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Need to Know: How big a need is cornerback for the Redskins?

Need to Know: How big a need is cornerback for the Redskins?

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, April 5, 23 days before the NFL Draft.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 86 days ago. It will be about 159 days until they play another one.

Days until: Redskins offseason workouts start 13; 2016 NFL draft 23; Redskins training camp starts 114

Hot topic

Jay Gruden is worried about the safety position but cornerback is not often mentioned as an area of concern for the Redskins. Should it be?

If the season started today the Redskins would line up Bashaud Breeland and Will Blackmon as the starters and put Quinton Dunbar in the slot.

Breeland is the best of the bunch. He is developing into a good corner, perhaps a very good one, but he is still a work in progress.

Blackmon did a fine job last year filling in for the injured Chris Culliver and DeAngelo Hall after joining the team early in the season. But he did well by that standard. Is he really a guy you want to count on starting on OTAs? Maybe you can get by with him but the spot is ripe for an upgrade.

Dunbar played pretty well in spots as a rookie last year. It’s nice to think that the converted wide receiver will continue to improve but there really is no guarantee.

Hall has moved to safety and Culliver is still recovering and may not be ready for training camp. Culliver can be a pretty good corner when healthy but at this point it’s hard to rely on him. Even before the season-ending injury he suffered in practice on Thanksgiving Day last year the Redskins never really saw a healthy Culliver.

To sum it up, the Redskins have Breeland, a fill in turned starter in Blackmon, a project with Dunbar, a question mark with Culliver, and Deshazor Everett, a good special teams player who is untested at corner.

Does this mean the Redskins need to draft a cornerback early later this month? Not necessarily but don’t be surprised if they do. While they may be able to get by with what they have they will need to upgrade the position if they are going to build a solid defense. Looking at the list of needs, it's going to take a few more drafts to get that done.

Fan question of the day

The Redskins clearly are slow playing the running back situation. Right now, it’s quite precarious. The three on the roster who have NFL experience all are coming off of surgery. Matt Jones had a hip issue repaired, Chris Thompson had a shoulder injury fixed and Silas Redd is rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered in the preseason last year. Alfred Morris, of course, is now a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

Despite the situation, the Redskins did not jump at the chance to get in on the bidding for any of the top free agent running backs that were available. And they have stayed away from the group of lesser backs as well.

At the owners meetings last month, Jay Gruden indicated that Thomas is still in the Redskins’ radar. “There’s still some options out there [and] I think Pierre is one of them,” he said.

But here we are nearly two weeks later and still no Thomas. With draft just over three weeks away it appears that Scot McCloughan’s strong preference is to land a back to compliment to Jones in the draft. And if I’m Thomas, I’m going to be very reluctant to sign with the Redskins until I’m sure they aren’t going to draft a back. He doesn’t want to spend the next five months in a competition he’s likely to lose.

So I think they will stick with the status quo until after the draft. If they don’t find a back in the draft they will reach out to Thomas or someone similar and try to strike a deal.

(Hit me up on Twitter with #NTK @Rich_TandlerCSN or here in the comments to submit a question)

Stat of the day

The last Redskin to lead the NFL in interceptions was Barry Wilburn with nine in 1987. Since 1990 no Redskin has had more than six interceptions in a season (four times, most recently by DeAngelo Hall in 2010).

In case you missed it

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

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