Over the next few weeks, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2016, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2017.
Starters: Duke Ihenacho, Will Blackmon
Backups: Deshazor Everett, Josh Evans
Injured/Reserve/Waived: Donte Whitner, DeAngelo Hall, David Bruton
Free Agents: Duke Ihenacho, Whitner
Rewind: The Redskins tried to get by in 2016 without a serious investment in the safety position. In August the plan was for Washington to start DeAngelo Hall and David Bruton at the safety spots. Hall suffered an injury in Week 3, Bruton in Week 4, and neither player would return.
Bruton's play was never starter level, and his replacement for many snaps came in the form of Donte Whitner. Once a great player, Whitner was past his prime, and though he got a ton of action for the 'Skins, was often a liability. Ihenacho missed tackles, but curiously got fewer snaps than Whitner. Deshazor Everett flashed in his few opportunities with the defense, but also rarely got snaps. Blackmon made some plays and gave some up, but fought injuries and was converting to the saftey position from corner for the first time in his 10-year career.
Fast forward: One big piece of the safety puzzle should come with Su'a Cravens' move from linebacker to safety. A physical, intelligent player, as a rookie Cravens proved a nose for the ball and a sure tackler. He will help the 'Skins in the back of the defense. What player lines up next to him will be a major question. Cravens does not have elite speed, and Washington will need to pair him with a safety that can handle deep middle coverage.
It's very hard to see Bruton or Whitner back on the roster in 2017, and Ihenacho seems like a long shot as well. After dealing with injuries for multiple seasons, Hall will need to rework his deal to stay with the 'Skins, something the veteran admitted in his locker clean out interview with the media.
Blackmon has another year left on his deal, and is a versatile option for the 'Skins defense. His natural position, however, is corner, and the 'Skins should effort to get Blackmon back on the outside of their defense. Everett deserved to play more than Whitner late in 2016, but didn't, which creates questions. Everett should at least get a chance to compete for more playing time in 2017. There is also speculation that Bashaud Breeland could transition to safety, but that seems far fetched.
It's important the Redskins look to bolster the safety position this offseason, be it in free agency or the draft. After the defensive line, safety may be the greatest position of need for Washington. Cravens has all the tools to be great, but he still is a young player with zero NFL experience in the secondary. Scot McCloughan should take steps to cement a solid player next to Cravens, as well as more depth at the position to sustain injuries, like what happened in 2016.