State of the Team: Washington Redskins
by Andy Benoit
The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that many units are listed with 12 starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.
- Jury’s still out
- Just a guy
- Upgrade needed
- No longer on the team
Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.
Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.
Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.
Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.
Mike and Kyle Shanahan have expanded their system, which is predicated largely on zone-running and play-action, to include the read-option and pistol formation concepts that revolutionized the NFL in 2012. Last year the natural deception and disguises brought forth by the "pistol option" had the desired effect of simplifying the game for Washington’s young backfield and ho-hum receiving corps. As Washington’s offensive players continue to mature, this system will continue to grow. That is, of course, assuming the franchise quarterback is available.
QB: Robert Griffin, Kirk Cousins, Rex Grossman
RB: Alfred Morris, Evan Royster, Roy Helu, Darrel Young (FB)
Everything hinges on Griffin’s health. His recovery from knee surgery is just part of the equation; the rest of it pertains to him adjusting his style of play. The dazzling young star won’t ultimately amount to anything more than the next Michael Vick if he takes the kind of hits he took as a rookie. Griffin doesn’t have the frame to survive that. It's imperative the Redskins take advantage of Griffin's mobility, and it's even more imperative that Griffin do a better job protecting himself. It's not just a matter of sliding, but also taking fewer hits in the pocket, which is often a function of footwork and awareness.
This isn’t to say the Redskins shouldn’t feature his running talents. If Griffin were to be confined strictly to the pocket, the Redskins would have a smart, strong-armed quarterback with a quick release, but they wouldn’t have the game-changing superstar that they traded a boatload of draft picks to get. Just the threat of Griffin’s running does wonders for Washington’s ground game. It’s a ground game that, even without Griffin, is pretty strong. Morris doesn’t have dynamic abilities, but he’s a patient, tough-to-tackle downhill player. He runs with a subtle hint of wiggle and has better quickness through the hole than you’d guess. And he’s very good on the perimeter. The rest of Washington’s backs are third-down niche players who are aided by the zone-blocking scheme.
Cousins will start the year at quarterback if Griffin isn't ready for Week 1. He was solid as a fill-in starter, but he was protected by playcalling when he did play. It was all bootlegs and rolled pockets. A team couldn’t win consistently with him dropping back in a traditional pocket 25 times a game right now, particularly against complex defenses.
WR: Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson
TE: Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen, Niles Paul; Lost: Chris Cooley
Individually, none of these players have special attributes, save for maybe Garcon with his strength running after the catch. Fortunately, they play in a system that naturally gets them open with simple zone-beater routes off play-action. The system also emphasizes getting the wideouts and tight ends involved in the screen game. As long as you can execute your route and catch the ball (something Washington receivers too often failed to do last season), you’ll have a chance to produce. Also, with so many stretch-run concepts, this system demands good blocking not just from the tight ends but also the wideouts. In that regard, it makes sense that Garcon, Morgan, Hankerson, Paulsen and even the more versatile Davis are relatively thick possession-type targets. Davis must prove he can bounce back from last season’s Achilles injury. (He's "green" if he does.) In the Shanahan offense, he blocks better than you might expect because he understands simple angles on the move.
LT: Trent Williams LG: Kory Lichtensteiger C: Will Montgomery RG: Chris Chester RT: Jeremy Trueblood
Backups: Tyler Polumbus, Josh LeRibeus; Lost: Jammal Brown, Jordan Black
This front five plays well as a unit. The interior, in particular, overachieved last season. That’s a credit to the players, but more to the coaches for putting linemen in a system that masks their weaknesses while highlighting their strengths in short-area mobility. On the edges, Williams’ athleticism has started to show on more of a down-by-down basis. It helps that he’s not asked to handle as many tough one-on-one assignments as most left tackles. Trueblood is essentially what the man he’s replacing (Polumbus) was: a fill-in body at best, and a liability at worst.
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett asks a lot from his players. He’s willing to roll the dice with unfavorable matchups in man coverage. You’ll see Redskins defenders cover 10-to-20 yards of lateral ground while hunting up coverage assignments out of disguised looks. You’ll see them show a Cover-0 blitz and actually bring it, then show a Cover-0 blitz only to drop eight defenders back after the snap. You’ll see zone coverages behind typical man-to-man blitz looks. Haslett’s aggressiveness last season was due in part to attrition in his pass defense. The loss of Brian Orakpo carried an ugly domino effect that left this defense with an impotent four-man rush. In the secondary, injuries at safety had Haslett toying with different sub-package looks all season. In the end, the Redskins wound up performing better than their numbers indicate, but that doesn’t mean this group has no room to improve in 2013.
