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Need to Know: Five Redskins who need to step up in 2017

Need to Know: Five Redskins who need to step up in 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, January 9, 59 days before NFL free agency starts.

Timeline

Days until:
NFL franchise tag deadline 51
NFL draft 108
First Sunday of 2017 season 244

Five Redskins who need to step up in 2016

RB Rob Kelley—He was a nice story as an undrafted rookie who did a decent job coming after Jay Gruden decided to deactivate Matt Jones for the last nine games of the season. Projecting his production in those nine starts over a 16-game season he would have just over 1,000 yards rushing, which is good. But he averaged just 4.0 yards per carry, which would have ranked around 24th in the league if he had enough carries to qualify. And he needs to work on his receiving skills; an average of one catch for nine yards per game. If the Redskins are going to have a balanced attack, they need more from Kelley. 

WR Josh Doctson—The Redskins’ first-round pick barely practiced or played but his exposure to a year of being around the team and going to meetings should have him ahead of where a raw rookie would be. That’s good because he will be expected to step up into a featured role if, as expected, Pierre Garçon and/or DeSean Jackson depart via free agency. If they both go, that’s over 2,000 receiving yards and seven touchdowns that would have to be replaced. Doctson will be counted on to account for a good chunk of that.

OLB Preston Smith—Five sacks, an interception, a field goal block, and three passes defensed isn’t a terrible season but Smith is capable of much more. The defense is going to add a lot of pieces during the offseason but it’s possible that none will have a bigger potential impact than we would see if Smith consistently becomes the player he was against the Vikings and Bears this past year and the one who blossomed in the latter stages of the 2015 season. If he can do that the defense could take a major leap in 2017.

CB Bashaud Breeland—Looking at his body of work for the season perhaps it’s unfair to say that Breeland regressed in 2016 but he sure didn’t take the leap forward that many thought/hoped he would. Unless he and the Redskins negotiate a contract extension Breeland is going into a contract year. For both his sake and for the sake of the defense, he needs to take that big leap forward, develop consistency and become a quality NFL starter.

CB Josh Norman—His cap number this year is $20 million, or slightly more than the cap hit of QB Kirk Cousins in 2016. It’s not fair to expect Norman to have the same impact as quarterback who threw for nearly 5,000 yards but the Redskins will expect more than three interceptions out of him. Sure, they don’t throw his way often but he had around a half a dozen picks in his hands that he didn’t hold on to. And they would appreciate him drastically reducing the 19 penalty flags he drew this season.

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Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

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USA Today Sports

Jay Gruden shown no love in preseason coaches ranking

Yahoo! Sports ranked all 32 head coaches in the NFL and Washington Redskins fans may not be too happy with where Jay Gruden ended up.

Entering his fifth year as head coach, Gruden was ranked as the No. 27 head coach in the NFL. Here's Yahoo!'s rationale behind his ranking:

"Four years, one playoff berth, one plus-.500 season, one franchise quarterback run out of town."

All that is ... not false, but the whole franchise quarterback being run out of town thing is at least debatable. And even if the ranking is fair, it's still okay to be upset because it's the middle of July, training camp hasn't started yet and the offseason is the perfect time to get irrationally angry about things like these.

Elsewhere in the NFC, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur checks in at No. 23, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is No. 17 and the Eagles' Doug Pederson is No. 2.

Unsurprisingly, Bill Belichick was ranked No. 1; he may be the greatest of all time when all is said and done, if not already. The top five rounds out with Pederson at No. 2, New Orleans's Sean Payton at No. 3, Minnesota's Mike Zimmer at No. 4 and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin at No. 5.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

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10 Questions in 10 Days: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

10 Questions in 10 Days: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold before the team heads to Richmond. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart 

No. 9: What is Kevin O’Connell's new role in Redskins offense?

No. 8: More investments on D-Line, but who goes where?

No. 7: Do the Redskins have a 1,000-yard WR?

No. 6: Is Shawn Lauvao the concern, or is the issue bigger on the O-Line?

No. 5: What can the Redskins expect from Derrius Guice?

No rookie draft pick excited the Redskins fan base like Derrius Guice since Robert Griffin III came to Washington back in 2012. That's a fact. 

Guice slipped during the draft to near the end of the second round, a position much too late for a player with his talent. Rumors emerged that he had character issues, but in the months since April's selection, they seem unfounded. In quick time, Guice has emerged as a Redskins fan favorite and has performed plenty of charitable acts.

So, moving past the erroneous off-field questions, it's time to manage expectations for what Guice can do on the field. 

DJ Swearinger recently said he expects Guice to make the Pro Bowl and rush for more than 1,000 yards. As a rookie. (Listen here)

That's not unheard of, last year rookie Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rush yards. In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott did the same thing. Rookie running backs can step in and produce right away in the NFL, unlike some positions that usually bring more of a learning curve. 

Can Guice do that?

The first and most important questions will be health and durability. Guice dealt with lingering knee injuries last year at LSU, and the Redskins will need him fully healthy. A 1,000-yard season is not unrealistic if Guice plays a full 16-game season. It would require rushing for about 65 yards-per-game. 

The bigger key is opportunities. 

How many carries will Guice log in 2018? Early on in the season, Guice might still be learning pass protection in the Redskins scheme, and Jay Gruden will not tolerate missed assignments that result in big hits on QB Alex Smith.

If Guice can lock in on blitz pickup, 200 carries seems reasonable. Remember that Chris Thompson will still be a featured part of the Redskins offense, and Rob Kelley will get chances too. 

Last season, Samaje Perine led all rushers with 175 carries. He didn't do much with the chances, averaging just 3.4 yards-per-carry. Kelley had 62 carries before injuries shut his season down after parts of seven games. 

Combine Perine and Kelley's carries, and then things start to get interesting. With 230 carries, at an average of 4 yards a pop, Guice starts to approach 1,000 yards.

One problem with extrapolating too much data from last season is the crazy amount of variables. Late in the year, with Perine largely ineffective and a very beat up offensive line, the Redskins simply couldn't produce on the ground. In their last five games of 2017, the Redskins never rushed for more than 100 yards. They averaged just 60 yards-per-game on the ground during that stretch, including a season low 31 rush yards against Arizona in December. 

The line can't be that beat up again, right?

Guice has to be able to deliver more than Perine, right?

If the answers to those questions are yes, then a 1,000-yard season seems possible for Guice in 2018. 

One misnomer from the Redskins 2017 campaign emerged that Washington simply did not run the ball well or enough. In fact, early in the year when the Redskins looked like a possible playoff team, they ran the ball quite well. In three of the first four games, Washington went over 100 yards on the ground, including 229 rush yards in a Week 2 win over the Rams. 

Guice might get to 1,000 yards in 2018. It's no sure thing, and there are plenty of variables, but it's possible. That hasn't happened in Washington since Alfred Morris, and would be a very welcome sight. 

The rookie runner has invigorated the Redskins faithful, and that's before he even steps on the field. If Guice can produce, the fans will go crazy.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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