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Gruden expects impact from the Redskins' two rookie wide receivers

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Gruden expects impact from the Redskins' two rookie wide receivers

Jay Gruden seems to be happy with all 10 of the Redskins’ draft picks but he seems to like two in particular. It looks like the team already has specific roles carved out for the two receivers the team took.

Appearing on ESPN 980 on Monday, Gruden was asked by host Kevin Sheehan what draft picks other than top selections Brandon Scherff and Preston Smith would have the earliest impact on the team. After first saying that he was excited about all of them and that it was hard to name one player, Gruden named three—receivers Jamison Crowder (4th round) and Evan Spencer (6th) and cornerback Tevin Mitchel (6th).

He didn’t go into any detail about what kind of impact Mitchel would play. “He’s an exciting player, he can play nickel, he can play corner, he’s an exciting guy,” said Gruden. Apparently we’ll have to wait to see what all the excitement is about.

Gruden apparently has plans for Crowder to play a role in bolstering the return game, a weak spot on the team for the last several years.

“Crowder has a skill set where he can be a slot receiver and a return guy from Day One, which is exciting,” he said. “So he has a chance to get the ball in his hands and make an immediate impact, quickly, if he can handle it.”

Andre Roberts was the team’s returner last year and his performance there was pedestrian at best. His average of 7.4 yards per punt return was 24 among qualifiers in the NFL and his kickoff return average of 23.7 yards was 21st.

It was interesting to note that Gruden said Crowder can make an impact “if he can handle it” and not something like “if he can beat out Roberts”. It would be a major upset if Crowder is not back there to field the first punt in Week 1.

Gruden envisions a role for Spencer in two phases of the game.

“Evan Spencer, he’s a special teams monster,” he said. “He can block . . . You want to run a power running game you’ve got to have a receiver who can block and do all that . . . But also special teams. You’ve got to have a guy who can cover punts, cover kickoffs we didn’t really have that at our receiver position. Adding him, he’s going to have an immediate impact.”

The Redskins’ backup receivers have not contributed much on special teams. Leonard Hankerson never developed much enthusiasm for kick coverage or blocking and Ryan Grant played a very limited special teams role last year despite being active for 16 games and played only 187 snaps on offense.

We knew that a contribution on special teams would be expected from Spencer but the role as a power running game blocker is interesting. That would mean that he will get snaps on first and second down and those reps will have to come from Roberts, Pierre Garçon, or DeSean Jackson. And they would have to throw the ball to him on occasion so that his presence on the field doesn’t automatically tip off a run. And like the snaps, those targets in the pass game will come at the expense of another receiver.

If Spencer and/or Mitchel can contribut at all it would represent a step in the right direction for the Redskins when it comes to getting something out of the last rounds of the draft. Last year they had one sixth-round pick, RB Lache Seastrunk, and two seventh rounders, K Zach Hocker and TE Ted Bolser. None of them made the 53-man roster and none are currently with the organization.

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Redskins Playbook: After worst to first in 2016, how strong will NFC East be?

Redskins Playbook: After worst to first in 2016, how strong will NFC East be?

When the Redskins won the NFC East in 2015 with a 9-7 record, most critics dismissed the division as weak. That theory was largely proved right when the Redskins got stomped at home in the first round of the playoffs by the Wild Card Green Bay Packers.

In 2016, however, the NFC East largely looked like the best division in football, or at least among the best divisions. Dallas won 13 games and took the NFC East title, the Giants won 11 and took the NFC's top Wild Card spot. The Redskins had a chance to make the playoffs in Week 17, but unceremoniously lost and fell short.

Still, Washington won eight games and Philadelphia won seven. In fact, the NFC East was the only division in the NFL without a team that lost 10 or more games. The AFC West - a division that some would argue was tougher than the NFC East - still had the Chargers and their 5-11 record.

What does it mean for 2017? If anything the only team expected to regress would be the Cowboys, and their regression could easily still have them looking to win around 10 games. 

The Eagles have improved with young, star QB Carson Wentz. New York will be interesting, as they have some age at various spots on their roster but still feature a two-time Super Bowl winning QB in Eli Manning and one of the best defenses in the NFL.

As for Washington? The defense should be much improved. It almost has to be as the 2016 version struggled significantly. If the defense can just be average (and I'd argue it could push for Top 15) the offense should continue to move the ball well. Producing in the red zone needs to look different than last season too.

The NFC East looks like a beast yet again. It would be no surprise if both NFC Wild Cards come from the division.

Let us know what you think in the comments. 

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Need to Know:Redskins faced one of the toughest schedules in NFL in 2016

Need to Know:Redskins faced one of the toughest schedules in NFL in 2016

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 28, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start their mandatory minicamp on June 13.

Timeline

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/27) 60
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 74
—Season opener Eagles @ Redskins (9/10) 105

Note: I am on vacation this week in the Outer Banks. Need to Know will be a mix of new content and some of the most popular posts of 2017.

Redskins faced one of NFL’s toughest slates in 2016

(originally posted January 28)

As the Redskins came off their 2015 playoff season and looked towards 2016, one thing jumped out. Even before any games were played it looked like their path to a repeat playoff appearance would be difficult, more so than it was when they went 9-7 and took the NFC East title.

The 2015 schedule looked fairly easy when applying the eyeball test. They played just two games against teams that made the playoffs and those teams, the Patriots and Panthers, plus the Jets were the only teams they faced that finished the season with winning records.

The eyeball test was borne out by the numbers. According to the stat gurus at Football Outsiders the Redskins faced the 28th toughest schedule in terms of the DVOA of opposing defenses and the opposing offenses added up to the 24th most difficult.

The going was considerably tougher in 2016. The Redskins played seven games against teams that were in the playoff field. The defenses they faced stacked up as the toughest group of any NFL team. They played nine games against teams that finished in the top 11 in defensive DVOA. The offenses they faced were a little better than average, ranking 13th as a group.

While the Redskins’ season was widely regarded as a disappointment, it would be reasonable to say that given vastly improved quality of the competition that they did well in only having their record drop by half a game.

Of course, the goal is to be good enough to prosper and make the playoffs no matter what mix of teams the luck of the draw happens to put on the schedule. They will need to get there in a hurry. Awaiting the Redskins on their 2017 schedule are seven 2016 playoff teams plus one more that finished the year with a winning record.

The fortunes of NFL teams can’t always be predicted in advance, especially more than seven months before the season kicks off. But it’s safe to say that the 2017 slate will be challenging. If they are going to improve their record they are going to have to improve their level of play dramatically.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.