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Redskins Position Battles: Can rookie Saahdiq Charles take Trent Williams’ old spot?

Redskins Position Battles: Can rookie Saahdiq Charles take Trent Williams’ old spot?

This week, JP Finlay and Pete Hailey will examine some of the more critical position battles you'll see on the Redskins over the next few months.

First up? Left tackle.

Contenders

Saahdiq Charles, Geron Christian, Cornelius Lucas

JP's outlook

The Redskins drafted Charles in the fourth round to be the left tackle of the future, but the question for the former LSU Tiger is if he’s ready for the job. Charles dealt with personal issues in college at Baton Rouge and got suspended multiple times while at LSU.

He has elite size and athleticism, though, and the Redskins did plenty of due diligence before selecting Charles.

Here's what VP of Player Personnel Kyle Smith said about the 20-year-old after the draft: “He’s a high-talent player. Tremendous talent, tremendous upside. Obviously, he was there in the fourth round for a reason. We dove into this kid's character in a big way. We feel very confident in the kid, we’re comfortable with everything, the research that we’ve done. And we’re really excited for the kid, I know he is too. He’s got a chip on his shoulder, he understands why he was taken where he was.”

RELATED: CHARLES OPENS UP ABOUT PAST STRUGGLES

So it’s clear Charles is the plan for the long term, and while the Redskins feel confident in the person, the layoff from coronavirus could make a big impact. Charles could have definitely used the offseason at Redskins Park. Every rookie needs that time to acclimate to life in the NFL, but it's particularly beneficial on the offensive line. 

If Charles isn’t ready early, Lucas will be. He started eight games last year in Chicago and wasn’t great but was serviceable. He could be the placeholder until Charles is ready. 

The other name here is 2018 third-round pick Geron Christian. Put simply, he hasn’t been very good in two seasons in Washington, but he was always expected to be a developmental prospect. This is the year the development needs to be visible. Word is Christian added upper body strength, which was a big need, but he better be ready to compete right away. Usually a third-round pick gets plenty of time to figure things out, but with Ron Rivera in charge and an almost completely overhauled coaching staff and front office taking over with him, Christian’s draft status won’t save him if he struggles. 

JP’s prediction: If Charles shows up in shape, it’s his job. Rivera has said repeatedly he’s not scared to play rookies and Charles has the most talent at the position. 

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Pete's outlook

The winner of this battle is either going to be a guy with his fifth organization in the NFL, a rookie fourth-rounder, or a 2018 third-rounder who hasn't done anything meaningful yet in the league. The post-Trent Williams world is officially here, and it's cold, dark and spooky.

Taking Charles in the fourth round, just minutes after trading Williams away, was absolutely the right move by the Burgundy and Gold. Of course, there's going to be a certain amount of risk whenever you take on someone with multiple suspensions in college, but Washington was correct to accept that risk.

Now, the Redskins at least have someone they can point to and say, "That's our Plan A for the next few years." Before Charles, they couldn't do that. But will Charles also emerge as Plan A for 2020? 

While fans should definitely file away the fact that Adrian Peterson mentioned working out with Christian this spring and seeing "tremendous improvement" out of the lineman — Peterson isn't the type to hand out hollow compliments — this still feels like a two-man race between Charles and Lucas. 

If those two enter training camp and the rookie is clearly behind the vet, then Lucas should be the man to start in Week 1. This franchise needs to see what it has in Dwayne Haskins, and therefore it needs to protect him as best as possible.

However, if Charles is at least close to what Lucas is, then Rivera should go with him from the beginning. Yes, the Redskins want to win this season, but the real goal is to figure out whom they can sustainably win with for many more seasons to come.

Pete's prediction: Charles is going to beat out Lucas, who's a fine journeyman but not in the team's thoughts beyond 2020. Charles has the potential to become a formidable left tackle, and Rivera should start that process ASAP.

