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Redskins position preview: The specialists

Redskins position preview: The specialists

Over the next few weeks, Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will take another position-by-position look at the Redskins’ 2016 depth chart as the team enjoys some R&R ahead of training camp. Some positions are easy to handicap. Others are have moving parts and, thus, are more complex. This much, however, is not in question: A player is not on the 53-man roster until it's finalized in early September. So who’s in? And who’s in trouble?

Up today…

Position: Specialists.

On the roster: Punter Tress Way, kicker Dustin Hopkins, long snapper Nick Sundberg; returners Jamison Crowder, Rashad Ross, Chris Thompson, Will Blackmon, Dashaun Phillips and Jarvis Turner.

Likely to make the cut: Way, Hopkins, Sundberg, Crowder and Ross.

This one is pretty straightforward because, unless the team signs some competition for the first three, it’ll be Way punting, Hopkins kicking and Sundberg snapping—again. Which, to me, isn’t a problem at all.

Way, the special teams captain, has a big leg and is now focused on fine-tuning his game. Analytics website rated the 26-year-old as the NFL’s eighth best punter in 2015 based on criteria such as distance, hang time, return yards, punts placed inside the 20, etc.

“It’s safe to say that he’s an improving player,” special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica said of Way recently. “We’re encouraged with what Tress is doing. The good thing about him is he’s a hard worker, he’s diligent in his craft and he wants to get better.”  

As for Hopkins, PFF rated the 25-year-old as the 10th most effective kicker in the game last season. Which sounds about right to me. He’s also got a big leg (52 touchbacks, the sixth most) and he’s accurate, too. Hopkins connected on 89.3 percent of his field goal attempts (25 of 28, the ninth best mark) and 97.5 of his PATs (also ninth best). And considering last season was his first as a full-timer, he should continue to improve.

Sundberg, meantime, is as solid as snappers come. The 28-year-old is also quietly moving up the Redskins’ longest tenured list as he enters his seventh season in Washington (only DeAngelo Hall and Kedric Golston have been here longer).

The returner positions seem somewhat less certain. Crowder had a record-breaking season as a rookie slot receiver but saw his share of struggles as a punt returner, averaging just 5.3 yards per, last among qualified returners. Was it his inexperience? The blocking in front of him? A combination of the two? That’s unclear. But we know this much: based on OTAs, it looks like Kotwica is going to give him another shot. Ditto for Ross, who ranked 11th in kickoff return average (24.4 yards per), including a 101-yard touchdown.  

Battling for a role: Thompson, Blackmon, Phillips and Turner.

Way, Hopkins and Sundberg are locks barring something unforeseen, such as an injury or a case of the yips.

It is, however, possible that a competition will emerge later this summer at the returner spots. During OTAs and minicamp, we also saw Will Blackmon, Phillips and Turner field some punts and/or kicks. The intriguing name here to me is Blackmon, the 31-year-old jack-of-all-trades defensive back who is moving from corner to safety. He has extensive NFL experience returning both punts and kicks, but hasn’t done either in a meaningful capacity in years.

I suspect Crowder and Ross will be the guys in Week 1, but things could change when/if Thompson enters the fray from offseason shoulder surgery or someone else surprises in training camp.

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Redskins Draft Countdown: Could Da'Ron Payne be the final piece to the D-line puzzle?

Redskins Draft Countdown: Could Da'Ron Payne be the final piece to the D-line puzzle?

Redskins draft countdown

Da’Ron Payne

Defensive tackle

Stuff the run in the middle of the line? Check. Get outside to stop stretch plays? Check. Get after the passer? Check. Yes, Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne checks all the boxes the Redskins are looking for on the D-line.

He can be the immovable object, taking on double and triple teams, and he also can chase down the quarterback. At 311 pounds he could be the Redskins’ nose tackle in base and move outside in nickel.

Height: 6-2
Weight: 311
40-yard dash: 4.95

Projected draft round: 1

What they’re saying

Payne possesses one of the most impressive combinations of strength and athleticism that we've seen from an interior lineman. He will be the premier run-stuffer in this draft, but he may have enough in the pass rushing toolbox to project as a better pro than college pass rusher. Payne is a game-ready starter who immediately upgrades a defense's ability to slow the run.

