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Grading the Redskins Defensive Starters


Will Fairfax

The Redskins have a few pieces on defense, but have a long way to go.

By: Will Fairfax and Matt Harmon

Defensive End: Stephen Bowen/ Chris Baker

Will’s Analysis:

Grade: C for Bowen and B for Baker

Stephen Bowen was brought to Washington to shore up a shaky Redskins defensive line in 2011. He had 6 sacks in 2011, but has been declining since and finished this season with no sacks. Bowen was adequate against the run, but left a lot to be desired rushing the passer. Bowen must improve in 2014 or he will be replaced.

Baker was the only Redskins defensive lineman to consistently put pressure on the quarterback. He was decent against the run and finished the year with 28 tackles and a sack. His stats may not seem good, but keep in mind that he wasn’t starting for most of the year and he plays in a 3-4 defensive front, so he’s not going to get great stats anyways. He will never be anywhere close to a J.J. Watt 3-4 defensive end, but he shows great effort on every play, which you need especially as a former undrafted free agent out of Hampton.

Matt’s Analysis:

Grade: C-

Stephen Bowen, like many from his free agent class, was a nice signing, but has failed the test of time. Bowen is passable against the run, but really struggles to put any pressure on the opposing quarterback. He just is no longer a starting caliber player.

Bowen is probably a candidate for release this offseason. Given how many other needs Washington has, he might stick around on a lesser salary, however. Either way, this player’s time has come and gone.

Chris Baker came on late in the end of the season. He played decent, but nothing to write home about. Baker is not someone they should count on going forward.

Nose Tackle: Barry Cofield

Will’s Analysis:

Grade: B+

This is what Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said last October about Cofield—“I think Barry is the best nose tackle in the league because he can do a little bit of everything. He’s good on the run, he’s powerful, he’s strong, he’s a good pass-rusher. He’s relentless. I think that combination makes him the best.”

It’s hard to evaluate nose tackles because their primary job is to clog up space and take on double or occasionally even triple teams. Cofield is more versatile than most nose tackles because of his ability to play on third down and in a three or four-man defensive line. Cofield played on a four-man line when he played for the New York Giants, so he has the ability to play on any defensive front, which is invaluable. Despite breaking his hand in preseason he had a productive year finishing the year with 32 tackles and 2.5 sacks, which is good for a nose tackle. Cofield is extremely durable as he has only missed one game in his entire eight-year career and should be a key member of the Redskins defense in 2014.

Matt’s Analysis:

Grade: B+

The rock of the Redskins defense, Barry Coefield is quietly a very good player. He is not the traditional 330 plus pound nose tackle that draws blocks for others. Rather, Coefield is a bit leaner and can penetrate into the backfield. He is amongst better, if not the very best, pass rushers in the NFL from his position.

Coefield had his faults in 2013. He did not clog running lanes very well, and must improve in that area. If the Redskins intend on continuing to run a strict 3-4 defense, they need their nose tackle to play a more traditional role. That being said, Coefield is a player they can count on going forward.

Defensive End: Kedric Golston/ Jarvis Jenkins

Will’s Analysis:

Grade: C

Golston like most of the defensive line was invisible for most of the year. Part of it was a weak secondary, but part of it was the Redskins lack of ability to develop consistent pressure from the defensive line. Golston is a former 6th round pick who has been a mainstay with the Redskins, but he’s more of a rotational guy and should not be starting.

Jenkins had a decent year, but you expect more out of the former second round pick who finished the year with 2 sacks. Jenkins is decent against the run, but needs to improve his pass rushing ability going into 2014. His acl tear that he suffered in his rookie year in 2011 is no longer an excuse for his lack of consistent production.

Matt’s Analysis:

Grade: D

Golston and Jenkins rotated in and out this season, and neither was very effective. Golston is at his best when he can be a rotational lineman. The fact that he saw the most snaps of any Redskins five-technique is concerning. Golston has a place in this league, but it isn’t as a starter. He is very poor defending the run at the point of attack.

Jarvis Jenkins is of a different mold. Jenkins was a promising second round pick of this team very recently, but has failed to establish himself. Injuries and off the field issues have played a big role, but Jenkins hasn’t played well either. Time is running out for Jenkins to prove he has a place on the team.

