We continue our look at just how far away the Washington Redskins are from truly contending in the NFC by examining the returning players and need areas.
After taking a turn with the linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties, it’s time for the big boys on both lines and the tight ends. Can the Redskins put together a strong offensive line after such a broken season? Is the return of Jonathan Allen enough for a defensive line surge? Should Washington put its faith in Jordan Reed?
Defensive line: Jonathan Allen, Stacy McGee, Terrell McClain, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier, Ziggy Hood, A.J. Francis
Free agents: Phil Taylor, Arthur Jones
Notes: Without a proven lynchpin or notable holdovers, this group entered 2017 as the team’s most uncertain. That changes entering the next season since most of the current unit return, though your mileage may vary with that idea.
Allen, the 17th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, impressed in the five games he played before a season-ending foot injury. Washington’s run defense allowed 88 rush yards per game with the powerful rookie and 144.6 without. Ioannidis rocked early before a hand injury slowed him down while Lanier’s sacks became a staple later in the season.
Needs: Other than Allen, there are no true standouts. McGee and McClain landed nice free agent deals last offseason and joined Hood as the adults in the room. While McGee flashed strength in the run game, the Redskins need more from their veterans. Hood was thrust into duty as an undersized nose tackle after a season-ending injury in preseason to Taylor, a training camp surprise..
Considering Taylor was out of football before joining the Redskins, he cannot be considered a fallback plan. Spending good dollars in free agency is an option, but going for a pass rush presence on Day 1 or two of the draft is a plan worth considering.
Offensive line: Trent Williams, Morgan Moses, Brandon Scherff, Chase Roullier, T.J. Clemmings, Arie Kouandjio, Kyle Kalis, Tyler Catalina, Demetrius Rhaney
Free agents: Spencer Long, Shawn Lauvao, Ty Nsekhe (RFA), Tony Bergstrom
Notes: Injuries wrecked the line to the point where some games included three or four new starters with some of the big bodies only recently added to the roster. The Redskins have allowed 38 sacks entering the finale after surrendering 23 last season.
When intact, this group is arguably the strongest on the team, anchored by Pro Bowlers Williams and Scherff. Only the three returning starters, including Moses plus Roullier are locks to return next season. Ideally by then the coaching staff figures out how to get the inconsistent ground game going.
Needs: Left guard and center are in play. Do not believe those who say spending high picks on interior offensive linemen is unwise. That said the Redskins do not need to go that route if they keep Long and move him to left guard, his original position. That’s not a bad setup considering Roullier largely held his own at center in his first season.
Nsekhe could start for other teams and surely would love the chance, one he won’t land playing behind Williams and Moses. Retaining Bergstrom’s versatility makes sense. Catalina, Kouandjio and Kalis all received valuable playing time in 2017.
Tight ends: Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Manasseh Garner
Free agents: Niles Paul
Notes: The deepest group on the roster entering the season never could quite utilized all its options with Reed missing 10 games. Davis stunned with his playmaking. The 33-year-old enters Week 17 with a team-high 15.3 yards per catch. Paul, a locker room leader, helps in pass blocking and in the run game when the Redskins want a fullback look. The massive Sprinkle could turn into a blocking threat over time.
Needs: It’s not fair to pin all offensive concerns on a single player, but it’s hard not taking a long look at Reed and wonder if his best days are in the past. Granted, he will only turn 28 next year and is two seasons removed from 87-952-11. However, the best skill for any player is availability and Reed isn’t great in that area.
The decision here is bigger picture in terms how much can head coach Jay Gruden trust Reed when coming up with game plans considering how often he sits. Keeping Paul is an easy call unless the Redskins decide they need to use the spot for a Reed backup plan. Another option is keep this group as is while spending big for a top wide receiver.
Overall: Of these three units, spending big for another game-changer on the defensive line is the most transformative move available. If Long exists, Washington could look for a solid left guard in free agency.
NEXT: Quarterback, running back, wide receivers.