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Need to Know: Should the Redskins be the NFC East favorites?

Need to Know: Should the Redskins be the NFC East favorites?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, April 25, three days before the NFL Draft.

Timeline

Schedule @ Redskins Park: 12 noon, Scot McCloughan pre-draft news conference; 1:15 Josh Norman

—The Redskins last played a game 106 days ago. It will be 140 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: 2016 NFL draft 3; Rookie minicamp 18; Redskins training camp starts 94

Hot topic

Are the Redskins now the favorites to win the NFC East?

That’s what Adam Caplan, who is one of the few no-agenda, no-B.S. NFL analysts on ESPN. He believes that the addition of Josh Norman to the Redskins defense pushes them over the top and makes them the “clear favorites” to take the division.

That’s a pretty bold prediction. Is it out of whack? Maybe. The other three teams have their strengths but they also have prominent weaknesses.

—The Cowboys have a top QB and WR combo in Romo and Dez but their defense is shaky, especially in their first four games when Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence will be under suspension for substance abuse violations.

—In Philly, the Eagles have a solid-looking defense but their quarterback group will consist of the perpetually disappointing Sam Bradford, career backup Chase Daniel, and a rookie who attempted 208 passes at North Dakota State last year. A rookie head coach, Dough Pederson, will be in charge.

—The Giants have Eli and OBJ but just about everything else is suspect including their running game, pass rush, and secondary. They did throw a bunch of free agent money at their defensive issues but that is far from a certain cure. New York also has a rookie head coach in Ben McAdoo.

It's not as though the Redskins are loaded for bear going into 2016. In fact, right now it’s hard to find a strength that the Redskins can hang their hats on. Kirk Cousins had a fine 2015 but he’s hardy the established, consistent starter that Eli and Romo are. The running game was atrocious last year as was the defense against the run. The secondary did pretty well considering all of the injuries, but the presence of Norman could improve it by a quantum leap and the unit would still be middle of the pack. And see the Giants comment above on the certainty of a free agent signee making a major impact.

It’s easy to paint a rosy scenario here. Say Cousins builds on last year, Jordan Reed emerges as one of the game’s top tight ends, the line gels enough so that a running back by committee can put together a decent ground game, Junior Galette, Preston Smith, and Ryan Kerrigan terrorize opposing quarterbacks and Norman is in All-Pro form again and sparks the secondary to a solid performance.

Each of those possibilities is realistic. But the chance of all of them happening is fairly slim. It’s like drawing to an inside straight.

The good thing for the 2016 Redskins is that they don’t need everything to fall right for them. Cousins-to-Reed clicking, a better rushing attack, and the secondary picking off a half dozen more passes could make the best team in the division.

It may be going too far to say that the Redskins are the favorites in the division. But unlike previous years, it’s not difficult to see them having a realistic path to the division title.

Stat of the day

The Redskins have not had back-to-back winning seasons since 1996-1997. They have not made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1991-1992.

In case you missed it

 

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New #RedskinsTalk Podcast: Comparing Redskins training camp with the New England Patriots

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New #RedskinsTalk Podcast: Comparing Redskins training camp with the New England Patriots

After a poor first preseason showing and some questions about the physicality of Redskins training camp, JP Finlay talks with Patriots Insider Phil Perry from CSN New England to discuss the differences between Washington's camp and how they run things in New England.

<<CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS TRAINING CAMP>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins Playbook: Jay Gruden calls Ryan Grant "Mr. Consistent"

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Redskins Playbook: Jay Gruden calls Ryan Grant "Mr. Consistent"

Few Redskins players draw more heated fan reaction than Ryan Grant. In three seasons with Washington, Grant has never missed a game, but he also hasn't produced much. His career stats: 39 catches for 412 yards and two touchdowns. 

Regardless, Jay Gruden and the Redskins coaching staff appreciates Grant in a way few fans understand. Grant is able to back up both the slot and outside receivers, and knows the roles of all the players.

"He’s really strong, he’s in great shape, and he’s Mr. Consistent," Gruden said of Grant. "Everything we ask him to do he does, and he does it right."

When Jamison Crowder missed time in Richmond with a hamstring strain, Grant stepped into Crowder's slot role. When Josh Doctson hurt his hamstring and missed time, Grant stepped into his role on the outside of the offense.

Throughout camp, Grant has displayed good hands and an adept knowledge of the offense. 

"No matter where he lines up, no matter what we ask him to do, he can come in the core and block the safety, whatever we want him to do, he can run whatever route from whatever positon and he runs at the right depth, perfect angles coming out of them," Gruden said. "He’s just ‘Steady Eddie,’ and that’s why I like him. I like consistent, smart players and that’s what Ryan is."

Against the Ravens in the Redskins first preseason game, Grant hung on to a tough catch over the middle to give the team one of very few offensive sparks. The problem for fans as it relates to Grant has not been preseason play. It's been inconsistent play in regular season games. 

Gruden believes that could change this year.

"I think people may be surprised with how many balls Ryan Grant might catch. Either way, could happen, I don’t know. I can’t foresee the future there, but I would be just fine with Ryan Grant being the target of a lot of balls."

To state the obvious: Grant is definitely making the roster. Behind Terrelle Pyror, Crowder and Doctson, Grant is the Redskins fourth wideout and one of the few players on the roster that is interchangeable among the Washington receiver positions. 

Grant's career best season came in 2015 when he caught 23 balls for 268 yards and two TDs. Based on his preseason, it seems Grant could surpass those totals in 2017. Much of his early season work has been a result of injuries to Doctson and Crowder, but make no mistake, Grant has been impressive in practice. 

Will it translate to the real games? The opprotunity seems only likely to arise if the Redskins deal with injuries at the receiver spot. 

Last year, Cousins threw for nearly 5,000 yards, but DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon accounted for more than 2,000 of those yards. Doctson, Crowder and certainly Pryor are likely to be the major recepients of Cousins' aerial prowess. Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and Chris Thompson accounted for another 1,618 yards last year.

Keep in mind, this is the last year of Grant's rookie contract. If there was ever a time to show in games what coaches have long seen and loved in practice, this would be the year. It seems only an injury would give him a major opportunity. If the situation came to pass, Gruden would have faith in Grant. 

<<CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS FROM REDSKINS TRAINING CAMP>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!