Left Outside Linebacker: Ryan Kerrigan

Will’s Analysis:

Grade: B-

Kerrigan had an up and down year and finished the year with 66 tackles, 8.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Kerrigan had a decent year, but should have wrecked havoc with Brian Orakpo returning from injury. At times during the year he was a playmaker, but at other times you wouldn’t hear his name for a couple of games. Kerrigan must show more consistency going into 2014 and he better hope that Orakpo is resigned or else he will face much more attention next season.

Matt’s Analysis:

Grade: C+

Most fans do not want to admit this, but Ryan Kerrigan is just a slightly above average player. He is not a foundation level player against the run or in coverage. He gets washed away far too easily when opponents run right at him. His best work comes as a pass rusher, but he is far short of dominant in that facet.

Nevertheless, Ryan Kerrigan is pretty much passable as your second 3-4 outside linebacker. He forms a decent tandem with Brian Orakpo, and is still pretty young. Kerrigan is certainly someone you can start with confidence. It would just be wise to not get carried away with you expectations.

Left Inside Linebacker: London Fletcher

Will’s Analysis:

Grade: C

Fletcher will likely see his name in Canton one day, but he has a disappointing 16th year in the NFL. You could see his age catching up with him this year as he clearly has lost a step.

He gets a C for this season, but an A+ for his career. He finished the season with 111 tackles and 2 sacks, his 14th straight season with at least 100 tackles. Fletcher is an iron man who has now played in 256 consecutive games which is a record for a linebacker. His streak is amazing considering the physicality required to play his position and the amount of wear and tear he has endured over the course of his career. Fletcher was a coach on the field for the Redskins and he will be dearly missed next season. Fletcher may not have had a great season, but his stats are right up there with Ray Lewis and he did something that Lewis never did— he never missed a game. Fletcher still has the ability mentally to play in the NFL, but physically he just doesn’t have it anymore.

Matt’s Analysis:

Grade: F

Lets just say Fletcher is retiring at the right time. He was not very good last year, but was an abject disaster this season. Once his speed clearly eroded, Fletcher was finished as an NFL player. Without his quickness, he no longer had the size or strength to take on blocks. When interior offensive linemen were able to get to the second level, Fletcher stood no chance.

Fans will miss London Fletcher for his leadership and what he represented, but the Redskins are better off with him leaving. He was too much of a liability to keep around. Fletcher had a very nice career for such an unheralded player, but the end was clearly here.

Right Inside Linebacker: Perry Riley Jr.

Will’s Analysis:

Grade: B

Riley got better and better as the season went on and will take over for Fletcher, who said that there is a 99 percent chance that he is going to retire. The former fourth-round pick finished the season with a team high 115 tackles (72 solo). He was also useful on blitzes and finished the season with 3 sacks.

Riley biggest improvement came in pass coverage and was able to nab his first interception of his career. It is paramount that the Redskins resign Riley who is a free agent. Riley has been mentored by a future Hall of Famer over the past four years and is now primed to become the leader of the Redskins defense.

Matt’s Analysis:

Grade: D

At one point, Perry Riley was viewed as the heir apparent to London Fletcher’s throne. That should no longer be the case. Riley was dreadful in 2013. He did not do anything particularly well, and looked lost against the run.

Perhaps 2013 should be viewed as reminder to what Perry Riley truly is. He is an average at best second inside linebacker. He can be serviceable in a certain role, but is by no means special. After all, he was a fourth round draft pick for a reason.

Right Outside Linebacker: Brian Orakpo

Will’s Analysis:

Grade: A-

Orakpo is the only player from the Redskins defense who was elected to the Pro Bowl. During the first half of the year Orakpo was trying to gain confidence as he was coming off of a torn pectoral muscle in 2012 (he had the same injury in 2011 as well). Orakpo then went on a tear finishing with seven sacks in his last seven games. He also got recorded his first interception and touchdown of his career this season.

Brian Orakpo will be the Redskins most expensive free agent to resign, but they should assuming the price doesn’t get too ridiculous. Orakpo had a great year and will only get better in the future assuming he stays healthy. He would be a great player to lineup opposite of Kerrigan for years to come.

