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 division.
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.
Starters: Ryan Kerrigan (LOLB), Perry Riley (ILB), Keenan Robinson (ILB) and Trent Murphy (ROLB).
Reserves: Outside—Preston Smith, Jackson Jeffcoat and Trevardo Williams; Inside—Adam Hayward, Will Compton and Martrell Spaight.
Tandler: This could be a very good group, perhaps the strength of the Redskins’ defense, putting pressure on the opposing passer and providing solid coverage and good play against the run. But there are some ifs to consider. The linebackers can be very good if Murphy takes a step forward from his OK but not great rookie season, if Smith can pick things up quickly, if Robinson can stay healthy and continue his solid play, and if Kerrigan builds off of his career-best 2014 season and break into the ranks of the elite pass rushers. Those are all plausible but we will have to see how it plays out. The depth is good on the inside. Hayward is a solid veteran, Compton played well filling in for both Riley and Robinson last year, and the team is very high on Spaight’s potential. The backups on the outside are shaky; it would be hard for the defense to thrive if Jeffcoat or Williams had to play key roles for an extended period of time. I’m going to give them a very respectable rating with the recognition that there could be an up arrow beside it should the players stay healthy for the most part and all of the “ifs” discussed here turn out positive. Rating: 7.
El-Bashir: McCloughan focused his offseason efforts on retooling the defensive line and bolstering the secondary. With the exception of drafting Smith in the second round, the new general manager mostly left the linebackers untouched. Which means he didn’t consider it a priority—even after deciding to let Brian Orakpo walk. And, for the most part, I agree with his assessment. The key players in this group are all young; in fact, Riley is the oldest starter at 27 years old. On the inside, Robinson possesses good upside but needs to stay healthy, while Riley needs to take the next step, which has so far proven elusive for the sixth year player. On the outside, Kerrigan is reliable and productive but even he’d tell you he wants to be more consistent. Murphy, meantime, has packed on nine pounds of muscle this offseason and hopes to hold off Smith in the competition to start opposite Kerrigan. Either way, the No. 3 outside linebacker figures to see the field quite a bit. But I share the same concerns as Tandler when it comes to depth. At inside linebacker, I’m okay with Compton, who can play both positions and performed quite solidly in five starts last season. (Hayward was almost exclusively a special teamer in '14). At outside linebacker, though, Murphy is the second most experienced player behind Kerrigan—and he has just 15 games (including eight starts) on his resume. Jeffcoat and Williams have shown flashes but haven’t played much. Because of that, I think this group can withstand an injury at ILB, but it would likely be in trouble at OLB. Overall, I see enough potential to be optimistic but also enough inexperience to give me pause. Rating: 6.