Last week I highlighted the offensive players and ranked them in order of their level of importance to the Redskins in 2013, today I switch to the defensive side of the football. My criteria is pretty simple: Rank the players based on their importance to staying in the line-up, based on positional value, talent level, role in the defense, and weighing in what the back-up plan would be.
-The Redskins pass defense relies heavily on getting pressure on the quarterback, and the team’s best pass rusher is Brian Orakpo. When he went down with an injury in week two last season the Redskins pass rush and consequently pass defense, completely collapsed. Though Ryan Kerrigan still ended up with comparable numbers to Orakpo’s production levels from the past, he couldn’t fill Orakpo’s shoes as he remained on the left side (facing right tackles) and wasn’t as big of a threat to open up opportunities for the rest of the defense like Orakpo is capable of. The health of Brian Orakpo is paramount for the Redskins Defense to make any sort of improvements this season. Further increasing the importance of Orakpo is the fact that the Redskins top back-up OLB, Rob Jackson is suspended for the first four games of the season. That leaves Darryl Tapp, who has never been a rush linebacker and rookie Brandon Jenkins as the only depth options early in the season.
-Kerrigan’s value to the Redskins is very similar to Brian Orakpo’s. In fact Kerrigan is a bit more complete of a player, and has yet to miss a snap in two seasons. He’s a touch below Orakpo as a pass rusher, and hasn’t shown an ability to attack the blindside, which is why he’s below Orakpo. The reality for the Redskins though is they are completely reliant on both of these players being healthy this season if they want their defense to be successful. Depth is a big concern here, as the drop-off would likely be significant.
-Cofield has somewhat quietly become one of the Redskins key defensive players. The interesting thing is he’s not super effective at the primary role of his position. Typically a nose tackle is there to stop the run and occupy blockers to free up other defenders. In that capacity his play is pretty streaky, and would probably be considered below average. Where he excels though is pushing the pocket and attacking the quarterback. Though he doesn’t get a ton of sacks, Cofield showed a surprising ability to put pressure on the quarterback last year and not give him a place to step up into. Cofield has also shown his value at knocking down passes at the line, with 11 total batted passes in his two seasons in Washington. Much of Cofield’s damage is done when he is actually not in the nose tackle position, but playing more of a 3 technique role in the Redskins nickel package. His value level is somewhat tied to how often the opposing team throws the ball.
-Though London Fletcher has been the heart and soul of the Redskins Defense for years now, with his play declining last year Riley was forced to take on a larger role. That trend will likely to continue, and for the Redskins to be successful they will need Riley to really step up this season to give them a presence in the middle. Riley proved himself to be an adept blitzer down the stretch last season, which led to a couple big plays on defense. Riley also made big strides in his run defense, significantly limiting his missed tackles. The one area where Riley really needs to improve still is his pass defense. From a depth perspective the Redskins have 2012 4th rounder Keenan Robinson behind there starters and he has a little promise, though is inexperienced and coming off an injury.
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-Wilson is not a star cornerback, but he’s by far the Redskins most consistent defender. He’s not a ball hawk (though he does alright on the turnover front), but he’s the best on the team at preventing catches and yards. Consistency has been a problem for Wilson, and he can be a poor match-up versus some receivers with size. Even with those limitations, for the Redskins Defense to work they need a strong year from Wilson. Last year his production was down, which weakened an already poor secondary. It’s since been revealed that he played with a serious injury for much of the year last season, which could explain his drop-off. His health is a bit more of a question mark this season which is something to watch. The Redskins did add UFA E.J. Biggers and 2nd rounder David Amerson to their CB depth chart so the drop-off in production won’t likely be as significant if Wilson were to miss time.
-Fletcher is still the emotional leader of the Redskins Defense, but he really saw his defensive production decline last season. Despite 5 interceptions, Fletcher became a liability in coverage giving up far too many catches and yards. Fletcher also saw his run defense begin to struggle as his missed tackles skyrocketed this past season. While he did play with multiple injuries last season, there is no guarantee that he’ll be 100% this year after coming off multiple offseason surgeries. The Redskins can’t afford to see a further drop in production from Fletcher this season, and his health and level of play will be something to watch. Keenan Robinson is an unknown, but at least there is some potential there if Fletcher were to struggle.
-Bowen was expected to be more of a passrusher when signed as a free agent, while he’s been a bit disappointing in that department, he’s been surprisingly well against the run. Though Bowen is definitely the Redskins best defensive end, it’s not a huge gap between him and some of their depth players.
-Brandon Meriweather has been bench and kicked off his previous two teams, and played just one half last season for the Redskins inbetween injuries to both knees, yet he’s probably the Redskins 2nd most important secondary member for this season. The Redskins safety depth chart is very thin, in particular for this season. Despite the fact that Meriweather might not be 100% this season in recovering from the injury, his presence to lock down one starting spot is pretty important.
-Though Mike Shanahan typically doesn’t like to rely on non-first round rookies, Phillip Thomas could be thrust into a starting role this season. The fourth rounder, may be a little out of place at free safety, but the team really lacks any even semi-decent options behind him. Though he may not be the starter at the beginning of the season, it is likely he earns the job before the year is out.
-Jenkins got off to a slow start last season as he became the primary replacement for the injured Adam Carriker last year, but he picked his game up as the season wore on. Jenkins also showed ability to put pressure on the quarterback last year and the versatility to kick inside to more of a three technique role.
-Hall is coming off another high disappointing season, when he was among the league’s worst corners in catches and yards allowed. Hall though came up with a couple excellent games last year, and as always a couple big plays throughout the season with his ball hawking skills. He was also a capable blitzer at times for the Redskins as well. Though his high risk, high reward play should fare better with an improved pass rush this season, he’s still likely to a liability due to the sheer number of catches that he’ll give up. Also, with the additions of Biggers and Amerson, the team has other options this season.
-Last year the Redskins third corner, Cedric Griffin did an okay job (when he wasn’t suspended for the final four games), but he was zero threat to replace a starter if they went down with an injury. Biggers isn’t what you’d call a big upgrade, but he should be an improvement over Griffin. He’s still unlikely to earn a starting role, but he’ll likely get his fair share of playing time and provide the Redskins with better depth. He also offers a little better size and could be asked to match-up versus some of the bigger receivers the Redskins face.
-Carriker may end up being the Redskins best run defender as a 5 technique, though he’s coming off a big injury. Carriker should compete for a starting spot with Jenkins, but may end up losing out. He should get some good rotational work, though he’s not really a pass rushing threat and doesn’t have the versatility to really kick inside in the nickel package.
-Though he’s not ideally suited for a starting role, especially at free safety (in that case Meriweather may play more of the FS role), Doughty could end up being relied upon early in the season if the team isn’t comfortable with rookie Phillip Thomas to start the season. With a projected starting safety pair of a rookie and a guy coming off an ACL injury, it is likely that Doughty will get a solid amount of playing time. In the box Doughty has proven to be effective, though he can be a liability in coverage down the field.
-Amerson was the Redskins top pick in this year’s draft, and while he’ll be given a shot to earn a starting job or significant role, with three more proven vets ahead of him he’ll likely be more limited. Amerson is also coming off a down year in college and figures to be a prospect who needs some time to develop. That being said the Redskins may feel the need to give him playing time, which is why he’s on this list.