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ESPN names Redskins' group of rookies the league's most productive class in 2019

ESPN names Redskins' group of rookies the league's most productive class in 2019

During the Redskins 20-15 loss to the Packers in Week 14, quarterback Dwayne Haskins threaded a throw through a tight window to receiver Terry McLaurin, who snagged the pass with one hand for a 21-yard touchdown.

The rookie connection between the two Ohio State products offered a glimpse of that pairing’s potential in the years to come. But the former Buckeyes weren’t the only first-year players to make a splash against Green Bay. Linebacker Cole Holcomb led the team in tackles with nine, and cornerback Jimmy Mooreland was a close second with seven stops.

Throughout the season, Washington’s 2019 draft picks showed flashes like the performances against Green Bay.

It wasn’t just the first-round selections in Haskins and linebacker Montez Sweat, either. From McLaurin in the third round, to Moreland in the seventh, mid-and-late-round picks added quality reinforcements to the class and roster.

Pro Football Focus recently unveiled its wins above replacement metric, and ESPN used those measurements to rank all 32 draft classes based on value. With performances throughout the class, the Redskins were rated as the most productive class in the league.

The 2019 class and its success level will always be tied to Haskins, whom the team selected with the No. 15 pick. After his first two outings, both of which came after starting the game as the backup, it would have been tough to envision the Redskins earning the title of the most productive class in the league.

Haskins threw four interceptions in his first 22 pass attempts across relief appearances against the Giants and Vikings. But after interim head coach Bill Callahan gave the signal caller the starting job in week nine, Haskins began to show his ability.

Pro Football Focus gave Haskins a 73.4 grade, 12th-best in the NFL, after week 9. And in his final six quarters of his first season, the Redskins quarterback completed over 70% of his passes for 399 yards and four touchdowns against zero interceptions.

After selecting Haskins in the first round, Washington traded for the 26th pick to select Sweat out of Mississippi State. The edge rusher started all 16 games in his rookie season, recording 50 tackles, seven sacks — including two in the season finale against Dallas — and two forced fumbles.

McLaurin, named the best value pick of the class, wasted no time proving himself as one of the steals of the draft. The third-round pick posted five catches for 125 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut. He followed that week-one showing with two games with at least five catches and a touchdown, becoming the first player in league history to reach those numbers in each of his first three games.

In 14 games, McLaurin finished with 58 receptions for 919 yards and seven touchdowns on his way to an 86.5 Pro Football Focus receiving grade, the highest among all rookie receivers, and the best since Odell Beckham Jr.’s in 2014.

Fourth-round pick Wes Martin started five games, including the final three, at guard for the Redskins as the team dealt with injuries along the offensive front and shuffled players into the lineup.

In the fifth-round, the Redskins selected Alabama guard Ross Pierschbacher and inside linebacker Cole Holcomb out of North Carolina.

Pierschbacher went on to make five appearances, all on special teams. Holcomb, however, made a significant impact.

At the time he was selected, Holcomb figured to be a depth player behind Reuben Foster and Shaun Dion Hamilton. But less than a month later, Foster suffered a gruesome knee injury, giving the rookie a chance for a larger role.

Holcomb responded to the tune of 105 tackles, including six for a loss, and three forced fumbles over 16 appearances and 15 starts. The North Carolina product finished second among rookies in tackles, behind only Steelers’ first-round pick Devin Bush.

Kelvin Harmon, the team’s sixth-round pick, was the third member of the young trio with McLaurin and Steven Sims that emerged as the most-dependable receivers. Harmon finished with 30 catches for 365 yards in 16 games played.

Washington’s seventh-round pick Jimmy Moreland started five games and totaled 42 tackles.

The team used another fourth-round pick on running back Bryce Love out of Stanford, but the Cardinal standout spent the season recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in college. The team’s last selection, seventh-round pick Jordan Brailford, also didn’t see the field after landing on injured reserve just before the regular season.

Last season’s Director of College Personnel Kyle Smith, who played a large role in the 2019 draft process, received a promotion to vice president of player personnel on Jan. 13 as the Redskins transition to a new era under the direction of head coach Ron Rivera.

With the highly productive 2019 class, Rivera and the Redskins have a solid, young foundation to build around on both sides of the ball.

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Redskins free agent targets: James Bradberry

Redskins free agent targets: James Bradberry

NBC Sports Washington is taking a long look at potential free agents that could help the Redskins in 2020. 

Carolina Panthers CB James Bradberry
2016 second-round pick by Carolina
Unrestricted free agent
6-foot-1 | 212 lbs. | 26 years old

Ron Rivera has brought a lot with him from Carolina to Washington. Most notably, the Redskins new coach has hired someone with ties to the Panthers to run, among other things, his new team's offense, training staff, player negotiations/salary cap dealings and a handful of positions on both sides of the ball.

It's safe to bet that trend will continue to some extent once free agency commences, with Greg Olsen visiting the Redskins before signing with the Seahawks Tuesday. Safety Tre Boston is slated to hit the open market as well.

If Rivera wants to get really aggressive, however, and poach who should be the top available Panther, he'll pursue cornerback James Bradberry.

Bradberry doesn't carry the same name recognition that Josh Norman did four offseasons ago, but don't overlook him. He's a legit cover guy in the NFL. 

