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After years of neglect, should the Redskins draft a D-lineman early?


After years of neglect, should the Redskins draft a D-lineman early?

In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.

In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

No. 25

Should the Redskins pick a defensive lineman early in the draft?

Tandler: Yes, early and perhaps even often.

It’s very fair to say that the Redskins have neglected the defensive line in the draft. Excluding college defensive ends drafted with the plan to convert them to outside linebackers the Redskins have drafted just one defensive lineman earlier than the sixth round since the year 2000. That was Jarvis Jenkins, taken in the second round in 2011. Other than that they have taken three defensive linemen in the seventh round and two in the sixth.

The last time the Redskins took a defensive lineman in the first round was 1997, when they took end Kenard Lang out of Miami.

The Redskins have had to rely on free agency to keep their defensive line stocked. In recent years they have spent big money on the likes of Jason Hatcher, Stephen Bowen, and Barry Cofield. With the latter two the cycle was predictable and almost the same. The team got a good year or two out of both of them and restructured their deals to create some cap room. Then both suffered injuries, lost a lot of their effectiveness and were cut, creating substantial dead cap hits.

It goes back further than that, to Andre Carter and Cornelius Griffin during Joe Gibbs’ second stint and the ultimate disaster free agent signing, Albert Haynesworth in 2009. Add them all up and it’s tens of millions of cap dollars spent with very little in return.

The Redskins don’t necessarily have to take a defensive lineman in the first round although at this early stage of the draft process it looks like there are a few players who could qualify as best available at No. 21 overall. Robert Nkemdiche of Ole Miss, Vernon Butler of Louisiana Tech, Sheldon Rankins of Louisville and Jarran Reed of Alabama are all potential picks at No. 21.

A D-lineman doesn’t have to be the first-round pick. There likely will be some solid options that Scot McCloughan can grab in the middle rounds. But if they get to the third day of the draft on Saturday and there isn’t a defensive lineman on the board we will be virtually assured that the Redskins will have to continue the cycle of expensive short-term rentals of older players.

El-Bashir: Tandler with the history lesson! I’d forgotten how badly the Redskins had neglected the D-line in recent years. 

Well, it’s time to put an end to that trend.  

Terrance Knighton is a free agent. Ditto for backups Kedric Golston and Frank Kearse. Meantime, Jason Hatcher, who turns 34 in July, is talking about retiring.

Depending on how things shake out with Knighton and Hatcher, the Redskins could find themselves in need of two starters up front. Stephen Paea, of course, could claim one of those jobs, but he didn't last year and is coming off a stint on IR. Whatever happens, the need for an infusion of young, top-tier talent along the D-line is both real and immediate.

And, fortunately for GM Scot McCloughan, this is a good year to be in need of a quality tackle or end. Or both, even.

Rotoworld’s Josh Norris has eight D-linemen—Sheldon Rankins (Louisville), Andrew Billings (Baylor), DeForest Buckner (Oregon), Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss), Vernon Butler (Louisiana Tech), Jonathan Bullard (Florida), Jarran Reed (Alabama) and Jihad Ward (Illinois)—among his top 32 prospects.’s Bucky Brooks adds A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama) and Kenny Clark (UCLA) to the list of top tackles available. In fact, Brooks writes, “The 2016 defensive tackle class is arguably the deepest position in the raft. There are not only several blue chip talents at the top of the board, but there are plenty of quality starters that can be found on Day 2.”

Which, of course, is very good news for a Redskins’ team that, after years of neglect, should absolutely consider investing in its D-line—with an early pick or maybe even two. 

25 Questions series

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What are reasonable expectations for Colt McCoy? The numbers might surprise you

What are reasonable expectations for Colt McCoy? The numbers might surprise you

After the injury to Alex Smith, the Redskins shifted Colt McCoy to the top of their quarterback depth chart. A fan favorite that put out a good showing in relief against Houston, McCoy knows head coach Jay Gruden's offense inside and out. 