Matt’s Analysis:

Grade: A

Just in time to test free agency, Brian Orakpo is coming off a dominant season. Orakpo excels in all aspects of his position. He performs well in coverage and against the run, and puts plenty of heat on the quarterback. When at his best, Orakpo is a foundation level player any team would love to have.

Washington must do whatever it takes to retain Brian Orakpo’s services before he hits the market. He has had injury issues in the past, and that might lead to him landing the franchise tag. Tagging Orakpo is probably the best way for Washington to keep him around, and buy time to get a deal done.

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Cornerback 1: DeAngelo Hall

Will’s Analysis:

Grade: B

Despite driving Redskins fans crazy at times for his antics and trash talking he was the Redskins most consistent defensive back in 2013. He finished the year with 78 tackles, four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), and three forced fumbles. He had great games against Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson, but struggled against less talented receivers. The highlight of his season was likely when he was covering Calvin Johnson (the best receiver in the NFL) and intercepted Matthew Stafford’s pass and ran in back for a touchdown.

I wish the Redskins had a more consistent number one corner, but they don’t. Assuming he’s not asking for too much money the Redskins should resign Hall because he is the best they have at the moment.

Matt’s Analysis:

Grade: C

If you are amongst the crowd that insists Hall somehow had a good season, you ought to work on your standards. DeAngelo Hall did exactly what he always does. He showed up in big games and provided some exciting plays. However, week-to-week, this was a below average NFL cornerback.

Could you bring back Hall on a cheap one-year deal? Sure, but he sounded ready to move on in post-season interviews. The Redskins can do better than Hall. More fans need to see that clearly.

Cornerback 2: Josh Wilson

Will’s Analysis:

Grade: D

Wilson spent most of the season covering the slot and it wasn’t a good season to say the least. He got beaten routinely throughout the season and should be replaced by David Amerson next season. Wilson had an interception and fumble recovery in week 17 against the New York Giants, which was the highlight of an otherwise miserable season. It was the first season since his rookie year that Wilson didn’t record at least two interceptions.

Matt’s Analysis:

Grade: D

Here is another member of the free agent class that flamed out. Josh Wilson is rightly blamed for most of the Redskins cornerback issues. He was their best cornerback for several years, but his play fell off a cliff this season. Wilson was abused repeatedly in coverage.

Wilson is likely to be cut this offseason. He has a decent sized salary that does not match his poor play. Perhaps he can return to his solid form of the past, but the Redskins cannot afford to find out. Not at his current pay grade anyways.

Free Safety: Brandon Meriweather

Will’s Analysis:

Grade: F

Meriweather needs to be replaced going into 2014. He was often the poster boy for illegal hits including his two illegal hits against the Chicago Bears, which resulted in a one game suspension. Meriweather is a big hitter, but is missing in action when asked to cover anyone. Meriweather isn’t a good leader or player and needs be released.

Matt’s Analysis:

Grade: F

When he’s not garnering headlines for saying something stupid or trying to be a headhunter, Meriweather is on the field blowing his assignment. Meriweather is just a nightmare in every facet of the game, and a bonehead off the field. For whatever reason, fans viewed him as some sort of savior this season. That probably says more about their other safeties than Meriweather.

It is totally perplexing as to why the Redskins stuck with this guy for so long. His play never justified the trouble he brought them.

Strong Safety: Bacarri Rambo/Reed Doughty

Will’s Analysis:

Grade: D

Rambo reminded Redskins fans this season that he will never be Sean Taylor or even LaRon Landry. Rambo, a sixth-round draft pick last season, was the starter at the beginning of the season by default. He was so bad and lost on the field that Reed Doughty replaced him as the starter. Although not very talented Doughty does the best with what he has and is also a great special teams contributor (one of the few competent special teams players). He played well against the run finishing the year with 80 tackles, but was poor in pass coverage.

The Redskins would be wise to sign several safeties in free agency. Safety is one of the weakest positions on the team and has been for years since Sean Taylor died.

Matt’s Analysis:

Grade: F

The Redskins tried to roll out Bacarri Rambo as a starter early this, but that was an epic failure. Rambo looked in way over his head from the get go. He could not cover deep, and was a very poor tackler. Perhaps Rambo has a future in NFL, but it isn’t today.

Reed Doughty is not even close to a starting caliber safety. Yet, still logged significant snaps because Rambo was so unprepared. This position desperately needs upgrading this offseason.


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