Redskins safety Montae Nicholson dealt with a rough 2018 season. After a promising rookie campaign in 2017, plenty of folks expected Nicholson to be a breakout star in 2018.
It didn't happen.
Paired with D.J. Swearinger in the Washington secondary, Nicholson did not show the same burst and play-making ability as his rookie year. Eventually, the team traded for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, which sent Nicholson to the bench. Then in late December, Nicholson was arrested in Loudon County on assault charges.
Add all that up, and it wasn't clear what Nicholson's role would be in 2019. Well, the third-year pro out of Michigan State got some good news on Tuesday when reports showed that the misdemeanor assault charges brought against him had been dropped for a lack of evidence.
The Redskins spent big money to bring in former Giants Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins this offseason. He will help the Washington defense immediately, particularly in the run game. Collins, however, needs a speedster lined up next to him, a role which Nicholson could be a great fit.
In college, Nicholson ran track. At the NFL Scouting Combine two years ago, he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash. Nicholson has speed and can cover ground fast, he proved that as a rookie.
The situation with Nicholson seems a bit more complicated though. Last season, the Redskins stopped using their safeties in strong and free situations and started to just play them on the left or right side of the field. The goal was to not allow the offenses to know which player had which responsibilities. At times, it seemed to work, but at times, there was confusion.
Collins is a natural leader, and on an overhauled defense, whatever happened in 2018 will be in the past. The Redskins could have two new inside linebackers starting this fall, along with Collins, and likely rookie Montez Sweat. Things will look different, and that could help Nicholson. A fresh start so to speak.
As a rookie in 2017, Nicholson was often available to the media and seen as a fun part of the secondary group. A November concussion changed that, understandably, and Nicholson finished his rookie season on the injured reserve. His second season started with promise but went sideways, and from the surface, the safety never seemed as comfortable as he had early in his rookie season. Taking part in the festivities at the Ryan Kerrigan Golf Tournament on Monday, Nicholson was seen laughing and talking with Redskins teammates and coaches. That could mean nothing, but it seemed reminiscent of Nicholson in his rookie season.
Since the big money got spent on Collins, Redskins fans have lamented what would happen at the safety spot opposite the 2016 All Pro safety. The team, however, never seemed too worried.
Much of that has to be a belief in Nicholson getting back to what he showed as a rookie.
Pro Football Focus graded Nicholson as a +1.3 in 2017, strong for a first-year player. In 2018, that number dropped dramatically to a -8.9. PFF isn't gospel, but it can be a useful metric to consider play from year to year.
At this point, the only thing that appears clear is that Nicholson is free from legal trouble stemming from the December incident. What, if any, punishment comes from the NFL or the Redskins remains to be seen, though Washington already suspended him late last season. Asked for comment on Nicholson, the Redskins declined.
What's also clear? The Redskins need a free safety to pair with Landon Collins and did not draft anybody for that role.
Maybe the Ashburn brass is banking on Nicholson returning to the level of play he showed as a rookie. It's a low-cost gamble that might just pay off.
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