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Why Redskins draft picks Antonio Gandy-Golden and Saahdiq Charles face a difficult NFL transition

Why Redskins draft picks Antonio Gandy-Golden and Saahdiq Charles face a difficult NFL transition

Besides the obvious selection of pass rusher Chase Young, two 2020 Redskins draft picks that excited many fans were a pair of fourth-rounders.

The first was the choice of LSU tackle Saahdiq Charles, who the Redskins nabbed with the second pick in the fourth round. 36 picks later, Washington added lengthy pass-catcher Antonio Gandy-Golden from Liberty.

The two selections were viewed as positive ones by many, mainly because of the potential that both Charles and Gandy-Golden have. But it's no secret that each one of them has their own fair share of question marks.

With the coronavirus pandemic eliminating all in-person offseason activities including rookie minicamp and OTAs, NBC Sports' Josh Norris wonders how much of an impact Gandy-Golden and Charles will truly be able to have as rookies in 2020.

"Antonio Gandy-Golden to me is kind of like a discount Tee Higgins, the 33rd overall pick," Norris told the Redskins Talk podcast. "Height, acrobatic, all that stuff. Again, I cannot imagine what the transition is going to be, Liberty to the NFL without a true offseason program without rookie minicamp, I don't know how much you can ask that type of player in his rookie season."

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Gandy-Golden was not selected until the fourth round partially due to the competition he faced at Liberty, a school that just made the jump to the FBS level two season ago. While the wideout may not have gone to a Power Five school, all he did during his time at Liberty was produce. Over his final two seasons in college, he finished with a combined 150 catches for 2,433 yards and 20 touchdowns.

One area the wideout excelled the most in college was using his lengthy, 6-foot-4 frame to haul in contested catches down the field on vertical routes. In Washington, Norris wonders if he'll be given the chance to do so, considering the team already has a few pass-catchers that shine in that aspect.

"When I went back and watched him, it was a lot of vertical routes that were tested and just create acrobatic catches," Norris said. "Again, who knows how different the offense is going to be in Washington. I'm not saying it's going to be a one-for-one, but where Scott Turner asked [{anthers wideout] Curtis Samuel to play last year was a lot of vertical routes. Obviously, Terry McLaurin was great at that his rookie year as well"

As Norris explains, Turner, Washington's new offensive coordinator, sent one of his smaller, faster receivers on vertical routes a lot last season. Should he want to do that with the Redskins, he has two obvious choices in McLaurin and second-year wideout Steven Sims. Speed has never been Gandy-Golden's strength, and his 4.6 40-yard dash time at the Scouting Combine proved that.

The analyst is a little higher on Charles' outlook, who has the chance to compete for the team's starting left tackle spot in 2020 with Trent Williams now in San Francisco. While Norris thinks the Redskins may have gotten a "steal" in Charles, potentially having to rely on a rookie fourth-round pick at the most important position along the offensive line is not ideal for Washington.

"Is that what you want to rely on? That's tough," he said. "That's the spot they found themselves in."

Norris explained that the preseason will be telling for what the Redskins can expect from Charles as a rookie.

"So often with these players, you have a much better view of who they are once preseason games roll around, like two games of the preseason than 12 games at the college level," Norris said. "I would much rather have those two exposures against true NFL players than LSU just whooping up on everyone down there and going against those pass rushers."

When Ron Rivera took over as Redskins head coach in January, he filled out his staff with a bunch of his former colleagues from Carolina. One of those was offensive line coach John Matsko, who served that role in Carolina for all nine seasons that Rivera was the head coach. 

During his tenure with the Panthers, Matsko has earned the reputation as one of the best offensive line coaches across the league, partially due to his ability to get the most out of his players. Norris believes that Matsko could have the same success with Charles as he did with some of his former offensive linemen in the past.

"They turned some undrafted players into starters [in Carolina]," Norris said. "Greg Van Roten was one, Andrew Norwell was one, and both of those guys got pretty hefty contracts. Trai Turner was only a third-round selection. They did some development. They haven't had top left tackle talent down there. When they went to the Super Bowl, Michael Oher was their left tackle. He was up and down at all times. They've done some very good development."

