While on the surface the Redskins losing 2nd year CB/PR Richard Crawford shouldn’t have a major impact on the Redskins roster. After all Crawford was a 7th round pick who played limited snaps last year. The Redskins also appear to be well covered at cornerback, bringing back starters DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson, while drafting David Amerson in the 2nd round and signing E.J. Biggers as a free agent.
In addition to those four, 2nd year UDFA Chase Minnifield is showing a lot of potential and had probably earned himself a roster spot. As for the punt return job, though Crawford was the top option the Redskins could turn to a young guy like Niles Paul, Aldrick Robinson, Chris Thompson or a veteran like Santana Moss or Hall. It might not be ideal, but on paper it’s not too bad of a solution. That all makes it seem like it’s not a major loss, but it is probably more significant than how it appears at first glance.
Though Crawford was buried as the 5th or 6th corner there is a chance he could end up being needed more than you would expect. Both starting corners Hall and Wilson are dealing with some nagging injuries this preseason, and could have those flare up during the season (and are probably more susceptible to more serious injuries).
Free agent signing E.J. Biggers has struggled some in preseason so his hold on the 3rd or 4th CB spot is tenuous at best. While David Amerson has shown some promise in practice and the first preseason game, he’s had back-to-back games where he’s struggled some. While that isn’t a major worry as he works out the rookie mistakes, the Redskins may limit his snaps if he doesn’t show better consistency.
Now none of this means that Crawford would end up a starter, or even a guarantee that he’d be better than Biggers/Amerson as a reserve. What it does indicate is that while he was buried on the depth chart currently, there is a good chance he would have been called up for a couple hundred snaps this year.
The Redskins safety position is extremely thin right now with rookie Bacarri Rambo manning one starting spot, and Brandon Meriweather hopefully taking the other spot. The problem with that is that Meriweather has barely practiced and hasn’t played in any preseason games (he’s expected to play on Thur.). With him coming off an ACL injury it is unlikely that he will be playing at his peak level this season and will probably need to be used on a limited basis to start the year.
With 4th rounder Phillip Thomas out for the season, the Redskins have just Reed Doughty, Jordan Pugh and DeJon Gomes to pick from as back-ups. Doughty is a lock given his special teams ability, so the team has to make the decision with keeping either both Pugh and Gomes or just one. The thought was if the team keeps 6 corners they would perhaps have to go with just four safeties.
Part of the thinking was that a guy like DeAngelo Hall could be an emergency FS. While you wouldn’t want him to get a ton of snaps in that role, Hall could help out a little during a game or if there was a serious injury. Now though with only five corners, the Redskins may not feel as comfortable playing Hall at safety if it means that CB play will be weakened.
Also, now with only 5 corners does that mean the Redskins keep both Pugh and Gomes? Neither of whom have looked particularly impressive in preseason (or even practice according to reports). Perhaps this means the team will need to go out and grab another safety after final cuts. It could also mean that the Redskins use this roster spot at another position that has a significant position battle.
The Redskins will need to ask themselves if they feel confident going into the season with only 9 defensive backs, particularly with some injury concerns. This roster question could also be tied into the the punt returner job. If the team hopes to give the job to Chris Thompson, it is likely that is where the extra roster spot goes. Thompson seems like a longshot to crack the top 3 (obviously 1 and 2 are locked down) running back spots, so the Redskins would need a 4th spot for him.
Though earlier I named five players who could help fill in for the punt return duties, it isn’t a particularly strong list. The current favorite is to use rookie RB Chris Thompson in that role. The problem with that is he wasn’t a returner in college, and because of injury he’s barely practiced returns in OTA’s (which he missed all of) and training camp. He’s got extremely limited experience returning punts and you would be taking a big risk putting him back there in games early in the season.
Also it is worth noting that Thompson has fumbled twice in limited preseason carries, which doesn’t bode well for him as a returner. Aldrick Robinson didn’t return punts in college (in part due to Crawford) and when he tried his rookie season in preseason he fumbled. He’s worked on it some in practice, but he’s not exactly the best option to have out there.
Niles Paul has punt return experience, but now that he’s bulked up some he’s probably not as good as an option. Also, he’s the lead blocker for punt returns so if you use him as the returner you weaken the other role. Hall is dealing with a foot injury and you would be risking a starting CB that has just lost a guy, so that is probably out. Santana Moss has plenty of experience and isn’t technically a starter (though his importance is pretty close to one), but I just can’t see him returning the majority of the punts. Moss could be used in spot duty, but he shouldn’t be the primary option.
Crawford has getting praised by the coaching staff for the offseason work he had put in, and the hope was he could eventually develop into a top 3 corner back. Given that Hall, Wilson and Biggers are all free agents next season, Crawford had to a chance to make that a reality pretty soon. Now with him tearing three ligaments in his knee his return for next season is questionable to begin with. Even if he does return, he likely won’t be ready for a more significant role on the team.