While the Redskins have added some nice starters in free agency this offseason, just as important has been their ability to improve their talent level at the roster spots 23-50* (some of their depth signings may need to end up starting depending on what they do in the draft). One of the biggest issues with the Redskins in recent history, but particularly last season, was just their sheer lack of depth. Like other sports, the focus and attention is typically on the star players in the NFL, but the reality is football is the ultimate team sport. Not only do you need the star players, and quality starters to fill out your top 22 positions on a roster,but you better have quality depth and be able to fill out those next 25 positions at least. The Redskins just haven’t been able to field teams that had that combination of top level talent, good starters across the board and back-ups to replace them when necessary. Quality depth is key in three main areas: Replacement (injury or ineffectiveness), Rotation, and Special Teams. Here’s why those are important and where the Redskins stand:
The importance of depth is shown every year, but was very much on display come Super Bowl Sunday. The Broncos and the Seahawks were two teams that endured a series of injuries (and some suspensions) to numerous starters including some top players throughout the season and the playoffs, yet both of them were able to overcome those injuries to have the best records in their conferences and meet up in the big game. The Broncos played the whole year without their star LT Ryan Clady (the Seahawks were without their LT for 8 games as well), and the Seahawks were without their top WR Percy Harvin (they were also without their number 2 for most of the year) for nearly the entire season. If the Redskins had to play last season without LT Trent Williams or WR Pierre Garcon (and possibly both), they probably wouldn’t have won a single game. That doesn’t even account for the numerous additional starters and key back-ups lost throughout the year by those teams. The Redskins were lucky last season as until week 10, the only real game missed by a starter due to injury was Brandon Meriweather Week 1 versus the Eagles. Up until Week 10, the biggest injuries were to key back-ups like Phillip Thomas and Keenan Robinson in preseason. Fred Davis and Logan Paulsen missed some time, but they weren’t the real top TE at that point. Later in the season some injuries piled up with Leonard Hankerson, Stephen Bowen, Darrel Young and Jordan Reed missing time, but compared to most teams the Redskins were a picture of health last season.
That health is something the Redskins just can’t count on to occur again this season. It’s likely the Redskins will have to deal with not only a higher quantity of key injuries next season, but more serious injuries as well that could keep players out for an extended period of time. The Redskins are better prepared at this point heading into next season (and that should continue to improve with a few more cheap signings and the draft). Currently their depth is improved at WR, OL (though that could thin out with some cuts), DL (another position that could thin out with some cuts), ILB, CB and S, to go along with pretty decent depth already at QB and RB. It’s far from perfect, but the Redskins should be in a better position to deal with some injuries at these positions, both during camp and the regular season.
The other part of the replacement factor that makes it important to have quality depth is the ineffectiveness factor. If a starter or a key contributor is struggling (either due to them dealing with a nagging injury,or just lack of talent), ideally you have some depth to replace some of these players throughout camp or the regular season. The Redskins though haven’t had that level of depth which has led to a lot of below average starters and a lack of a shake up of a roster that just isn’t working. Last year every starting offensive lineman outside of Trent Williams should have been theoretically challenged for their job, but the Redskins didn’t bring in any outside threats via Free Agency or the Draft and none of their young guys were developed enough to challenge the starters. Even the back-ups weren’t really challenged outside of the league minimum addition of Tony Pashos (who should have been kept), which allowed a weak 2nd unit that just wasn’t capable to replace any of the starters as they struggled. This was a similar storyline at just about every position. Safety was so thin and untalented that the Redskins pressed corners E.J. Biggers and Josh Wilson into duty.
Now there will be greater competition in camp at many of these positions, so even if there are some weaker starters this year, they will at least had to face a test in camp and if they continue to falter there could be a fallback plan. That is a big improvement for the Redskins and should lead to better production on the field.
Outside of the offensive line and the quarterback, every other position on a football team will likely play less than 100% of the snaps on their side of the ball. For some positions they may still play 90% of the snaps or more, but other positions see serious rotation and they may play only 60% of the snaps. Regardless of the position you need capable back-ups, but those positions that are rotated and rotated at a higher level, you need multiple back-ups. Even if your guys stay fully healthy, your depth will be playing a significant role. Good teams also use that rotation to their advantage by keeping their guys fresh. Last year the Seahawks were great at this, and rotated 7 guys along their defensive line. They were able to match-up in any situation and were able to keep their guys fresh late into the game. The Redskins didn’t have that luxury and at times (particularly the DL) you could see them run out of gas as the game wore on.
Again it’s not perfect for the Redskins, but defensively they can rotate their players more and keep them fresh. Already they split their running backs time on the field, and it should be expected they look to keep both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson fresh, with Andre Roberts in the fold.
The Redskins Special Teams were just awful last season and this is where their lack of depth really showed. Though most of the injuries in camp or early in the season didn’t impact the starters or key contributors, it did hurt them on Special Teams. Given the fact that the unit was poor to begin with and the coaching was questionable, it sunk this unit completely. The Redskins pressed a lot of guys into service who either had limited special teams experience or just weren’t good at it. Not surprisingly these guys failed and the Redskins Special Teams were flat out embarrassing.
This year the Redskins have better depth at LB and among the defensive backs, which should go a long way to improving the Special Teams. Many of the linebackers the Redskins have brought in are known to be quality special teamers. Now it might not turn them into a top 5 or 10 ST unit, but it is a good start for the Redskins and should help them have at least average Special Teams (which is a VAST improvement).