With an 8-7-1 finish and no playoffs last season for the Washington Redskins, change was not surprising this offseason for a team looking to build a consistent winning culture. The Redskins allowed star receivers Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson to depart via free agency, but also signed a bevy of defensive free agents including safety D.J. Swearinger and linebacker Zac Brown. They also made waves in the draft selecting stud interior lineman Jonathan Allen and have high hopes for their rest of their picks as well. Now no one knows what to expect from this team this season, but judging from the talent on their roster good things are on the horizon.
The unit to analyze first is the defense, which will be the most important side of the ball for this team to improve this year. This was a defense last year that struggled to consistently stop or even hinder opposing offenses. Last year’s group finished 5th worst in yards allowed, allowed the 6th most passing and rushing yards per game, and allowed just under 24 points per game which was bottom half of the league. So there is certainly plenty of room for improvement, however in order to get this back to its proficient level there are a few key things that must occur defensively to make this team better overall. The production from the defensive line should improve with the additions of veterans Stacy McGee, Phil Taylor, Terrell McClain and Draft Pick Johnathan Allen. Even with letting productive Lineman Chris Baker leave for Tampa Bay, the Redskins have supplemented this loss by bringing in several affordable options to give them a chance to fill the void. Playing from the idea of strength in numbers they hope these players improve the pass-rush and solidify the run defense. Moving to the linebackers: this position was solid last year with a productive year from Mason Foster (signed in 2015) who displayed good coverage skills and surprising speed. 2013 undrafted free agent Will Compton continued to make strides as a quality defensive signal caller and has emerged as a leader on the defense. With the addition of 2016 Pro-Bowler Zac Brown and late round pick Josh Harvey-Clemons this group should only grow stronger. With depth and veteran leadership at the position, I anticipate a spike in production and efficiency from the Washington linebacker core. Finally is the secondary lead by star corner Josh Norman and new addition D.J. Swearinger. With Swearinger and 2016 3rd round pick Su’a Cravens taking over as the two new starting safeties, the back end should be much faster and more athletic. Coupled with bounce back seasons from Bashaud Breeland and draft pick Kendal Fuller, the group who consistently gave up big pass plays last year should become less of a liability this season. With production from new additions as well as improvement from several key contributors remaining from last season, this defense has a chance to be significantly better than they were a season ago.
The special teams unit will remain more or less the same. With additions of impressive undrafted rookie Nico Marley bringing his speed and intensity to kick coverage teams coverage. To the continuing development of young Kicker and Punter Dustin Hopkins and Tress Way this unit should be a strong suit of the Redskins throughout the year. Adding the explosive playmaking on punt returns by Jamison Crowder and speed of Chris Thompson on kickoffs, this special teams unit should be intact and high quality for years to come.
Finally, the offense which was once the strength of this team now has question marks. However, with talent across the board; the Redskins are ready to repeat what they did a season ago and more. The departures of Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson from the receiving corps will be difficult to replace, but the addition of sizeable target Terrell Pryor and healthy 2016 1st round pick Josh Doctson should bring a new dimension to the offense allowing for more back shoulder and jump ball throws. A healthy Jordan Reed at tight end is terrifying to opposing defenses, if Reed can stay on the field, he and fellow tight end Vernon Davis will cause matchup nightmares. With an underrated offensive line led by All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams and a stable of talented running backs from undrafted rookie Robert Kelley, 2016 pick Samaje Perine, and versatile third down back Chris Thompson, this group can display different looks and leave opposing defenses confused. With all these weapons on hand, quarterback Kirk Cousins should have no issue building on his record breaking year last season.
Overall, roster turnover has been significant in the shaping of the 2017 Redskins roster. The team has been revamped with tons of new talent that can further aid this team’s growth as a consistent winner. With the infusion of youth and veteran leadership it is now up to the players and coaches to perform, and deliver on the excitement building for a team that should once again compete for an NFC East division title.
Author: Michael Aaron Chase Jr.