The 26-year-old has started 47 of the last 48 games — the majority of which happened with Rivera on the sidelines — and is coming off a year where he notched three picks and defended 12 passes.

Bradberry will be one of the three premium available options at his position come March, thanks to his durability, age and steady improvement as a pro. And because of those factors, he's going to command a serious contract, likely somewhere north of $10 million per season.

Now, during Super Bowl week in Miami, Bradberry told the Redskins Talk podcast that his "dream scenario" would be to return to the Panthers and continue his career there. He did admit, though, he's enticed by the idea of re-joining Rivera, a person whom Bradberry described as a "great man and a great coach."

If Bradberry can't come to an agreement with the organization that drafted him, the Redskins should make a concerted effort to land him. Cornerback is a place of need for Rivera, Jack Del Rio and Co., and it's unlikely they'll be able to reinforce it with a high draft pick considering the team is without a second-rounder and is currently poised to take Chase Young second overall.

Therefore, free agency appears to be Washington's best path for addressing the outside of their secondary, and Bradberry very well could be the best choice on that path. 

Yes, the last time the Redskins went all-in on a defensive back from the Panthers who wore No. 24, it failed. That shouldn't dissuade them this time around. Bradberry will be expensive, sure, but he also could be very, very good for quite a while.

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Questions facing Ron Rivera: What happens next with Ryan Kerrigan?

Questions facing Ron Rivera: What happens next with Ryan Kerrigan?

In the last decade, no Redskins player performed better than Ryan Kerrigan. Incredibly, he started the first 139 straight games of his career, a run of more than eight years without missing a game, and posted double-digit sacks in four of the last six seasons. 

Kerrigan has been dependable and productive in a fashion that no Redskins player has demonstrated in a long time. He made the Pro Bowl in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and in those three years, he totaled 37 sacks. 

Looking at 2020 and a new era of Redskins football, however, and questions arise about Kerrigan's future. 

New Washington head coach Ron Rivera was presented a roster chock full of problems, and that allowed the coach to already make some easy decisions. Releasing Josh Norman and Paul Richardson was easy; those two moves saved the team nearly $15 million and cost the Redskins little on-field production. 

That's not the case with Kerrigan. 

Sure, he has a high price tag in 2020 with a cap number of nearly $12 million, none of which is guaranteed. And yes, Kerrigan is coming off the least productive season of his career and for the first time ever missed games to injuries. He will also turn 32 in August. 

Considering the above case against Kerrigan, and that Washington overhauled its coaching staff and front office already this offseason, releasing the veteran pass rusher could make sense. It would free up a lot of cash on the salary cap and give a veteran player a chance to catch on with a contender.

Don't expect that though. 

There is a multitude of reasons to expect Kerrigan to stay in Washington, but the most important is that he has publicly talked about a willingness to work out a contract extension (see video above). If the Redskins can add a year onto his deal, that would allow for immediate cap relief by spreading his money between the next two seasons. In many ways, that seems like the most likely option. 

Kerrigan is well-liked by everyone in the Redskins organization, including ownership, and is just one sack away from the franchise sack record. That might not mean much to some fans, but there is value in a distinguished player going his whole career for one team. 

There's also this and it's important: Kerrigan could thrive in 2020. 

For the past few seasons, the Redskins 3-4 defensive scheme consistently asked its pass rushers to drop into coverage far too frequently. It was a bad plan, and players knew it. New defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has openly discussed that he wants his pass rushers to focus on getting to the quarterback. It's an incredibly simple yet smart strategy, and that could help Kerrigan significantly. 

Consider what happened with former Redskins outside linebacker Preston Smith. In four years in Washington, Smith never got to double-digit sacks. His last year with the Redskins, 2018, was the worst of his career. He finished with just four sacks. This year playing in Green Bay, Smith registered 12 sacks and got to show his size, speed, and athleticism as a disruptive force. 

Kerrigan doesn't have Smith's athleticism, but he has more strength and could see a similar jolt by playing in a revamped defense. 

There is the issue of the second overall pick that Washington holds. Assuming the team doesn't trade the pick, the Redskins will take Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. Paired with 2019 first-round pick Montez Sweat, Del Rio would have some elite speed off the edge. 

Would Kerrigan lose reps in that scenario? More than likely. 

Can a team have too many pass rushers? Absolutely not. 

Kerrigan would provide different looks than Young or Sweat for opposing offenses when on the field, and has the strength to play in run situations as well. He could also serve as a role model for both young players in how to prepare and take care of your body over the course of a 16-game season. 

If a release seems unlikely and an extension might make sense, the trade option just exists. It's hard to know what the market would be for Kerrigan right now, as he only has one year left on his contract.

Keep in mind, however, that Kerrigan has been extremely productive in Washington for the last five seasons playing on some bad defenses. It's entirely possible, if not probable, he can deliver more double-digit sacks playing on an improved defense with a better scheme. 

What is certain in all of this?

Rivera would love to have Kerrigan from a culture standpoint. He won't miss any voluntary sessions and he will work hard every day. There's nine years of data, on-field and off, to support the theory that Kerrigan is the type of player all coaches love to have on their team. And that will matter too. 

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