Lance Zierlein,

How he fits the Redskins: This just in—the Redskins need a nose tackle. Of course, if you’re reading this you know that, and you’ve known it has been the case ever since the Redskins went to the 3-4 defense in 2010.

In very closely related news, they need to play better against the run, too. You probably noticed that they were dead last in the league in rushing defense last year. And that the NFC East has two very strong rushing teams in the Eagles and Cowboys and a Giants team that could well take Saquon Barkley with the second pick in the draft. If they don’t fix their rushing defense they could literally get run over.

Payne could help them a lot. He can take on double and triple teams and clog up running lanes in the middle. If they try to go around him, he has the quickness to penetrate and disrupt outside runs.

And a defensive lineman taken in the top half of the first round should be able to provide some pass rush pressure. As noted by Zierlein, Payne has the potential to do that. He’ll never be a double-digit sack guy, but if he can kick in four to six per year and get some pressure up the middle, that would be fine.

Film review: vs. Tennessee, vs Georgia (national title game)

Like most players, Payne can’t get much in the way of a pass rush when he is double and triple teamed. But when they tried to block him one on one he consistently got pressure. Payne didn’t get many sacks, but he did make a difference. Against Georgia, one pressure resulted in an interception and another forced a third-down incompletion.

Payne is very difficult to move off the spot in the running game, even when the offense tries to do it with two or even three players. Running backs did not get by him on a regular basis. In the second half in particular, Georgia tried to move the ball with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, both of whom are likely to get selected in the top 100 in the draft next month. But they kept running into a mass of humanity in the middle of the line with Payne in the middle of it.

He played well during the Tennessee game during the regular season, but he didn’t have a lot of impact. The only time his name was called was when he was hit with a roughing the passer call.

Potential issues: At 311 pounds, Payne may not be the ideal size to fill the chronic hole at nose tackle. It should be noted, however, that defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has said that the Redskins aren’t necessarily looking for the 350-pound nose tackle and that a relatively smaller player can get the job done. Ziggy Hood played the nose at 305 pounds last year. The Redskins finished last against the run, although that’s not necessarily cause and effect.

Bottom line: The Redskins went 20 years without taking an interior defensive lineman in the first round before taking Jonathan Allen last year. Nobody could legitimately complain if they doubled up on first-round D-linemen after so many years of neglect.

Payne should be there when the 13th pick goes on the clock. Unless the Redskins address the nose tackle spot in free agency Payne will be under strong consideration. The defensive line improved last year with the additions of Allen in the draft, Stacy McGee as a free agent and the second-year emergence of Matt Ioannidis. Payne could be the final piece of what could be a dominant defensive line.

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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Paul Richardson's Redskins contract is team friendly early

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Paul Richardson's Redskins contract is team friendly early

The Redskins’ contract with wide receiver Paul Richardson is very team friendly in the first year but it increases over the years to the point where he needs to be a very productive receiver in order to justify staying on the roster.

The big picture of the deal is $40 million over five years. A total of $12.5 million is fully guaranteed at signing, which is comprised of a $10 million signing bonus, his $1.5 million 2018 salary, and $1 million of his $5 million 2019 salary.

More money will become guaranteed if Richardson is on the roster as of five days after the start of the league years in 2019 and 2020. The remaining $4 million of his 2019 salary and $3.5 million of his $6 million 2020 salary become guaranteed on those dates.


Richardson will get salaries of $7.5 million in 2021 and 2022. Each year of the contract he can earn $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses ($31,250 for each game he is on the 46-man game day roster).

It all adds up to the following salary cap numbers:

2018: $4 million
2019: $7.5 million
2020: $8.5 million
2021: $10 million
2022: $10 million

The average annual value of the contract is $8 million, which is tied for 24th among NFL receivers.

The first window the Redskins have to terminate Richardson’s contract without taking a negative cap hit would be in 2020 as long as they do it prior to the fifth day of the league year when the partial salary guarantee kicks in. They would take a $6 million deal cap hit but they would save a net of $2.5 million.

The last two years, when the cap numbers are at their highest, the Redskins could easily move on, saving $6 million in cap space in 2021 and $8 million in 2022.


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.