DE: Adam Carriker, Stephen Bowen, Jarvis Jenkins, Kedric Golston
DT: Barry Cofield, Ron Brace
Carriker is looking to bounce back after missing all of last season with a torn quadriceps tendon. When he’s right, he’s a sturdy running-down five-technique. Bowen plays with good power in the ground game. Jenkins and Golston offer energetic depth. Cofield is Washington’s best run-stuffer, but he rarely stood out on film last season.
OLB: Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Darryl Tapp, Rob Jackson, Vic So'oto; Lost: Lorenzo Alexander, Chris Wilson
[ad placeholder 3]
ILB: London Fletcher, Perry Riley, Bryan Kehl, Keenan Robinson
Getting Orakpo back will be huge. He’s a smart pass rusher and underappreciated force defender in the run game. There’s a belief that Kerrigan is a rising star, but if that were true, the former first-round pick would have at least some pass-rushing creativity. As it stands, most offenses feel comfortable blocking him one-on-one with their right tackle, which is unacceptable. Jackson is the definition of a solid player. He can’t quite turn the corner, but he understands angles in the run game and is very good dropping to the flats in pass defense. Fletcher is also good against the pass. And, even nearing the tender age of 38, he’s still great against the run. He makes Riley a better player.
(Ed. Note: Andy and I may disagree more on Kerrigan than any other player, even more than Antonio Brown or Joe Flacco. I don't care how creative his pass-rush moves look on film, I just find it very hard to argue with Kerrigan's production. Kerrigan had 8.5 sacks this year despite not having Brian Orakpo to draw attention on the other side. By our current count, he had 28 hurries, which put him tied for fifth with Aldon Smith. Yes, he faces right tackles instead of left tackles, but I think that makes a good argument to consider him "green" instead of "blue," not to consider him "black" as an average NFL starter.
In fact, Andy and I probably disagree on the Washington front seven more than any other group in the league. I also would have Orakpo "blue" and Cofield "green." -- Aaron Schatz)
CB: Josh Wilson, D'Angelo Hall, E.J. Biggers, Richard Crawford; Lost: Cedric Griffin
S: Brandon Meriweather, Reed Doughty, DeJon Gomes, Jordan Pugh; Lost: Madieu Williams
Wilson brings added value because he can play outside or in the slot. However, receivers too often get by him vertically when it’s man coverage. Hall is even more versatile, which Haslett takes full advantage of. His game charting numbers have never been great, but last year the Redskins defense survived by relying heavily on him in variety of ways (safety in sub-packages, nickel blitzing, man-to-man outside against Dez Bryant in Week 17, etc.). Biggers was never anything special in Tampa Bay. Crawford is young and early in his developmental process. At safety, Meriweather looked excellent in the one game he played last season. But one game, of course, does nothing to quell the concerns about whether he can come back from knee problems. He’ll get a chance to start because he’s a significantly better athlete than Gomes. Doughty isn’t great in coverage but he plays with a lot of speed in the box.
(Ed. Note Part II: At the Sloan conference, I referred to DeAngelo Hall as the most overrated player in the NFL, but I can see Andy's argument that his versatility makes him more than "just a guy." Hall would have a lot more value to Washington if they stopped trying to use him as an outside corner and instead used him the way the Giants use Antrel Rolle, moving back and forth between safety and nickelback. Don't be fooled by Hall's performance against Dez Bryant on national TV in Week 17; it was just one game, and Bryant still caught 4-of-10 passes for 71 yards with Hall listed in coverage.)
K: Kai Forbath; P: Sav Rocca
As a rookie, Forbath was poor on kickoffs and average on field goals, but that doesn't make a definitive statement about his potential. Rocca has declined significantly the last two seasons and was next-to-last in gross punt value in 2012. He's going to be 40 this year, so have fun making a tackle if the return man breaks your coverage, buddy.
e-mail Contact Us
47 comments, Last at 24 Apr 2013, 11:09pm
#2 by Tim Wilson // Apr 21, 2013 - 9:55pm
I thought that most data said that mobile QBs get injured about as often as non-mobile QBs? The Griffin commentary here seems to parrot the popular narrative. Maybe this is a case of the popular narrative being correct, but I was surprised to read this.
