Redskins Defense Starting to Take Shape
The Redskins entered the offseason with their top defensive player, OLB Brian Orakpo, poised to hit unrestricted free agency, and two other solid starters CB DeAngelo Hall (who was coming off his best season) and ILB Perry Riley set to join him. The Redskins defense was among the worst in the league to begin with, but they absolutely couldn't afford to lose their top defensive player and only real star in Orakpo. Given how thin their secondary was, losing Hall would have also been tough to swallow. Riley the weakest member of the group was more replaceable, but with London Fletcher retiring, replacing both inside linebackers would have been a tough task. As free agency started the Redskins found out that all three would definitely be back as Perry Riley signed a 3 year deal, to go along with Orakpo's franchise tag and Hall's 4 year contract. With all three returning along with top reserve defensive lineman Chris Baker returning the Redskins could begin to look at fixing their holes on defense.
It wasn't going to be an easy task as in addition to the three key free agents, the only players on the Redskins defense who played at an average level even were DL Barry Cofield and OLB Ryan Kerrigan. That is 5 starters the Redskins could count on, and a guy like Riley is hardly a guy you can count on. That meant the Redskins needed 6 additional starters and a couple key back-ups. On paper Chris Baker and David Amerson would fill two of those starting spots, but neither player had completely shown that they were capable of that role. Defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins could possibly join Barry Cofield and Baker on the DL as a starter, but thus far he's played more like a back-up. In addition to needing probably 2 defensive linemen (at least), the Redskins needed help at inside linebacker where their depth chart was Riley and 3 year LB Keenan Robinson who has missed basically the last year and a half due to injury. In the secondary the Redskins needed at least one more corner and at least 2 safeties (preferably starting quality).
That is a lot of needs for one offseason, especially since depth was needed at every position. While the Redskins are hardly done fixing their defense, 5 days into free agency their outlook is far better than it was a week ago (they didn't even have Orakpo Franchised or Riley signed at that point). Here is how each position group is shaping up:
Hatcher was a big get for the Redskins as he offers an actual pass rushing threat along the defensive line. While 3-4 defensive linemen don't typically rack up the sacks, most teams still need some good players along their line. Cofield was one, but he couldn't do it alone and pass rushing isn't his strongest skill set. Hatcher gives the Redskins that pass rusher and a guy who can push the pocket. This is going to make the lives of OLB's Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan that much easier. In the past quarterbacks typically were able to step up to avoid outside pressure. Now with a guy like Hatcher in there that won't always be an option and in fact at times he'll force the QB right into one of those outside backers. Chris Baker probably shouldn't be starting, but with the thought that the team is going to more of a 1 gap scheme he should be more effective. The depth is solid, though it wouldn't be surprising if Bowen is cut given his contract and the injury he's coming off of. The Redskins could still look to improve this area, with maybe a mid round draft pick, as the long term depth is highly questionable.
Projected starters: Brian Orakpo, Perry Riley, Darryl Sharpton, Ryan Kerrigan Key Back-ups: Adam Hayward, Keenan Robinson, Brandon Jenkins
Retaining Orakpo was a must (hopefully now they work out a long term deal) and with the Redskins bringing back Riley and signing Sharpton they should have a passable inside linebacking unit to pair with their quality OLB unit. Sharpton has filled in nicely with the Texans over the years and has the potential to be an average starter. It's not going to be a strong group of inside backers, but it should be an upgrade and passable for this year. Hayward could challenge Sharpton for the starting gig, and at the very least gives the Redskins some better depth at the position. They should look to add a rookie to the mix, given that Robinson's job is far from secure. Depth at outside linebacker is pretty thin and the Redskins may consider a veteran back-up to go along with Brandon Jenkins.
Key additions/re-signings: CB DeAngelo Hall, CB Tracy Porter
This position group clearly still has the most work to be done, but with Hall and Porter they have a nice start. Hall was coming off his best season where he was his most consistent and really locked down some of the top WR's in the league. He was still far from perfect, but at this new salary that level of play is very good. Porter has been up and down in his career and has had injury issues, but he fills a big role for the Redskins in that he can play in the slot. Prior to him signing the Redskins simply didn't have that guy on the roster. David Amerson and Richard Crawford can't do it, and it's Hall's worst position. Also if you play Hall in the slot it would mean that another corner would have to cover the Dez Bryant's of the league, which wouldn't have been good. Porter should be the primary slot corner on the team and if David Amerson struggles he's got the experience to play outside as well. Safety is a huge need right now as two starters are really needed and possibly a back-up as well. Rambo's roster spot is in jeopardy so considering him as a starter is laughable at this point. Phillip Thomas will likely make the team, but he's not a good starting option coming off a season lost to injury. With at least two safeties needed and possibly another corner the Redskins still need to do some work here, but it's not as dire a situation as the start of the offseason.
I don't think this Redskins defense is going to be challenging the 49ers or Seahawks any time soon, but it should no longer be in the bottom 5 of the league (assuming they find some safeties). They still have some work to do, and this will be a transitional year, but the Redskins should be more competitive in games and at least have a chance to get some wins. While the secondary is still the weak point of this side of the ball, the improved pass rush should have a positive effect on the ability of the secondary.