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Redskins preseason Q&A: Which rookie will have the most impact?

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Redskins preseason Q&A: Which rookie will have the most impact?

With a new general manager in charge, new faces throughout the lineup as well as new assistant coaches bringing new ideas to the table, the Redskins are a team in transition. Between now and the start of training camp, CSNWashington.com reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the top questions facing Jay Gruden and Co. as they prepare for the season.

Which Redskins rookie will have the biggest impact?

GM Scot McCloughan has forged a reputation for building strong teams through the draft. He did it in San Francisco. He helped do it in Seattle. Now, we wait to see if he can do a third time in Washington. In truth, it’s probably too early to say with any certainty which rookie will be a game-changer in 2015. After all, training camp is still a month away. But after observing five OTA and minicamp practices in recent weeks, we can definitely make some educated guesses. 

El-Bashir: I’m going to make two picks, both on the offensive side of the football: Matt Jones and Jamison Crowder. My gut feeling is that Jones will have a much more prominent role in Jay Gruden’s offense than originally anticipated. In fact, I now expect him to be a direct replacement for the departed Roy Helu Jr., meaning he’ll spell Morris when the workhorse needs a break and fill the role of third down running back. That could put him on the field for 25 or more plays a game. As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones goes for over 400 yards rushing and hauls in 30 or more passes.

Crowder, meantime, was the other rookie that made observers say, ‘Wow,’ a lot during offseason workouts because of his burst, elusiveness and hands. At times, he looked like a big play waiting to happen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Crowder push veteran Andre Roberts for playing time in the slot. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the fourth rounder replaces Roberts as the punt returner and brings some much-needed production to the position. It would great if Crowder could break off a handful of field flipping returns and perhaps take one all the way. But given the Redskins’ struggles the past few years, I suspect Gruden and Co. would be pleased if he’d average 9.5-10 yards per punt return (as opposed to Roberts’ 19th-ranked average of 7.4 yards in 2014).

Tandler: I like those picks a lot but I think there could be a couple of additional players from McCloughan’s initial draft class who will make an impact. And I’ll set aside top picks Brandon Scherff and Preston Smith for this post. I’m on record saying that both could struggle initially but should have a pretty good handle on things by the time the midseason bye week comes around. I like the potential impact of two draft picks who will primarily contribute on the area of the team that arguably needs help as much as any other—special teams.

Prior to the college title game, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said that Evan Spencer, who would become a sixth-round pick of the Redskins, was the team’s MVP. "Because whatever you want Evan to do, you just tell him once and he'll do it," said Buckeyes receiver Devin Smith. The Redskins are going to tell him to focus on special teams and he’ll do it. His blocking skills are very strong and he has the knack for making the clutch play, like when he made a fingertip grab to recover an onside kick that essentially clinched Ohio State’s national semifinal game against Alabama.

The other special teams demon I think will have an impact is Kyshoen Jarrett, a sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech. Now, anyone who has watched the Hokies closely for a long period of time knows that the days of “Beamerball” with Virginia Tech having dominant special teams are history. But the kicking game is still strongly emphasized in Blacksburg and as a product of that system Jarrett will not have to be persuaded that playing teams will enhance his prospects for making the team.

Last year the Redskins tried to beef up their special teams by adding veterans like Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton. They both ended up being expensive additions to the injured list. The Redskins’ special teams “improved” from awful to merely bad. The approach of bringing in young players who don’t have to be taught the importance of special teams should pay off.  

Previously on Redskins preseason Q&A:

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The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list

The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list

Every offseason the NFL Network polls a number of current players to determine the Top 100 stars in the league.

It's a fun discussion topic during an otherwise slow time in the football calendar, and while the rankings carry no official meaning, it would be silly to dismiss the process altogether. After all, these are players voting for their fellow players. 

Over the last few seasons, the Redskins have seen a various number of their players make the list. Trent Williams is a mainstay, Jordan Reed made an appearance, and while he was playing in Washington, QB Kirk Cousins made the list. 

For example, in 2017, Cousins ranked 70th on the NFL Top 100. That same season, while quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, Smith came in at 81 on the list. 

