As training camp gets closer and closer, now is a good time to take a deeper look at the Redskins rookie class and what are some reasonable expectations for their rookie contributions and going forward. First up we will look at the defensive class and who might help improve a Redskins unit that finished 27th in points allowed and 21st in yards allowed. While the Redskins defense showed some promise last year, and could develop into a quality unit they were still a work in progress.
-Payne is the Redskins 2nd straight first round defensive lineman from Alabama, and figures to help fix the Redskins biggest defensive issue of the past few years; their porous run defense. Payne is primarily viewed as a Nose Tackle, who is quick enough to play the 5 tech or even the 3 tech when the Redskins are in a 4 man front. He’s got a quick first step and has shown the ability to dominate at times. He should be starter playing about 60-65% of the snaps, and could be a key to the Redskins getting into the top half of the defensive rankings this season.
-Apke was only a one year starter for Penn State and wasn’t on a lot of people’s draft radar before he blew up the combine workouts. He is a rangy safety with good size and is a solid tackler, who should find work as a rotational safety as a rookie and core special teamer.
-Settle is a big physical nose tackle with enough athleticism to play other interior defensive line positions as well. Considered better vs the run, Settle at times flashed upside rushing the passer as well. A number of pre-draft rankings believed that Settle deserved to go in the 3rd or 4th round and the Redskins acknowledged that they had a higher grade on him as well, which is why they couldn’t pass up the value when he was still on the board in the 5th rd. Settle should clearly be behind Payne on the depth chart, but should be able to contribute as a rookie as a rotational defensive lineman. With both Settle and Payne having some versatility to play various interior defensive line roles, they can also get snaps at the same time.
-Dion Hamilton came into the year as a potential top 50-100 pick, but injuries derailed his season and hurt his draft stock. When healthy, he possesses good instinct and a quality ability to defend both the run and the pass. Unfortunately he’s had serious injuries each of the last two years and may need to spend this entire season trying to recover and get healthy. While his rookie year will probably not provide much to the Redskins defense, long term he has some potential if he can ever stay on the field.
-Stroman was a solid 7th round option, who can contribute on special teams and could be viewed in the mix as a back-up slot corner. His upside is probably limited and unless he shows he’s a core special teamer he’s not a lock to make the team or even be active on game days.
-Alexander was a bit of a surprise pick, but he’s an intriguing low risk/high reward addition. Alexander started his career at Virginia Tech as a highly productive freshman, but saw his play decline since then. That is an obvious concern, but with using just a 6th round pick the Redskins can hope they can get him back to his earlier career upside. While it’s likely he makes the team it will probably be as the 5th or 6th corner, who could end up inactive most weeks. When he does see the field he will primarily contribute as a special teamer. Long term he could be seen a developmental outside corner or perhaps even a FS.
-Prior to the Supplemental draft the most interesting college free agents were all in the defensive secondary and it looked like they might be playing for a fairly open position. Danny Johnson is a smaller slot corner from Southern University, but he showed enough to earn a Senior Bowl invite and flashed there at times. While he had his work cut out for him, he could have battled for the 5th and 6th corner spots, but now might be facing too long of odds with the addition of Alexander. Safety Quin Blanding was another Senior Bowl participant who had a great 4 year career at UVA and looked like a draftable prospect that the Redskins ended up with. There were some questions about his viability as a full time starter but he is a solid back-up/special teamer option. He may still have a chance at making the squad as a 5th safety, but the Redskins would likely need to keep 11 or 12 defensive backs.
For this season the Redskins probably can’t expect much on the defensive side of the ball outside of Da’Ron Payne as a full time starter. Players like Apke and Settle should see rotational work and get at least 20% of defensive snaps, but beyond them there shouldn’t be a lot of need for other rookies to step up unless it is another year of major injuries. There is some upside with later round picks like Dion Hamilton and Alexander to work their way into the starting down the road, Stroman could be a future option in the slot. While the immediate impact might be light beyond Payne, the Redskins did a nice job adding quality depth with the potential for future development.