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Redskins draft countdown: Would the Redskins spend a first on LB Zach Cunningham?

Redskins draft countdown: Would the Redskins spend a first on LB Zach Cunningham?

Redskins draft countdown

The NFL draft is 44 days away and there is plenty of speculation as to what players the Redskins will select to wear the burgundy and gold. Between now and the draft we’ll look at some of the players who might be of interest to the Redskins and discuss how they might fit in Washington.

Zach Cunningham

Inside linebacker
Vanderbilt

Height: 6-3
Weight: 234
40-yard dash: 4.67

Projected draft round: 1

What they’re saying

Cunningham sports a long-levered frame with broad shoulders, a tapered middle and plenty of room for additional muscle mass without significantly impacting his impressive quickness, agility and speed. He attacks oncoming blockers with an aggressive and powerful initial punch, quickly disengaging on his way to the ball. Unlike most linebackers with his length, Cunningham shows good recognition and body control to slip cut blocks, as well, sprawling to maintain his balance and rarely losing sight of the ball. 

Rob Rang, CBSSports.com

How he fits the Redskins: The Redskins start a pair of inside linebackers who are smart players and great teammates but Will Compton and Mason Foster are limited athletically. If the Redskins want to upgrade here, Cunningham would be a good place to start. He is a playmaking machine, fast and aggressive.

He led the SEC in tackling, although some are concerned that his tackling technique needs some work. His pad level tends to be too high but that is something that can be corrected by coaches.  

Potential issues: He is tall and angular and he has issues fighting off blockers, especially if they go low in him. Having a good defensive line in front of him will help mitigate that and, as of now, that is not an asset that the Redskins possess at the moment.

Although he played on the inside at Vanderbilt, many draft analysts think that he would be better suited to playing a weakside linebacker in a 4-3. But the Redskins are in 4-3 often enough that he could play inside in base and then go outside when the OLBs put their hands in the dirt on passing downs. Still, a first-round linebacker has to be a three-down player and the Redskins would have to be convinced that he can play inside in base defense.

Cunningham is a much better value later in the first round and he could be a reach at No. 17. It seems like they are always open to trading back so perhaps they could do that and snag him somewhere in the twenties.

Bottom line: The Redskins have never use major assets for the inside or middle linebacker positions. Since the merger, they have not spent a first- or second-round draft pick on the position. The only major free agent acquisition there was London Fletcher and the contract he signed with Washington in 2007 was not a blockbuster. Their primary philosophy has been to draft in the middle rounds (Perry Riley) or not draft at all (Compton) and develop.

So, will the Redskins change a philosophy that stretches back for decades? You never know but it would be a surprise if they take a player like Cunningham in the first even though he could provide an instant boost to the offense.

In his own words:

When asked for a self-scouting report:

I have a great work ethic. Passion for the game. Passion for what I do. A hard player. A team player. Always putting the team first. But is going to sell himself out for his teammates as much as my teammates would see themselves out for me.

Previously in Redskins draft countdown:

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Need to Know: Adrian Peterson visit part of Redskins contingency planning at running back

Need to Know: Adrian Peterson visit part of Redskins contingency planning at running back

Here is what you need to know on Monday, August 20, four days before the Washington Redskins host the Broncos in their third preseason game. 

Talking points

Jay Gruden added some clarity to the Redskins’ running back situation, although questions remain. 

First, and perhaps most important, he said that there are no immediate plans to sign Jamaal Charles or Orleans Darkwa, both of whom visited Redskins Park on Sunday, or Adrian Peterson, who is scheduled to come to Ashburn today. 

"Well we want to bring them in to get physicals on them just in case,” said Gruden. Like I said, we have had very [unlucky] situations with our running backs with obviously Guice and Marshall and Samaje, if something else happens, we are going to be really, really, really thin, so we just want to make sure we are covering all our bases right now and we will address it when we feel like we have to." 

Derrius Guice is out for the season with a torn ACL. Byron Marshall and Samaje Perine suffered injuries last Thursday against the Jets. According to media reports, Perine should be out a week and Marshall for two to four weeks. 

The key to what Gruden said was the part about “covering all of our bases right now”. Things are tight at running back now. But they are a Rob Kelley injury or a Perine setback away from being in big trouble. They would need to go to Plan B and that might be Peterson or Charles or Darkwa. 

But the Redskins have a short-term problem. Assuming Perine won’t play on Friday in the third preseason game against the Broncos, the Redskins would only be left with Kelley and Kapri Bibbs to handle most of the load in that game. Chris Thompson is scheduled to play some, but only for about a quarter. The Redskins will want to acquire at least one other running back to play on Friday. 

It sounds like that back won’t be someone like Charles or Darkwa, but it could well be someone you’ve never heard of. It was somewhat surprising that they didn’t have a new running back at practice today, but it’s very likely that they will have someone in place in time for practice on Tuesday. 

Bureau of statistics

2017 stat slash lines for RBs visiting the Redskins

Darkwa (NYG) 171 att./751 yds./4.4 yds per att./5 TD
Charles (DEN) 69/296/4.3/1
Peterson (AZ/NO) 156/529/3.4/2

The agenda

Today: Off day

Upcoming: Preseason Broncos @ Redskins (Aug. 24) 4 days; Final cut (Sept. 1) 12 days; Season opener @ Cardinals (Sept. 9) 20 days

In case you missed it

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page,Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler

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The Redskins are reportedly hosting Adrian Peterson for a free agent visit

The Redskins are reportedly hosting Adrian Peterson for a free agent visit

After sustaining a number of injuries to their running back group, the Redskins need help at the position. 

In that quest, the team will bring in veteran Adrian Peterson for a free agent visit, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Media.

Arguably one of the best all-time running backs in the NFL, Peterson not being on a roster at this point in the season might be a surprise. Last year, Peterson split time between New Orleans and Arizona and rushed for more than 500 yards. 

Peterson built his fame and name with a long run of success in Minnesota, including a 2,000-yard season in 2012. In 123 games with the Vikings spanning 10 years, he rushed for nearly 12,000 yards and 97 touchdowns. 

Washington is in serious need for depth and talent at RB. 

Rookie Derrius Guice went down for the season in the preseason opener, and last week Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall sustained injuries. 

At Sunday's practice, head coach Jay Gruden joked that his son, Jack, should take some practice reps at the position. 

Currently, the Redskins only have Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson and Kapri Bibbs as running backs on the roster, and Thompson hasn't played yet this preseason as he's working back from a broken leg last November.

The Redskins also worked out veteran runners Jamaal Charles and Orleans Darkwa. Peterson has the biggest name of all of them.

This offseason, Peterson also worked out with Redskins tackle Trent Williams.

MORE REDSKINS NEWS

For more analysis on Peterson's visit, check out this RB-oriented episode of Redskins Talk.