Over the next few weeks, Rich Tandler will take a position-by-position look at the Redskins’ 2017 depth chart as the team enjoys some R&R ahead of training camp. Some positions are easy to handicap. Others have moving parts and, thus, are more complex. So, who’s in? And who’s in trouble?
On the roster: Su’a Cravens, D. J. Swearinger, Will Blackmon, DeAngelo Hall, Montae Nicholson, Deshazor Everett, Josh Evans, Earl Wolff, Fish Smithson.
The numbers: Have nine, will keep five or six.
Last year they carried five safeties on the Week 1 roster. They may carry an extra this year and position Blackmon as a swing cornerback/safety.
Locks: Cravens, Swearinger, Nicholson, Everett
Cravens moves from nickel linebacker to strong safety in a move that was decided late last year with a different defensive coordinator and secondary coach in charge. This move likely was planned from the moment he was drafted. He should be fine at his new position if he can make up for his pedestrian straight-line speed (4.69 in the 40) with athleticism and anticipation.
It’s not often that a 25-year-old player gets the “journeyman” label but it fits Swearinger as he joins his fourth different team for his fifth NFL season. His teammates have praised him as the intimidator they have lacked on the back end of the defense. He will have to move from being primarily a strong safety to playing primarily free and we will have to see how that transition goes.
Nicholson struggled at times at Michigan State, to the point where many analysts believed that he would go undrafted. On top of that, he missed the offseason program with a shoulder injury. Those normally don’t add up to a player being a roster lock but the Redskins like his athleticism and it’s hard to see them immediately moving on from a fourth-round pick. He may make the 53-man roster but end up inactive on most game days.
Perhaps Everett is not one of the four best safeties on the roster but his value on special teams makes him a must-keep player. He could get some more run at safety this year; he played well when given a chance late last year, making a key interception in the win over the Eagles.
On the bubble: Blackmon, Hall, Evans
This is the numbers game in action. If they keep five safeties it's likely that two of these three will be gone.
Blackmon has the advantage of being able to play either safety or any cornerback spot. They like Hall’s veteran presence but he has missed 31 games due to injuries in the last three years. Evans is the dark horse even though he is only 26 and he has 36 starts at safety, more at the position than any other player on the roster.
Long shots: Wolff, Smithson
Wolff started seven games for the Eagles after they drafted him in the fifth round in 2013 but he has hasn’t played a regular-season snap since 2014. Smithson is an intriguing undrafted rookie who may be a fan favorite in the preseason and end up on the practice squad.