Projecting the Washington Redskins’ Week 1 roster is a preseason staple and a viable exercise for thinking beyond the obvious headliners. The typical and often appropriate approach is viewing battles within a position group. There’s also a pure numbers game with the final 53, which crosses units. How do decisions with one position affect others?
This aspect of roster decisions came up at some length Wednesday with my colleagues as we stood and stood and stood some more watching the Redskins practice in their return to Redskins Park. The debate stayed with me on the drive home.
There are two factors to consider beyond the traditional positions: Injuries and special teams. There’s no predicting who the next Trent Murphy is. We just know more injuries coming. Some players will make the final roster based on their special teams coverage skills and blocking ability more than any offense/defense work.
Last season the Redskins opened as follows: QB (3), RB (3), WR (6), TE (3), OL (9), DL (6), LB (9), CB (6), S (5), Specialists (3). Nobody is reinventing the wheel so the breakdown will fall in this general range, though eight on the OL seems right. We’ll ignore any desires for a 10th linebacker. On to the competition.
Third quarterback – Nate Sudfeld hasn’t been sharp this summer. The investment, a 2016 sixth-round pick, is minor. He’s also armed with impressive physical skills. Sure, Sudfeld needs a minute before seeing regular season action. That’s what developing a quarterback means.
Fourth running back – We’ve gone too far declaring Matt Jones dead man walking and not just because former Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan loves him. It’s just hard seeing Jones stick unless he dramatically improves on special teams. Mack Brown is strong there and a talented runner. He’s also eligible for the practice squad again and the Redskins might not need a fourth RB.
Sixth wide receiver – Let’s be real and put Ryan Grant on the “safe” list. That leaves Maurice Harris, Brian Quick and rookie Robert Davis battling for two spots, but maybe only one. Knee issues have kept Harris out for most of the past three weeks. The 6’3” Davis looks the part at receiver and special teams gunner. Any lingering Josh Doctson injury might have the Redskins learning toward the veteran Quick.
Fourth tight end – Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and Niles Paul cover all the bases when healthy. Of course, Reed (toe) remains sidelined, Davis is 33 and Paul played in eight of 32 games over the last two seasons. That’s the argument for a fourth tight end. There are five NFL worthy options on the roster. Derek Carrier might be the odd man out with rookie Jeremy Sprinkle doing solid work.
Seventh defensive lineman – This group is odd. The regular season opener is less than a month away and it’s unclear who will play where and when. Terrell McClain signed for $21 million this offseason, but isn’t a clear starter. Nose tackle Phil Taylor doesn’t look like a guy who last played in 2014. Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier and Joey Mbu are interesting young guys, but the Redskins need help now.
Eleventh defensive back – The modern, pass-heavy NFL demands defensive back surplus. There are five obvious corners with seventh-rounder Josh Holsey pushing for inclusion. There are five clear safeties, but Su’a Cravens is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and undrafted free agent Fish Smithson is making plays.
Who stays: Kirk Cousins is playing on a one-year contract, Jay Gruden is a quarterback guy and Doug Williams said this about Sudfeld. Unless Sudfeld is a trainwreck over the remaining three preseason games, the Redskins talk themselves into keeping him.
Whether it’s Holsey or Smithson, the Redskins keep 11 defensive backs.
Let’s not forget about Reed’s concussion history. Put me down for four tight ends.
That leaves RB (Jones/Brown), WR (Quick/Harris/Davis) and DL (Ioannidis, Mbu) for the final spot.
Running backs are generally a bit more disposable than other positions.
Harris and Davis are practice squad eligible. The fourth TE means another receiver exists if needed.
The defensive line is the roster’s most uncertain unit. Six is enough for their 3-4 base, but they use four down linemen often in nickel packages. That means keeping seven for rotation purposes; Ryan Kerrigan and other linebackers will play with their hand in the dirt, but the OLB group isn’t as deep as hoped after Murphy’s injury.
Do the math and scales tip toward the line. The breakdown: QB (3), RB (3), WR (5), TE (4), OL (8), DL (7), LB (9), DB (11), Specialists (3).
That’s the mid-August take. Injuries and special teams work will shape future thoughts. So will how the players play. That’s the biggest factor of all, just not the only one.