New Redskins GM Scot McCloughan aimed to improve nearly every position through the draft or via free agency. How has he done? Over the next couple of weeks, Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir will examine and rate each group on the team. The ratings will be based on the quality of the players as compared to the rest of the league and, in particular, the NFC East.
We’ll use a scale of 1 to 10. To receive a 10, a position group would need Pro-Bowl caliber starters and solid backups. A rating of 1 means the starters are aging and ineffective and there are no promising reserves in the pipeline.
We’ll get it started today with the defensive line.
Starters: Stephen Paea, Jason Hatcher, Terrance Knighton
Reserves: Stephen Baker, Ricky Jean Francois, Frank Kearse, Kedric Golston, Robert Thomas, Corey Crawford, Jerrell Powe, Travian Robertson
Tandler: This group has been substantially upgraded from last year with the additions of Paea, a young, powerful end with some pass rushing ability, and Knighton, the true nose tackle the team has lacked since converting to the 3-4 defense in 2010. If Hatcher can stay healthy the starters could combine for 15 sacks or more. Baker is a quality option off of the bench who could thrive in Joe Barry’s more aggressive defense. Last year Kearse was a pleasant surprise and he, Golston, and Jean Francois can give them some quality snaps off of the bench. A wild card reason to like this unit is second-round draft pick Preston Smith, an outside linebacker who could line up with his hand in the dirt on a substantial number of snaps. On the downside, Hatcher will be 33 before training camp starts and with his salary cap number jumping up to $8.75 million next year this could be his last season in Washington. Knighton is one a one-year contract so two of the three starters may have to be replaced next year. Rating: 6
El-Bashir: McCloughan immediately identified the D-line as the team’s biggest area of need, then wasted no time overhauling the previously underperforming unit. As I’ve said a number of times, I’m a fan of McCloughan’s approach here. Paea is a building block type player—27 years old and on the upswing. Knighton, meantime, is hungry after the market forced him to settle for a one-year ‘prove-it’ deal. If the 28-year-old nose tackle wants another multi-year deal, he must keep his weight down and, most important, produce. Jean-Francois, 28, figures to be a key player in the rotation. As far as the incumbents, Hatcher’s health will be key, as Tandler said. Hatcher had moments early last season when he appeared almost unblockable. Then the injuries hit. He’s healthy now, and if he stays that way, I suspect Barry will play to his strengths and he'll have a big year. Which brings me to what I think will be the determining factor for this group in 2015: Barry’s scheme. Indeed, the players are certainly excited about it. “We ain’t going sideways no more,” Hatcher said recently. “We’re just not holding a blocker. We’re the attacker now.” The D-line contributed only 10.5 sacks to the team’s pedestrian total of 36 last year. With influx of first-string talent and Barry's scheme tweaks, that should change this season, making the line an asset rather than an albatross. Rating: 7
Consensus rating: 6.5