#19 by Karl Cuba // Apr 22, 2013 - 10:37am
That is what most studies I've seen say. However, I've yet to see a study of mobile qbs who don't know how to slide. Vick never leaned to protect himself by sliding and RGIII really needs to learn it (how can it be possible that two gifted athletes like them just cannot slide?).
#20 by Aaron Schatz // Apr 22, 2013 - 11:56am
I am not a strong believer in the studies so far about injury rate for running QBs vs. pocket QBs. Those studies have a very small sample size, and for the most part the "running QBs" they are studying are QBs who scramble when a play breaks down, not QBs who are running options and designed power runs.
A much more accurate study about injury rate for running QBs vs. pocket QBs would study the injury rate for quarterbacks in college over the last few years. That would have a much larger sample size and would be studying QBs running the types of plays that many of us believe portend a higher rate of injury for players like Griffin and Colin Kaepernick.
#23 by Karl Cuba // Apr 22, 2013 - 2:44pm
I agree with what you're saying about designed runs versus scrambles and I would like to see a study like the one you propose.
I would point out that Kaepernick only kept the ball on fewer than twenty designed runs in the regular season last year and quite a few of them were gadget plays before he became the starter. The vast majority of his runs were scrambles, especially in the regular season.
Last year the niners deliberately didn't use the read option very much for the final month or so and I will be interested to see the extent to which they deploy it next year. They might scale it back in the regular season to try to keep Kaepernick healthy and if they are serious about running it full time then perhaps they should go after Manuel or Scott in the draft.
#3 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 21, 2013 - 10:04pm
"It was all bootlegs and rolled pockets. A team couldn’t win consistently with him dropping back in a traditional pocket 25 times a game right now, particularly against complex defenses."
I dunno, it seems to work pretty well for Brees and Wilson.
#5 by cisforcookie (not verified) // Apr 21, 2013 - 11:06pm
Is there a "he just wins bias" supporting alfred morris's status as green? What about all the reasons to think he's just a guy?
Mike Shanahan backs are fungible
elite running qbs turn mediocre RBs into stars
having a really good offensive line matters a LOT.
The scouting reports on Morris coming out of college indicated that he was totally pedestrian. no quickness, no speed, no receiving skills. even andy's description of him reads like the tailback equivalent of the white wide receiver scouting report.
#6 by Aaron Brooks G… // Apr 21, 2013 - 11:15pm
There are few principles more overstated than the fungibility of Mike Shanahan's RBs.
Shanahan can get a JAG back to 1000 yards. He can get a very good back to 1500. TD could get to 2000. But even Shanahan can't turn shit into shinola.
The 2010 and 2011 'skins, and 1999 and 2001 Broncos shows that. And Morris was a 1600 yard guy. Even subtracting the Shanahan and the running QB effect, that's a pretty solid RB. Who played for a terrible offense in college, and was pretty much their only reliable source of yards.
#8 by Never Surrender // Apr 21, 2013 - 11:24pm
He came in 5th in FO's advanced metrics, which among other things do their best to isolate the actual contributions of a player. Another season like that and we should be debating whether he's blue rather than green.
One reason to think Morris is better than "just a guy" is because the other RBs that shared time with him are "just a guy"s, and it was a substantial downgrade whenever they were carrying the ball.
#14 by cisforcookie (not verified) // Apr 22, 2013 - 8:13am
what kind of fiction is this? the individual dvoa/dyar stats are highly erratic because they make absolutely no effort to remove the impact that other players have on a player's success. alfred morris put up good numbers, and dvoa agrees that they were good numbers, but that doesn't tell us whether it was morris or his surroundings. the only reason morris got carries in the first place was because everyone else on that team was injured, so I guess you could say that he has at least one essential skill, health.
#21 by Aaron Schatz // Apr 22, 2013 - 11:58am
Yes, "C is for Cookie" is right. We specifically state that DVOA/DYAR do not do a good job of separating out a player from his teammates or offensive scheme.