Norris concluded by saying that Charles doesn't need to turn into a top tackle in the NFL in order to have success with the Redskins. Rather, what's most important for the rookie is learning how to work well alongside the other four members of the unit.

"You don't need to have top-end talent at every spot along the offensive line," Norris said. "You need to kind of have five players that work well together, and then that can hopefully become a successful offensive line."

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Without Trent Williams, mystery looms over Redskins' left tackle position

Without Trent Williams, mystery looms over Redskins' left tackle position

Lucky isn't a word that's been attributed to the Redskins much in the 2000s, but when it comes to what they've had at left tackle, the descriptor absolutely works.

Head coaches and quarterbacks, of course, have buzzed in and out of Washington. Supposed long-term answers at other key positions, meanwhile, turned out to be short-term problems. And there's that one time they signed Albert Haynesworth.

Yet at the most important spot on the offensive line, the Burgundy and Gold have been overwhelmingly steady since 2000.

Chris Samuels and Trent Williams are to thank for that.

The Redskins selected Samuels third overall in the 2000 Draft, and from then until the end of the 2009 season, he was their always good, six-time Pro Bowler on the outside.

When an injury forced Samuels to retire, the franchise took Williams fourth overall in the 2010 draft, and from then until the end of the 2019 season, he was their always good (when on the field/not feuding with Bruce Allen), seven-time Pro Bowler on the outside.

So, from 2000 until 2018, the Redskins consistently knew who they'd be lining up at left tackle, and aside from some health hiccups and a couple Williams suspensions, they lined those two guys up at left tackle. Pretty simple.

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Those words do a solid job explaining how lucky they've been, but these numbers do a better one:

  • The Redskins have played 320 regular season games since 2000. Samuels (141) and Williams (119) have combined to start 260 of them. That means the team has gotten Pro Bowl-caliber production at left tackle in 81-percent of their contests over the last 20 years, a number that would be even higher had Williams not sat out 2019.
  • Over those 20 seasons, Samuels (eight times) and Williams (six times) started at least 13 regular season matchups on 14 occasions. Together, Samuels (six times) and Williams (two times) started all 16 regular season matchups on eight occasions.

At this point, you get it. Those two stars held the position down on an almost unprecedented level.

However, that is no longer the norm for the Redskins. They now have to really wonder about something they haven't had to wonder about much at all in the past two decades.

Yes, the same could've mostly been said at this point last year when Williams was in the early stages of his holdout, but even then, there was still some hope that situation could be resolved. This time around, he's gone. 

This time around, the near and far future are a mystery.

While the Redskins feel quite confident about Saahdiq Charles' talent, he's still a 2020 Day 3 pick. He has plenty of supporters and lots of talent, sure, but neither of the two men he'll be trying to replace made it to fifth overall. He was there for Washington at No. 108.

In addition to Charles, Ron Rivera has Cornelius Lucas, a giant 28-year-old veteran who signed in March. Lucas played capably for the Bears in 2019 but has just 16 starts in his six-year career. 

Lastly, there's Geron Christian, a 2018 third-round choice who's played 189 offensive snaps since coming into the league. There's not much else to note about him.

The obvious best-case outcome for the Redskins moving forward is that Charles is able to emerge. Without his trouble at LSU, the 20-year-old would've gone much earlier in the draft. He has the ability to become a dependable starter if he can stay focused in the NFL.

If Charles doesn't deliver, then the team will likely have to go searching for another young option with potential or an older, more established pro. Lucas is more of a rotational piece, while Christian only appears to be an undefined piece. Charles is the one to really monitor.

Sort of like the Packers with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at QB, the Redskins have long been spoiled at left tackle thanks to Samuels and Williams. That era, unfortunately, is now over. As for when the next one starts, well, that's anyone's guess. 

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