If you like players with chips on their shoulders, you should love the 2016 Redskins defense.
The depth chart is loaded with players who were drafted late or not at all and have had to come into the league earning everything. Let’s take a position-by-position look at the anticipated starters and key contributors who had to fight for everything they got in the NFL.
Defensive line—DE Chris Baker went undrafted out of Hampton, bounced around with the Broncos and Dolphins, and worked his way off of the Redskins’ practice squad. NT Kedric Golston was a sixth-round pick of the Redskins in 2008. When Scot McCloughan was with the 49ers he took DE Ricky Jean Francois in the seventh round.
Linebacker—OLB Junior Galette went undrafted and signed with the Saints out of Division II Stillman College. He collected a second chip for his shoulder after the Saints cut him after some legal issues. The Redskins signed ILB Will Compton as an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska. After spending most of 2013 on the practice squad he made the 53-man roster the next year and his role has steadily increased since then.
Defensive back—The starting cornerbacks, Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland, were fifth- and fourth-round picks, respectively. Duke Ihenacho, who could start at strong safety, was signed as a undrafted free agent by the Broncos.
These players did not necessarily see their draft stock drop or disappear altogether because they are not talented. Galette was suspended from Temple after a cousin who was staying with him stole two laptops and transferred to Stillman, which is not exactly on the radar screens of most NFL scouts. Norman was similarly in anonymity at Coastal Carolina. Many thought that Breeland needed another year of seasoning a Clemson before turning pro.
Coaches like to say that everyone has an equal shot at making the team but the reality is that it’s much, much harder for late rounders and undrafted players to show what they can do.
“They all had to work for every minute they’ve got and they have taken advantage of the reps,” said Jay Gruden. “When you are a fourth- or fifth-round pick, you don’t get a lot of reps. They are few far and between but when you do get them, you have to take advantage of them . . . You know, if you are a fourth- or fifth-round pick or free agent, the opportunity is there for you. You have to just take advantage of it, and they obviously proved they can do that.””
As long as they continue to want to prove that they belong, the Redskins defense could be in pretty good shape.