The Redskins retained four defensive starters and one key contributor (Chris Baker) in free agency and also signed numerous starters and contributors from other teams, but that doesn’t mean their defense is set for 2014. Many of the Redskins moves were stopgap type of options, meaning they could be passable starters or contributors if needed, but they could still be upgraded and aren’t long term fixes. This leaves the Redskins with numerous defensive needs heading into the draft. They won’t be able to fix every need, but with a strong draft they could set themselves up going forward. Here is how the defensive needs stack up:
-The Redskins have Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather penciled in to start, with 2013 4th rounder Phillip Thomas as the top reserve, but this position is far from set. Clark is nearing the end of his career and the bottom could fall out at any point for him. Meriweather was part of the Redskins secondary last year and was a major liability. Granted he didn’t have much support last season, but it’s not likely that his play will improve that much this season (if at all). Phillip Thomas could take over for one of Clark or Meriweather if they falter, but he’s coming off a lost season and has now missed two of his previous three football seasons (missed his entire junior year), making him anything but a safe bet. Going forward Clark and Meriweather are both free agents after the year, leaving the Redskins extremely thin. Ideally the Redskins could land a top safety in the 2nd round and have a guy who could man the position for the foreseeable future. Even if they can’t land a safety in the early rounds, adding a young safety still makes sense from a depth and future standpoint.
-The Redskins added Jason Hatcher in a big mover to bolster their defensive line, but they can’t be content to stop there. Though Hatcher gives the Redskins a decent four man defensive line rotation of Hatcher, Barry Cofield, Jarvis Jenkins and Chris Baker, the Redskins need more than that. The defensive line is a highly rotated position, where unless you have top end elite players it is better to keep your guys fresh and match them up to the situation. That is what the Seahawks did last season on their way to a Super Bowl win. In addition the defensive line typically deals with a myriad of injuries throughout the season putting a lot of pressure on your depth. The Redskins have seen this happen every season and by the end of the year they are undermanned. Not only do the Redskins need line help this year, but going forward as well. They have one of the oldest defensive lines in the NFL, and Jarvis Jenkins is set to be a free agent next season. Adding one or two defensive linemen makes a lot of sense as the Redskins hope to build a top defensive unit.
-In addition to incumbent Keenan Robinson and newly re-signed Perry Riley, the Redskins addressed the position in free agency by bringing in Darryl Sharpton, Akeem Jordan and Adam Hayward this season. Both Sharpton and Jordan have starting experience, and Hayward has held his own when he’s played in the past. Despite having 5 viable inside linebackers, the Redskins still have a serious need here. Riley figures to be the best inside linebacker of the bunch and he looks to be no better than an average player. The Redskins aren’t going to have a top 10 or 15 defense any time soon if they are starting two average or below players at inside linebacker. Long term this is a huge area of need as Robinson has missed significant time during his first two years due to injury. Sharpton and Jordan are both only signed for one year deals and Hayward is signed cheaply and probably tops out as a back-up/special teamer. The Redskins could consider a long term fix in the 2nd-4th rounds of the draft. if they don’t find one there they may be forced to wait a year.
-The Redskins brought back DeAngelo Hall to pair with David Amerson in the starting roles and then added Tracey Porter for the slot corner role. Behind them young corners Richard Crawford and Chase Minnifield are penciled in as the 4th and 5th corners. Despite appearing set on paper there are question marks about every single one of those players. Hall is getting a bit older, and while he’s coming off one of his best seasons, he has plenty of poor seasons in his recent past as well. Amerson struggled in a 3rd CB role as a rookie, facing off versus a number of 2nd tier WR’s, will he improve enough to face quality starters this year? Porter has been a streaky corner with a lot of injury history in his past. Speaking of injuries, Crawford is coming off a serious knee injury and might not be the same corner. Minnifield has dealt with numerous serious injuries and has yet to play an NFL regular season snap. Given that all 5 corners have these pressing questions the Redskins will likely look to add a corner or two in this draft, and could consider an early round option if one presents itself.
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-Now if Brian Orakpo isn’t locked up long term this becomes an extremely big need, but right now we know he’s back for this season and hopefully will be retained long term. Though it hasn’t happened yet, Ryan Kerrigan’s 5th year option is expected to be picked up as well, which means this position is pretty well set from a staring perspective. Depth though is another issue. Rob Jackson was brought back, but he’s hardly guaranteed a spot and he definitely isn’t a productive enough pass rusher to replace either Orakpo or Kerrigan. Brandon Jenkins was a 5th rounder last year and he could have some future as a situational pass rusher, but the Redskins need more than that. If the right pass rusher is on the board in the mid-rounds they could pull the trigger to ensure their depth and future. Also, the Redskins could look to be more creative this season with formations involving additional pass rushers.