Redskins roster crunch could cost them defensive backs

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 17: Cornerback Josh Norman
LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 17: Cornerback Josh Norman /

Washington has an enormous amount of talent on their team and with that comes difficult decisions requiring some intriguing strategy.

The Redskins, having made a commitment to retain many of their veterans, go into training camp with a few dozen players ready to stake claim to jobs that are all but set in stone.

Barring injuries there are very few positions up for grabs. Unfortunately, there will be injuries. It’s the nature of the beast. On a positive note, the Redskins actually run deep enough at most positions that they should not be derailed by a few players going down. In years past a couple of key injuries signaled the beginning of the ‘wait til next year’ conversations.

This year the Next Man Up philosophy is not just talk. Washington, somewhat surprisingly, has strung together several years of smart moves and find themselves with their strongest roster in years. The Redskins let a few of their players get away but for the most part they retained the essential free agents that are critical to the team’s success this year.

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The Skins surprised many by not approaching free agency with the frantic, feeding frenzy mentality of years past. They did, however, secure the services of two excellent players in Alex Smith, via trade, and Paul Richardson.

Kirk Cousins replacement and some outside speed were always going to be the two biggest offseason issues for Washington. They took care of both potential problems right out of the gate – and in impressive fashion.

The success in free agency, coupled with the return of so many veterans and this year’s draft jackpot bonanza and Washington is a good decision or three away from being very competitive this year.

It’s always fantastic to walk away from the draft with two day-one starters, DaRon Payne and Derrius Guice, but one of the real strengths of this team is actually last year’s draft. I continue to maintain that it will prove to be the best draft in team history.

All ten of last year’s picks made the team and all ten are back this year. At least three of them will start, (Jonathan Allen, Chase Roullier, and Montae Nicholson), and at least six others will see considerable, and crucial, playing time (Fabian Moreau, Jeremy Sprinkle, Samaje Perine, Ryan Anderson, Robert Davis, and Josh Harvey Clemons).

The only 2017 draft pick not mentioned thus far is Joshua Holsey. The Redskins face some impossible decisions this year as they struggle to whittle a group of as many as 70 high quality professional football players down to a ridiculous, and arbitrary, 53. The math gets really fuzzy in the defensive secondary.

Josh Norman, Quenton Dunbar, Moreau, Holsey, and Orlando Scandrick would appear to be locks to make the team. Greg Stroman, the seventh round cornerback out of Virginia Tech, was seemingly drafted to occupy a spot on the practice squad. Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Stroman can not match the defensive skills of the previously mentioned corners. Nevertheless, the Redskins have to find a roster spot for him. They need him to return punts. Stroman is a sensational punt returner, something the Redskins have not had in a very long time.

NFL Supplemental Draft
LANDOVER, MD – SEPTEMBER 03: Cornerback Adonis Alexander #36 of the Virginia Tech Hokies gestures to the crowd against the West Virginia Mountaineers at FedExField on September 3, 2017 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

As a roster spot does not currently exist for Stroman the Skins have to create one. Enter Adonis Alexander, a sixth round pick in the supplemental draft. Alexander played both safety and corner at Virginia Tech, right alongside Stroman. While Alexander projects more as a safety in the NFL, he was already being touted as a top five corner in the NCAA next year. This looks like a great pick by the Skins as Adonis would have likely been a second or third round draft pick next year. By picking him up now they get him a year earlier and are still left with an impressive ten draft picks next year.

If Alexander can prove to the coaches that he can hold down backup positions at both corner and safety, as he did at Virginia Tech, the Redskins could put Fish Smithson and Holsey on the practice squad thus creating roster spots for Stroman and Alexander. The irony with this strategy is that for one Virginia Tech DB to make the team, they both have to make the team.

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There are obviously inherent dangers with this strategy. The Redskins could lose Holsey or Smithson, or both, if other teams pick them up off of the practice squad. Incidentally, the Redskins meet the league requirements to put both Holsey and Smithson on their practice squad even though Smithson is a third year player.

Washington does not want to lose either player. But, in order for a team to sign either of them away from the Skins that team would have to immediately assign them to their active 53 man roster. A slippery slope indeed. Washington desperately needs a punt returner. However, Smithson and Holsey are both excellent players. Smithson is the Redskins third best safety – but, the only one eligible for a practice squad designation other than Troy Apke. It’s unlikely the Redskins are going to float this year’s fourth round draft pick out on the practice squad. Although, it may in fact be the wiser move.

Holsey is a talented DB and I fully expect him to start alongside Dunbar and Moreau next year when the Skins are in a three corner set. Norman and Scandrick will of course be long gone by then.

This strategy is dependent on Alexander playing out of his mind from the first day of training camp through the final cut. Frankly, it seems too risky, even irresponsible, to risk two players as talented as Holsey and Smithson to make room for a punt returner. The only reason this would even be considered is that Stroman has the potential to be one of the better punt returners in the league. And, option two is…? Exactly.

This scenario is slightly far fetched but no less so than a dozen other choices the Redskins have to make as they work their way down to a 53 man roster. A more likely outcome is that both of the Virginia Tech DBs start their Redskin careers as members of the practice squad. But, that puts Washington right back at square one. Who is going to return punts for them this year?

Jamison Crowder is a terrific slot receiver. He did, however, prove that he was not the answer as a punt returner. Washington has a long history of filling this position by default. That can not happen this year. They simply can’t afford to punt this problem until next year (pun intended).

Next: 2019 NFL Mock Draft

Stroman could be the answer and as soon as he takes one to the house in a pre-season game the Skins will have to scramble to find a spot for him.