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Redskins Draft Countdown: Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon


Redskins Draft Countdown: Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon

The NFL Draft is just over three weeks away and I’ll continue researching the prospects throughout the lead-up to the draft. Along the way I’ll be sharing some of what I find out with Real Redskins readers. The focus will be on players in areas of need for the Redskins but I might look at players at just about any position since Scot McCloughan has said that he will take the best player available regardless of need.

T.J. Yeldon
Running back

What they’re saying:
Strengths: Has good size with room on his frame to add more bulk. Exceptional hips and foot quickness, using both to weave and dart through the trash between tackles. Quick, decisive reads on zone plays. Has ankle flexion to dip, one-cut and burst through second level and into the third. Creative runner showing innate feel for running lanes. Anticipates creases that are developing and makes himself skinny to squeeze through. Effortless lateral movement.

Weaknesses: Upright runner in space, opening himself and the ball up to big hits. Pad level too high at point of collision. Mediocre power for size. Doesn't push the pile and won't run through many tackles. Pass protection lacking. Throws shoulder at pass rusher rather than squaring up and taking on with good posture. Tends to bounce and juke a little too long at the second level.
Lance Zierlein,

How he fits the Redskins: With the departure of Roy Helu in free agency, the Redskins are looking for someone to fill his roles as third down back and as Alfred Morris’ relief back. They could look at options that are currently on the roster for one or both roles or they could look to the draft. Yeldon could fill both roles and bring some pop to the offense.

He does not have breakaway speed (4.61 in the 40 at the combine) and although he has pretty good size (6-1, 226 lb. with a frame that could take on some addition weight) he isn’t a power runner. But Yeldon is quick and has good running instincts and that could make him a successful NFL back.

One AFC executive said that he’d take Yeldon over Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin, who could go in the first round. That exec thinks that Gordon is “just a runner” and Yeldon brings more to the table.

Potential issues: There is disagreement over whether Yeldon can handle duties as a workhorse back or if he is just going to be a career third down back and fill in. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports takes the latter point of view.

Can the Redskins afford to spend a third-round pick on a relief back? If they are going to put that much value on the position shouldn’t they get someone who can carry the load if Morris gets injured or if he should end up departing as a free agent after the season?

There are some fundamental issues that coaching would have to correct. Yeldon would have to learn to hang onto the ball better. He put the ball on the ground 10 times in 576 career carries. And as noted above, he needs to improve his pass protection, as do most running backs coming out of college.

Bottom line: We don’t know if McCloughan is in line with that AFC executive who is very high on Yeldon or if he believes that Yeldon is a limited back as Brugler does. If he takes him in the third round, though, the organization probably believes that Yeldon is more of a complete back, or can become one with some coaching.

The Redskins have not drafted a running back anywhere higher than the fourth round since they took Ladell Betts in the second in 2002. When he was with the 49ers, McCloughan took two running backs in the third round. One of them, Frank Gore in 2005, worked out very well. The other one he took in 2009 and Glen Coffee lasted just one year in the NFL.

It’s interesting to note that McCloughan took Coffee, who also went to Alabama, after Gore had racked up over 1,000 yards in three straight seasons, just as Morris has. That doesn’t mean that he will do the same thing again and draft another alum of the Crimson Tide in Yeldon. But if he does he needs to be confident that Yeldon will work out better than Coffee did.

In his own words

Yeldon on how well he is prepared for the NFL:
Coming from Saban, he’s been an NFL coach and he kind of brings it to the University of Alabama. His style as far as how he prepares us gets us ready for the NFL . . . I have good vision, good cutting ability. I can catch the ball out of the backfield. I can split out wide and catch the ball. It just depends on how somebody wants to use me in their offense.
Previously in Draft Countdown:

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Need to Know: Redskins player quick hitters—Defensive starters

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Need to Know: Redskins player quick hitters—Defensive starters

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, March 22, 35 days before the NFL draft.  

Redskins starters quick hitters—defense

The last couple of days here I looked at how the depth charts are shaping up with a little bit of commentary (offense, defense). Today and tomorrow I’ll take a closer look at the starters with some quick hitters about each one. Yesterday it was the offense, now the defense is up.  

DE Jonathan Allen—He was close to being ready to practice during the last couple of weeks of the season so his Lisfranc rehab is going well. Anticipation will be high when he takes the field in Week 1.

DE Stacy McGee—From looking at my social media timelines I can conclude that many Redskins fans hear “free agent D-lineman” and automatically say “bust”. That’s not the case with McGee. Last year he was the Redskins’ most consistent defensive lineman.