Now Redskins QB, there is a bit of a mystery surrounding Smith.

The NFL has revealed numbers 100 to 11, and Smith hasn't made the list. Cousins, now a Viking, landed 94th, the first QB on the list.

Another 10 QBs have been named to the Top 100: Jimmy Garoppolo (90), Derek Carr (60), Philip Rivers (56), Case Keenum (51), Deshaun Watson (50), Jared Goff (38), Matt Stafford (31), Matt Ryan (29), Ben Roethlisberger (18) and Russell Wilson (11).

Smith had the best statistical season of his career in 2017, and he led the NFL in passer rating. He certainly belongs higher on the Top 100 than a number of the quarterbacks listed above, particularly young players without his track record of success like Keenum, Watson or Goff. 

But does Smith deserve a Top 10 ranking in the NFL?

For Smith to make the list, it will mean a Top 10 ranking. Consider too that Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz have not yet landed on the Top 100. All four of those players seem like locks for the Top 10, which will be revealed next Monday night on NFL Network. 

It might seem surprising for Smith to land in the Top 10 of the NFL Top 100, but it would make zero sense for him to be left off the list altogether. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

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

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Need to Know: Redskins QB Alex Smith understands that expectations will be high immediately

Need to Know: Redskins QB Alex Smith understands that expectations will be high immediately

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, June 20, 36 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Emptying the notebook from the offseason practices

—Last week I wrote that Gruden expects Alex Smith to be ready to win in Week 1. Smith understands those expectations and plans to meet them. “No, I don’t think you can rely on the fact that, ‘Oh, it’s the first year here.’ Nobody cares,” he said when asked about his transition into the new offense. “It’s not like in the fall, you guys are going to be like, ‘Ah, well, this is his first year here. We’ll give him a break.’ It just doesn’t work that way.” Of course, Smith is right. If the Redskins are 1-3 in October, nobody is going to cut them any slack if their veteran quarterback who got a contract with $71 million guaranteed is struggling with the new offense. 

—I didn’t count reps during the practices that were open to the media, but it seemed that they were giving DL Jonathan Allen a light workload. “I think he did a great job of rehabbing in the offseason,” said defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. “We were kind of a little bit hesitant early on when he was here just taking reps and stuff but looks like he’s just keeps on progressing from where he kind of left off last year and the sky’s the limit for him.” The Redskins essentially will be adding two first-round picks to their D-line with Allen’s return and the addition of Daron Payne in the first round this year. I would look for Allen to get a full workload when training camp starts. 

—There are questions about Kevin Hogan making the 53-man roster as the third quarterback. Jay Gruden had some rather tepid praise for him last week. “He’s done good,” he said. “I like Kevin. He’s a smart kid and he’s got some deceiving escape ability to him. He can run a little bit. We saw one today, he popped out of there for about a 20-yard gain. I like where he’s at.” But near the end of that practice, Hogan threw a red zone pass right into the arms of rookie CB Greg Stroman. If we see much more of that, the Redskins may keep a sixth wide receiver or tenth offensive lineman rather than a third quarterback. 

—When he is asked about the performance of undrafted rookies, Gruden usually declines to praise specific players so when he does pick out individuals it’s worth paying some attention. On Wednesday he said that WR Cam Simms and CB Danny Johnson “stood out” at their respective positions. Looking at it right now, there don’t appear to be roster spots available for either of them. But one or two undrafted players break through and make the roster every year and Simms and Johnson are two to watch. 

— “In the second year, we expect major strides for all first-year guys. I’ve said it before. So just understanding pro football, what it’s all about in your first year, you have the four preseason games and 16 regular season games,” Gruden said when asked about RB Samaje Perine. “It’s a grind, mentally. It’s all-day football, not like college where you only get 20 hours a week, so I think he understands the grind and our system a lot better.” The answer obviously applies to all of the 2017 draft picks. In particular, they will be counting on next steps from OLB Ryan Anderson, CB Fabian Moreau, WR Robert Davis, and CB Joshua Holsey. History tells us that some will take big steps, others will not.

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

Timeline  

Former Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington was born on this date in 1978.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 36
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 50
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 73

The Redskins last played a game 171 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 81 days. 

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