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Expectations for the Redskins rookie class: Defense

Steve Shoup

With a week of time since the draft I thought it would be interesting to look at the reasonable expectations for the Redskins rookie class. This is a look both in the early impact and long term ability of the class, by taking a look at both the best case and worst case scenario. I’m not going to factor in injury risk outside of just mentioning it for players with some previous concerns. This is obviously an early look, but one that can be reasonable in the expectations fans should have.

1st Rd: Chase Young, EDGE:

Best case:

The best case for Young is that he’s as advertised and is an elite pass rusher from Day 1. Young has the potential to be a true game changer and Von Miller comparisons are very fair. Ideally Young is not just a 10 sack a year guy, but someone who is routinely 13-16 sacks a season with multiple years approaching 20 sacks.

Worst case:

It’s not reasonable to think that Young would be a down right “bust” like Vernon Gholston, but he could still underwhelm and take multiple years to be effective. Jadeveon Clowney and Dante Fowler are two examples of recently drafted top pass rushers who have been good, but not great or elite. In 9 healthy seasons between them, they have just one year (Fowler 2019) with 10 or more sacks (11.5). Still good effective players and well paid free agents, but not anything close to what their teams expected when they were drafted so high (both ended up traded as a result). There is more to the position than just raw sack numbers, but even their pressures and QB hits are typically in the “good” category.

Expectation:

Overall I think the “Best case” is far closer to what the Redskins should expect from Young than the “Worst Case”. Young is a special talent, and should make a massive impact on the Redskins defense going forward. The one thing that fans should recognize is he’s unlikely to put up huge numbers as a rookie. It typically takes pass rushers a year to adjust to the NFL game. Also the Redskins aren’t likely to be ahead in many games, a lot of pass rushers pick up their sacks and pressures late in games when they can ignore the run and tee off on the passer.

What Redskins fans should expect is that Young will team with Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan to give the Redskins the best EDGE group in the league over the next year or two. Add in a strong interior defensive line and the Redskins have a real chance of having the best pass rush in the league.

5th Rd: Khaleke Hudson, LB:

Best case:

Hudson is an excellent special teams player who could quickly become a star in that area. He’s a hybrid linebacker/safety who was highly productive at Michigan. Hudson is at his best versus the pass both in coverage and as a blitzer. He’s quick to react to running plays and uses his speed/agility to fill gaps. In addition to being a core special teamer he has a chance to be a coverage linebacker on this team and perhaps eventually a starter.

Worst case:

Hudson is very much a tweener between safety and linebacker, and even in college there were times where it was noticeable. Power run teams were able to run over him more than you want from a linebacker, and bigger tight ends gave him trouble in college. At the NFL level both issues could get magnified, leaving him as a player without a real role on defense. His special teams ability could still keep him on the roster, but that might be the max that he offers.

Expectation:

Though I worry about his upside, Hudson impressed me both in college and at the Senior Bowl with his instincts and willingness to fly around the field. He’s the type of guy who not only could be a core special teams member, but will probably be the special teams captain in a year or two. He might not ever be a starter, but I can see him contributing in sub packages in the future. If he needs a larger role due to injury, Hudson should be able to hold his own and not become a liability.

7th Rd: Kamren Curl, S:

Best case:

Curl was a 3 year starter at Arkansas and held his own in the SEC. He has good size, decent speed and shows plus instincts in coverage. Curl will be a key contributor on special teams as a rookie and a capable back-up for either safety position. He could eventually push to be an adequate starting free safety/3rd safety on the team.

Worst case:

Curl had a good college career, but he doesn’t have a ton of traits that make you believe he can be an effective starter at the next level. His speed on tape is inconsistent and he doesn’t use his size as well as you’d like. His instincts are definitely his best feature, but that will only get him so far. It’s likely bigger receivers and tight ends will be able to out muscle him and speedier/quicker receivers will get open on him or get by him. He might max out as a special teams guy only, and the Redskins have decent back-up safeties to handle that role.

Expectation:

I do see it tough for Curl to crack the roster as the Redskins have three decent back-up safeties in Deshazor Everett, Troy Apke and Jeremy Reeves. Though the new staff isn’t tied directly to any of them, all three have shown well on special teams and were okay when forced into action. There isn’t a ton of upside in this group, but I don’t see Curl as a big upside guy. His value is in his steady play, and special teams work. I would guess he’s looking at a year on the Practice squad, with a chance to make the team in 2021 as a back-up.

7th Rd: James Smith-Williams, EDGE:

Best case:

For Smith-Williams his value as a leader and high-motor guy give him a fair chance to make the team and be a contributing fourth or fifth defensive end. His speed off the edge could be an asset situationaly and could be a tool that helps him replace Ryan Kerrigan in a couple of years as the team’s 3rd pass rusher.

Worst case:

Smith-Williams is the one player with an extensive injury history that is worth noting. He missed considerable time in college, with two season ending injuries and missing 5 games this past year due to injury. Ryan Anderson and Jordan Brailford both could be above him on the depth chart, making him likely the 6th DE to start camp. The Redskins will keep at least 4, but there is no guarantee they keep a 5th edge player. That means Smith-Williams will have to beat out at least one if not both back-ups.

Expectation:

Barring serious injury, I would expect Smith-Williams to be at least a practice squad player with a solid shot to make the roster. While Anderson and Brailford have more experience, this is a new offensive system with a new coaching staff. A coaching staff that helped to select Smith-Williams. Anderson has been generally disappointing and Brailford didn’t do much to wow last year in camp, so Smith-Williams might not be that far behind. I think his work ethic and leadership will help him, and it’s going to come down to his special teams value. For the long term, perhaps he could eventually be the 3rd pass rusher on this team, but likely that role will be filled in another way.



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