Last week in Part I, we explored the keys to building a 53 man roster, and ideally how many players the team should target at every position. In Part II we will look at the defensive side of the ball.
When looking at the offense we came up with 26 roster spots, which after adding the three special team spots, leaves us with 24 open spaces for defense.
Now since the Redskins primarily run a 3-4 defense, it is probably assumed that they only really need three starters and three additional back-ups. The problem with that belief is that it is a bit too simplistic. The defensive line probably more than any other position relies on a strong rotation to achieve maximum effectiveness. Keeping guys fresh is key, which is why that even if every one of the starters was 100% healthy for the year you really shouldn’t expect your starters to play more than 75% of the snaps. Despite some of those snaps being given to an extra defensive back (or two) on passing downs, you can still expect your defensive linemen to make up about 2.5 players (out of 11) worth of snaps. Ideally that means your 4th and 5th defensive lineman, will play a fairly significant number of snaps. Depth is crucial to the position, something the Redskins found out last year as due to injuries (and lack of depth) they were forced to play their starters more than they would have liked, and they wore down some as the season went on.
Now unlike on the defensive line, linebacker is a position that won’t see a lot of rotation, as your starters are expected to play the majority of the snaps. In fact the Redskins should expect all of their starting linebackers (Perry Riley is still a bit of an unknown) to play at least 90% of the snaps. Despite the fact that the Redskins shouldn’t expect to use their depth linebackers too much, they are likely to keep eight guys for one primary reason, special teams. All the back-up linebackers should be expected to contribute significantly on special teams if need be.
The NFL is very much a passing league, and with more teams using three and four wide receiver sets (or splitting out a TE or RB), it is important for defenses to be able to match-up (note: extra safeties can be used as well). Teams need to have guys who can play as their third and fourth corner, and in case of injury a fifth corner can be important as well. Also, the depth corners can play a big role on special teams.
Like cornerback, your back-up safeties could play quite a few snaps on defense, and will be relied upon heavily on special teams. As the Redskins know all too well, injuries here can cripple your defense, so quality depth is a must. While traditionally you’d look at it as having two strong safeties and two free safeties, in today’s NFL, both safety spots have to be able to both cover and tackle. You might try to utilize a guy to his strengths, but if a safety is weak in one of the areas the opposing offense will do everything they can to exploit it. Which is why a team needs to take the best four safeties they have and put them on their 53 man roster.
Adding up these four positions puts us at 24, which added to the 29 spots from the offense and special teams gives us 53 guys. Now of course this is just the ideal roster, but this does offer great balance and depth at key positions. Injuries and ineffectiveness will go a long way to determining the final count at each position. Hopefully though the Redskins strive for better balance this year, as last year injuries took their toll at RB, OL and DL, and the team lacked the depth to handle it adequately, while at the same time excess players at WR and FB did little to advance the Redskins success.