Still, it's been a long time since McCoy got significant playing time. In fact, it's been a long time since McCoy got any playing time. 

Kirk Cousins took every single snap of the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Every single one. In 2015, Cousins played the whole year, up until the second half of a Week 17 win in Dallas after the Redskins had already clinched their NFC East title. 

So to get a decent sample size to set expectations for McCoy, travel all the way back to 2014. That season was a dumpster fire for Washington. It was Gruden's first year as head coach and he was trying to figure out what do with Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and McCoy. After RG3 got hurt, Cousins got the call, but he eventually got benched in a Week 7 game at home against the Titans. 

McCoy came in and led the Redskins to a 19-17 win. The Redskins trailed 10-6 at halftime, but on just the second snap of the second half, McCoy connected with Pierre Garçon for a 70-yard touchdown. 

He started the next four games for Washington before hurting his neck against the Giants and RG3 returning to the starting role. McCoy hasn't started a game since that season, but the numbers are worth digging into. 

In four starts in 2014, McCoy averaged a little more than 250 yards passing to go with four TDs against three INTs. He completed 71 percent of his passes while averaging more than 8.3 yards-per-attempt.

Washington went 1-3 in McCoy's four starts that year, but remember two things: He brought the Redskins back for a win against the Titans in a game he didn't start, and he didn't finish the second half of his fourth start after injuring his neck. 

Obviously the 2018 Redskins are quite different from the 2014 squad. This year, the 'Skins are in first place of the NFC East and have a real opportunity to host a playoff game, even after losing Smith to injury. 

In 10 starts this season, Smith averaged about 218 yards passing-per-game and completed 62.5 percent of his throws. He threw 10 TDs against five INTs, and averaged 6.6 yards-per-attempt. Washington had a 6-4 record in Smith's 10 starts.

Compare Smith's numbers with McCoy from 2014, and it could be reasonable to believe the offense will move the football a bit more with Colt at QB. Of course, the teams are very different, and much of 2018, the Redskins have been a run-first offense.

The comparison isn't exact, and it shouldn't be viewed as such. Regardless, the numbers exist to provide a baseline for expectations. 

The most memorable game of the 2014 season probably came when McCoy led the Redskins to an improbable win in Dallas on Monday Night Football. The Cowboys were 6-2 and Washington was on their third-string QB. Few thought the Redskins had a chance in that game, but McCoy delivered an accurate performance, completing 25 of 30 passes and a few key runs, and led his team to victory.

On Thursday, McCoy again gets a chance to lead the Redskins into JerryWorld on national television. Dallas has won two games in a row, and while Washington is a game ahead in the standings, oddsmakers have installed the Cowboys as 8-point favorites. 

Looking at McCoy's 2014 numbers to Smith's 2018 numbers, the backup has a chance to outproduce the starter.


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The details on Alex Smith's gruesome injury are even worse than you expected

The details on Alex Smith's gruesome injury are even worse than you expected

When Alex Smith went down in Sunday's loss to the Texans, the injury looked bad. From his reaction and the instant reaction of his teammates and coaches, it became obvious the severity of the situation. 

As soon as the video replays showed Smith's leg bend in the way it wasn't intended, the whole world knew bones were broken. 

Now, though, as details begin to emerge after Smith had successful surgery on the injury, it sounds even worse than it looked. 

On Monday, Jay Gruden explained that Smith faces a recovery time of six to eight months. That timeline puts Smith on pace to return for training camp in 2019, but that also assumes no complications from surgery and a full recovery. Smith will be 35 in May.

The Redskins acquired Smith via trade during the 2018 offseason, and immediately agreed to a contract extension with the quarterback. That deal includes $71 million guaranteed for injury.

In his first season as Redskins starter, Smith was completing 62 percent of his passes for 2,180 yards to go with 10 TDs against five INTs in 10 games before the injury. Smith guided the Redskins to a 6-3 record before leaving the Texans game and eventually landing on the injured reserve list.