NT Ziggy Hood—I’ve said this before and it still holds true—Hood should not be a starting nose tackle. He would be very good as a rotational defensive lineman.

OLB Preston Smith—Sure, he’s inconsistent. But he’s on often enough to be a very valuable player. He lacks eye-popping sack totals but since he came into the league in 2015, only Smith has at least 20 sacks, 3 interceptions, and four forced fumbles.

OLB Ryan Kerrigan—He will turn 30 during training camp but he shows no signs of slowing down.

ILB Zach Brown—The Redskins needed to bring him back and they got it done. He does struggle in coverage at times, but the defense is much better with him than without him.

ILB Mason Foster—He and Allen saw their seasons end due to injuries at about the same time and the defense wasn’t the same after that. Foster brings experience and toughness to the defense that is hard to replace.

CB Quinton Dunbar—It’s possible that Fabian Moreau will beat him out for the starting job before the season starts. But Dunbar has come a long way since the former wide receiver volunteered to help out at cornerback when a rash of injuries hit during his rookie season. I wouldn’t bet against him.

CB Josh Norman—He certainly didn’t play poorly last year but the goose egg in the interceptions column is a black mark. The thing is, with quarterbacks like to test Dunbar and Moreau playing on the other side, he might not get many opportunities to pick off passes this year, either.

S D.J. Swearinger—After signing as a free agent, he put himself on the line, saying he was the leader of a defense before he had even played a snap with the group he wanted to lead. He walked the walk, filling both the leadership vacuum and the lack of quality safety play.

S Montae Nicholson—Jay Gruden said that Nicholson was the defensive version of Jordan Reed, a player who changes what the unit can do when he is on the field. High praise, but also a lot of pressure to stay on the field.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 26
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 128
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 172

In case you missed it

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Free agency update: What happens next for the Redskins on the defensive line?


Free agency update: What happens next for the Redskins on the defensive line?

The Redskins sure hosted a lot of free agent defensive line visits in the second week of free agency, but so far, no signed contracts. 

Johnathan Hankins came to Ashburn. Sylvester Williams came to Ashburn. Pernell McPhee came to Ashburn. All three left without a done deal, and now for Redskins fans, the question becomes not about when a deal will get done, but if any deals will happen.

Actually, one deal did happen. According to a report, Williams has signed with the Lions. 

Since visiting the Redskins on Monday, Hankins also took a trip to see the Lions. McPhee, who was offered a contract by the Redskins, has since taken a trip to visit the Falcons. 


Keep in mind too, Washington expressed interest in nose tackle Bennie Logan last offseason, and the 6-foot-2, 309 lb., former Chief is again on the market. A visit from Logan would surprise nobody, though it hasn't been reported yet. 

Mother Nature might also be an impediment for the Redskins. A March snowstorm shut the D.C. region down on Wednesday, which could have limited potential free agent visits.

What's clear is between Hankins, McPhee and Williams this week, in addition to Muhammad Wilkerson and Benson Mayowa last week, the Redskins are obviously looking to upgrade their defensive line. Combine that with a contract restructure for incumbent Terrell McClain, and Washington has the flexibility to improve on last season's NFL-worst run defense. 

That doesn't mean, however, the Redskins will absolutely sign one of the above mentioned players. And it doesn't mean outside linebacker Junior Gallete won't return to the Redskins either. 

Many fans wonder if a McPhee signing means the Redskins would move on from Galette. It might, but that's no sure thing. 

Washington went into the 2017 season with five outside linebackers: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Galette, Ryan Anderson and Chris Carter. Right now, the 'Skins only have Kerrigan, Smith and Anderson under contract. The team needs to add at least one OLB, but likely two.

McPhee also carries about 20 extra pounds on his frame than Galette, giving the former Bear and Raven more flexibility to play against the run. Galette is a speed, leverage and moves player, focused on getting to the quarterback. He's capable against the run, but in the same way a sports car shouldn't carry a snow plow, Galette should be used to pressure QBs. 

Point being: McPhee and Galette could both make sense for the Redskins, if the team can work out the cash. 

Money usually matters the most in free agency, and it's clear the Redskins haven't made the type of offers that any of these players felt compelled to immediately sign. Deals could still happen though. Hankins didn't sign last offseason until April and Galette seems to thank Redskins fans via social media with relative frequency. 

Washington also had some success with the patient approach to free agency. The team was able to keep Zach Brown, though it took some nervous days of allowing the tackling machine linebacker to test the free agent market. With that win in hand, don't expect the Redskins brass to change their philosophy. 

Until further notice, it's hurry up and wait season in Ashburn.

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