notable ommission from this list is TE Chris Cooley, who I do think is going to make the roster, though he is likely to recieve as many snaps at the fullback position as he will get at tight end. Cooley becomes a lot more valuable if Fred Davis gets hurt this year, because if the Redskins can manage his deterioriating body, Cooley can still produce at a starter’s level. But his role on this team is strictly as a reserve.
Assuming that Cooley no longer counts as quality depth (and that he wouldn’t have a role on this team if he wasn’t named Chris Cooley — or if the Redskins had anyone else at TE that could make a block), the Redskins have four players that can provide depth at a high level on the offensive roster (which I think becomes five if Evan Royster makes the team). Niles Paul at TE. Josh Morgan at WR. Tim Hightower at RB. And then Josh LeRibeus in the middle of the offensive line.
How does depth that compare to other teams in the NFC East? The Cowboys have some depth: QB Kyle Orton, RB Felix Jones, but are badly lacking beyond that. The Giants got quality depth early in this draft, which saw them take RB David Wilson in the first round, and then WR Rueben Randle in the second, and both of those prospects provide higher quality upside than the Redskins have in guys like Morgan and LeRibeus. But the Giants offensive line both lacks five proven quality players who aren’t on the downside of their career, and the depth they drafted includes longshots such as Matt McCants competing with vets such as Redskins castoff Sean Locklear. It has to be a bit troublesome for Giants fans that beyond their bare bones starting 11 guys on offense, they’ll be relying on rookies to contribute even if those rookies are really good prospects. The Eagles are doing perhpaps the best on depth within the NFC East, but their entire hopes as an elite offense relies on the chance that Michael Vick rebounds after an inconsistent 2011 season. Their best reserves are WR Jason Avant, and peraps even RB Dion Lewis. Philadelphia was really crushed by the injury to Jason Peters, not only in losing the league’s best OLineman, but their depth on the OL goes from ‘above average’ to ‘stretched’ in the process.
The Redskins offensive starting lineup may still be problematic, as it’s difficult to get really excited about any one player beyond the group of Robert Griffin, Roy Helu, Trent Williams, and Fred Davis. That’s not a bad offensive core, but every team in the NFC East has that beat. And while the available offensive depth for the Redskins doesn’t seem like much (and compared to league-wide standard, it isn’t much), the Redskins are considerably deeper on the offensive side of the football than any of their division rivals, who (beyond an injury to Tony Romo) are really not well equipped to handle a well placed injury.
Time to move the focus to the defensive side of the ball:
Defense (14): NT Barry Cofield, DT Jarvis Jenkins, DT Stephen Bowen, DT Adam Carriker, LB Brian Orakpo, LB Ryan Kerrigan, LB London Fletcher, LB Perry Riley, LB Lorenzo Alexander, CB Josh Wilson, CB DeAngelo Hall, CB Cedric Griffin, S Tanard Jackson, S Brandon Meriweather
This list obviously looks so much better if UDFA rookie Chase Minnifield or fourth year vet Kevin Barnes can make an impact in the secondary, but it’s clear that the Redskins defense is sorely lacking in depth it can count on. The good news in the secondary is that there’s plenty of versatility this year: Kevin Barnes and DeAngelo Hall can each go play safety in case of injury, but that would require someone expected (like Minnifield or Morgan Trent) to step up at corner. Right now, the Redskins are weak at both positions in the secondary, but any unexpected contribution from anybody in that group could have a multiplier effect on the rest of the secondary.
The best players in the front seven for the Redskins are Cofield, Kerrigan, Fletcher, Orakpo, and (they hope) Jenkins. That’s as strong a defensive core as any in the game of football, right up there with the defenses in Kansas City and Chicago. But the illustration I’m trying to make here is that it’s not very deep. If Jenkins doesn’t develop, the Redskins are stretched incredibly thin. If Orakpo or Kerrigan misses any time whatsoever, the Redskins will be exploited. Fletcher is 37, and the Redskins can’t be comfortable with the Plan B of a non-descript veteran such as Bryan Kehl or Jonathon Goff.
The rest of the NFC East is almost unfairly loaded in defensive talent.
Cowboys (16): NT Jay Ratliff, DT Jason Hatcher, DT Kenyon Coleman, DT Tyrone Crawford, DT Marcus Spears, LB DeMarcus Ware, LB Anthony Spencer, LB Sean Lee, LB Dan Connor, LB Bruce Carter, CB Brandon Carr, CB Morris Claiborne, CB Mike Jenkins, CB Orlando Scandrick, S Gerald Sensabaugh, S Brodney Pool
Giants (15): DE Jason Pierre Paul, DE Justin Tuck, DE Osi Umenyiora, DT Chris Canty, DT Linval Joseph, DT Rocky Bernard, LB Michael Boley, LB Keith Rivers, LB Matthias Kiwanuka, LB Chase Blackburn, CB Terrell Thomas, CB Corey Webster, CB Prince Amukamara, S Kenny Phillips, S Antrel Rolle
Eagles (17): DE Trent Cole, DE Jason Babin, DE Vinny Curry, DT/DE Fletcher Cox, DT Cullen Jenkins, DT Mike Patterson, DT Derek Landri, LB Demeco Ryans, LB Brian Rolle, LB Moise Fokou, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Joselio Hanson, CB Brandon Boykin, S Nate Allen, S Kurt Coleman, S O.J. Atogwe
The Eagles can very nearly play two different defenses. As said above, I would put the Redskins defensive core up against anyone’s from that group. Nnamdi, Ryans, Cole, Babin, Jenkins might have Orkapo, Kerrigan, Fletcher, Cofield, Jenkins beat, but it is close. The Giants still have top DL talent with JPP, Tuck, and back seven pieces in Kiwanuka, Thomas, Webster, and Phillips, but I would take the Redskins’ core. The Redskins other problem on defense is that they don’t have Trent Cole, Jason Pierre Paul or DeMarcus Ware on that roster. I think both Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan have the ability to be in that class this year, but it is not a certainty that either will get there.
The Redskins have 29 guys who are slated to get a majority of their playing time, while the Giants are slated to split reps among 28 players, 29 for the Cowboys, and 30 for the Eagles. There’s not a huge difference here in the overall approaches between the NFC East teams. A team can have 45 active players for any given game, and three of those 45 will be specialists, and 10-12 others will see a majority of their time on special teams. You also have to keep a backup quarterback active. That means that most teams will split their offensive and defensive reps between about 30 players. If you can go 15 deep on both sides of the ball with quality contributors, you should be able to weather the storm of a normal year of NFL injuries.
The Redskins are cutting it close on the defensive side, and will need to hope that Fletcher, Kerrigan, and Orakpo all play full seasons. But the rest of the NFC East is cutting it very close on the offensive side, where the Redskins are much better off. Obviously the Redskins still need good injury fortune on the offensive side of the ball. They can’t replace Trent Williams or Robert Griffin if they go down. But the Redskins are in better shape than the Eagles are if Mike Vick goes down, than the Giants are if Chris Snee or David Baas goes down, or than the Cowboys are if Miles Austin misses time. And although the Redskins have not yet developed premier offensive talent, they are improving on that side of the ball. No longer are the Redskins trying to field an 11 man lineup with 7 or 8 NFL quality offensive players.
They will try to get by on defense with that.