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Redskins position preview: Is there a hole in the running back depth chart?

Redskins position preview: Is there a hole in the running back depth chart?

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 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: Running back

On the roster: Matt Jones, Chris Thompson, Keith Marshall, Mack Brown, Robert Kelley, Joe Kerridge, Kelsey Young

Likely to make the 53: Jones, Thompson, Marshall

As you likely have read countless times here and elsewhere around the internet, the pressure is on Jones to produce. The Redskins running game will only be as good as Jones’ production.

So, Jay Gruden, how is Jones coming along?

“We haven’t done a whole lot in year two yet,” the head coach said during minicamp last month. “There are still a lot of things we have to improve on from pass protection to reading out the runs honestly to ball security. Catching the football, routes, there is a lot he can improve on. There is a lot he has improved on and will improve on. That’s the thing that young backs go through, and the great backs in the history of the NFL, they all just continue to get better and better and that’s what we think Matt will do. He will just continue to get better – bigger and better.” 

It looks like it’s so far, so good. But we’ll find out a lot more when the put the pads on in Richmond.

Thompson did not participate in the offseason practices as he rehabbed from offseason shoulder surgery. He is on schedule to be ready for training camp and will resume his role as the third-down back.

After two season of struggling with injuries Thompson learned to stay relatively healthy last year. He missed two games with a bruised back and one with the shoulder. His NFL success and his ability to hold on to his role will hinge on his continued availability.

I debated whether I should put Marshall in the “likely to make the 53” category. His participation in offseason practices was limited due to some nagging injuries. Marshall’s injury issues at Georgia was one of the main reasons he slid to the seventh round in the draft. But he has speed and that will always get a player an extended look. For right now he appears to be on the right side of the roster bubble.

Marshall could be a placeholder for a veteran backup running back who has yet to be signed. There has been plenty of chatter about a Pierre Thomas return. The former Saint averaged 4.7 yards per carry and 9.3 yards per reception in limited action in the last quarter of the Redskins’ season. He seems like the ideal backup for Jones but until the talk turns into a contract Marshall has the upper hand for the third running back roster spot.

Battling for a job: Brown, Kelley, Kerridge, Young

Kelley opened some eyes during offseason practices.

“He has done good,” Gruden said during minicamp. “He is one of those guys that you really don’t know a lot about, but, ‘Who’s number 22? Who is that? That’s Kelley making another big play.’ He has got great, low center of gravity when he runs the ball. I think he is going to be a tough guy to tackle when it’s all said and done. He went to Tulane and did some good things and I think he has a chance. We will see what happens when we get the pads on.”

Kelley is a dark horse candidate for the roster. So is Brown, who had a couple of stints on the practice squad last year.

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Need to Know: Five safe draft picks for the Redskins

Need to Know: Five safe draft picks for the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 22, four days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

Five safe picks for the Redskins

Sometimes teams try to hit home runs with their draft picks. They may hit a few but they also will strike out a lot. Teams often are better off trying to hit solid singles and doubles. Here are five picks who would are unlikely to make many Pro Bowls but the Redskins would not regret the pick if they turned in the cards with their names on it. 

RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn—I’m starting off here with a player who would be a safe pick in the third round. Of course, the Redskins don’t have a third right now but if they do swing a trade and get one, Johnson would be a good pick. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, which is one reason why he might be available in the third. He is a grinder who will be an upgrade over Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley. 

DL Vita Vea, Washington—There is plenty of hand wringing over whether Vea is a three-down player or just a base defense nose tackle. But even if he can’t rush the passer very well his floor is a player who can go a long way towards helping the Redskins stop the run, a chronic weakness. This is why a lot of fans and media are urging the Redskins to not overthink this and take a player that will, at a minimum, bolster one of their weakest areas. 

OL Billy Price, Ohio State—He started 55 games for the Buckeyes, the most of any player in the storied history of the program. He did suffer the partial tear of a chest muscle in the combine but that will be fully healed by training camp. When he’s ready, he’s an explosive, smart, and powerful player. Just plug him in at left guard and the Redskins’ O-line is set with all home-grown talent. 

LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State—He doesn’t have the ceiling that the more heralded Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds have. However, he may have a higher floor. Smith is undersized, and Edmunds will be highly drafted based more on potential than on production. At 6-4, 256, Vander Esch has plenty of size, and he racked up 141 tackles last year on his way to defensive player of the year honors in the Mountain West. 

 CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado—The All-Pac-12 selection has the size and athleticism that add up to a safe pick in the second round. He needs some work on technique, but he has enough natural athletic ability—he competed in the decathlon—to be a productive cornerback right out of the gate. One other plus that fans will appreciate is that his strength is press coverage, not off man. 

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

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Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 30
—Training camp starts (7/26) 95
—Redskins @ Cardinals (9/9) 140

In case you missed it

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 21, five days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington

Should the Redskins pursue Dez Bryant? This topic was one like a meteor, very hot for a short period of time before it quickly faded out. It started to heat up as soon as the Cowboys cut Dez (about a month too late) and when it was reported that he wanted to play against Dallas twice a year it really picked up steam. But then people started to actually think and figured out that signing Bryant didn’t make much sense for the Redskins. Add to that the reports that the Redskins had no interest and would not look into signing Dez in the future and the Redskins fans quickly lost enthusiasm for the topic.

Seven-round Redskins mock draft—I think that most Redskins fans would be happy with this mock. Well, I’ll say some Redskins fans, most is a pretty strong word in this case. 

Is the draft pool deep enough for the Redskins to trade back? There is plenty of talk about the Redskins trading down in the first round to recoup the third-round pick they gave up in the Alex Smith trade. But they need to be careful. Many consider the draft to be top heavy and they may lose their chance to pick up an impact player if they trade back too far. The question then becomes one of quality vs. quantity. 

Three questions as offseason workouts get underway—There will be plenty more questions that we can ask about this team. But we don’t really know what to ask before the draft, particularly when it comes to the defensive line and running back. One the personnel settle into place we will know what we don’t know. 

Tweet of the week

On Chris Cooley’s thought that the Redskins might try to trade back and get Da’Ron Payne in the draft and the use the assets obtained to move up to get Derrius Guice. 

This is related to the questions about trading back. On paper it looks like a good idea, assuming the Redskins want Payne. We’re pretty sure they would like to have Guice but we haven’t heard as much about the Alabama defensive lineman. 

I had many reply that Guice won’t be there in the second round. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, but you just don’t know. There was zero chance that Jonathan Allen would be there at No. 17 last year, right? 

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

Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 31
—Training camp starts (7/26) 96
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 141

In case you missed it