However, DVOA/DYAR are useful for comparing a player to teammates who are running behind the same line and in the same scheme. This is why I believe that Terrell Davis was miles ahead of any of Shanahan's other Denver running backs.
#29 by RickD // Apr 22, 2013 - 4:08pm
TD was definitely miles ahead of the rest of the stable in Denver, but Portis's ability to maintain a relatively high production level after being traded to the Redskins counts for something.
Morris is good. The argument of "lots of other Shanahan RBs have produced" ignores the fact that this is simply false when talking about RBs in his Redskin years. Morris just set the Redskins single-season record for rushing yardage, and it wasn't close if you look at his recent predecessors. The Redskins hadn't had a 1000-yard rusher since the last big year by Portis (2008) and then Morris earned 1600.
The "fungible RB" argument is laughable with that tidbit in mind.
#22 by Never Surrender // Apr 22, 2013 - 12:17pm
Whoops, you are right and I was wrong about DVOA and player isolation. My bad.
Morris did steal the starting job from the other backs, though. Then again, the talent level of his competition wasn't too impressive.
#13 by usctrojan11 (not verified) // Apr 22, 2013 - 7:17am
you hit the nail on the head regarding shanahan backs, although theyre a little less fungible now than they were in the 90s when he had alex gibbs and the scheme hadnt been in the league for years. (on a side note, arian foster is another example of a mediocre sec back getting a starting spot with a gibbs/shanahan/kubiak offense and then you know what happens)
Just as a quick note to mr brooks, i just want to say that if clinton portis had arrived in devener in 1995 instead of td(if hed been born 7 years earlier and landed on denver instead of td)wed be talking about his 2000 yard season(s). people, when comparing portis and td, forget that td had 4 years in the system before getting 2000 and portis only had two.
#24 by cjfarls // Apr 22, 2013 - 3:26pm
I don't really disagree... Portis was a great back in Shanny's system. He had a little more speed in the open field, and little less "fall forward for an extra yard" than TD did, but he was a great RB in the system. I'd still take TD if given the choice, but saying Portis was special in that Shanny zone-block scheme isn't wrong.
I do think folks underrate Morris however. Morris is much better than the O.Gary/M.Anderson/R.Droughns/M.Bell crop of JAGs that had success in Shanny's system... he's much closer to Portis/TD than those guys. He's just fast enough, that his good short-area vision, one-cut burst, and strength to push the pile an extra couple yards mean he is a VERY GOOD back in the context that Shanny places him in. His talents match what Shanny wants him to do, and the everyday JAG RB is not going to do that.
That doesn't mean he'd have equal success in another system, but folks that discount him as a JAG ignore that for many pro-bowl or even All-pro caliber players, success is more about matching particular talents to a scheme that maximizes their strengths and minimizes their weakness, rather than having some uber-talent that transcends scheme. E.g. Joe Montana is an almost nobody in a slow-developing, deep-passing scheme... and arguably the GOAT in a WCO. That isn't disparaging to Montana... it just is.
#25 by RickD // Apr 22, 2013 - 3:54pm
Not all Shanahan RBs are equally fungible. Portis was better than most and TD deserved his MVP.
Alfred Morris is closer to the Portis level (and with the potential of doing even more) than to the Orlandis Gary level.
As for the O-line, that same O-line was not utilized as well by any of the other Redskins in the past few years. I would say they are good but not "really good".
And yet Morris was 5th in the league in DYAR, above guys like Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles, Steven Jackson and Arian Foster. I think green is quite appropriate for anybody who is fifth back at DYAR.
The scouting reports out of college were obviously way off. You don't think he'd last until the 6th round in a re-draft, do you?
#41 by Usernai (not verified) // Apr 24, 2013 - 9:03am
The scouting of Morris was of a guy on a totally overwhelmed one win team. And of a guy with unremarkable dash times.
But what Shanahan saw, and you would too if you watched the games, is extraordinary nimbleness. If you look how he hits the hole, defenders line him up and constantly mess up their angles, whiffing or making poor contact as he turns three yards into six. It's a subtle talent that makes guys like Emmitt Smith much better than they look in measurables, but it shows in production.
By ypc, even if you subtract for "running qb" he was above average, and with a line that has mediocre talent and that everyone in the press believed was the team's weak spot last offseason.
I'm not projecting hall of fame or anything, but Morris is clearly very good as stated here.
#43 by cisforcookie (not verified) // Apr 24, 2013 - 2:04pm
this is exactly the kind of useful information that I was hoping to find. I don't necessarily think that morris is mediocre so much as I wanted to know what reason there might be for discounting the factors against him. thank you.
#7 by Never Surrender // Apr 21, 2013 - 11:19pm
I'm glad Schatz chipped in with his comments. This article seemed pretty harsh on the Skins' front seven to me.
However, while I'm a fan of Orakpo, I have to say I disagree with Schatz's "blue" edit. He's really only got one move in rushing and isn't great against the run or in pass coverage. He tries to milk a holding penalty far more often than is warranted, allowing a tackle to take him out of a play with an arm wrap that really shouldn't be stopping him. Orakpo would be truly scary as a pass rusher if he knew how to get over that last hurdle. But as it is, he has had a tendency to disappear for games at a time.
I'd also put Trent Williams as blue. The man might have been Washington's best player last season.
#10 by Sifter // Apr 22, 2013 - 3:52am
Given Sav Rocca's Aussie rules background, I think he's better equipped to tackle than the majority of punters. Yes he's 40, so you can run around him - but that's nothing unusual in a punter.
As for London Fletcher = green. I think Haslett thinks he's green, and that's why he gets moved around the field so often, makes the defensive calls etc. But I think versatility can only provide so much value (see Andy & Aaron's comments on DeAngelo Hall). I think Fletcher got exposed a bit last year, and I think the Redskins should be looking for a good replacement for him in this draft. Keenan Robinson might be that man, but he wasn't seeing much playing time last year before he was put on IR.
#11 by Joe T. // Apr 22, 2013 - 6:34am
Agree about Fletcher. It looked like he was getting manhandled by TEs last season, and I even saw him miss on a tackle or two (I can't recall that ever before last year). The guy is definitely in decline, but nonetheless still a good player.
#12 by Joe T. // Apr 22, 2013 - 6:42am
I don't see Michael Vick's career trajectory as a viable comparison to RG3's at all. Vick has always been square peg/round hole, spotty accuracy, with his entire game reliant on mobility and arm strength. RG3 has excellent accuracy and generally sound decision-making and in the event of the loss of his mobility, I could totally see him transition to a role as a serviceable pocket passer.
#26 by RickD // Apr 22, 2013 - 3:57pm
Regarding Orakpo vs. Kerrigan, the consensus in the DC area is that Kerrigan is the up-and-coming star while Orakpo has stagnated since his breakout rookie year. I don't think a single local writer or radio pundit would rate Orakpo above Kerrigan.
Listing Kerrigan as "adequate" is ridiculous. I'm with Aaron on this one.
#42 by Never Surrender // Apr 24, 2013 - 1:04pm
That's largely because he was the victim of circumstances that give him a small sample size. I can't say for sure, but I bet going 18-18 (instead of 17-18) wouldn't have moved him too far on that list. Forbath played a short season, and the Redskins offense was particularly adept at finishing drives by scoring TDs. The coaches were also fairly aggressive on 4th downs, especially in that area of the field that would make for a short punt or long FG attempt.
So even if he placed in the middle of the pack by FO's metrics, it's still a bit odd to say a nearly-perfect season of FG kicking was "average."
#44 by CooleyDiesel (not verified) // Apr 24, 2013 - 4:48pm
Wish I could get paid to bury my head in stats/measurables and talk completely out of my keaster without watching any games and then type up this "dumpster fire" which counts as analysis on it.
#47 by scottb (not verified) // Apr 24, 2013 - 11:09pm
Hmmmmm....When you evaluated Dallas, you rated Carter Blue/star even though he missed at least 11 games in his brief 2 season career (5 in 2012 and 6 in 2011). Furthermore, you also rated Murray as green/good with him missing at least 9 games in his brief 2 season career (3 in 2011, and 6 in 2012). Yet with RG3, who missed only 1 game and parts of 2 others, he's rated yellow/jury still out. Seems like RG3 is being rated against a different standard especially since he won offensive rookie of the year, displayed obvious skills, and had outstnding statistics. Do you actually think he isn't a good player already?...really? And if so, what justifies the 2 chronically wounded cowboys listed above?