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Need to Know: The offseason pressure is on Redskins RB Jones

Need to Know: The offseason pressure is on Redskins RB Jones

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 8, five days before the Washington Redskins hold their rookie minicamp.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 119 days ago. It will be 127 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Rookie minicamp 5; OTAs start 16; Redskins training camp starts 82

Hot topics

—Besides the quarterback, the player on offense under the most pressure to perform this year will be Matt Jones. The team let Alfred Morris walk in free agency and they waited until the seventh round to draft his replacement. And at this point the often injured, lightly used Keith Marshall isn’t even a sure bet to make the team. Jones will need to stay healthy while averaging 15-20 carries per game, add about a yard to the 3.4 per carry average he posted last year, and make fumbles very rare occurrences.

—It’s relatively easy to plot out who will start in Week 1 and map out what is likely to happen with the depth chart but the unexpected is always out there. I was on SiriusXM radio last night with the Football Diehards and they asked me if I thought that Josh Doctson would push Pierre Garçon out of the starting lineup by sometime around midseason. While I said that I don’t think that will happen, I certainly can’t rule it out. Doctson could play well enough to force his way into the starting lineup at some point. The question would be, who would he push aside. Garçon or DeSean Jackson.

—Everyone wants to know what Su’a Cravens’ role will be this year. But we’re going to have to wait to see. The coaches can look at his college film and how fast and quick he is and sort of sketch something out. But until he gets on the field with other NFL players they really won’t know what he can do. I think it will evolve over the offseason and as training camp, the preseason, and the regular season go on. The one safe thing to say is that he will play a lot, 70 to 80 percent of the defensive snaps.

—In 2010 Brandon Banks came to rookie minicamp as a tryout player. At 5-7, 150 he made it look like one of the coaches’ middle school sons had gotten hold of a helmet and jersey and snuck onto the field. We will have a player at the other size extreme at rookie camp this Friday. Massive offensive tackle Kevin Bowen signed as an undrafted free agent out of East Central (OK). He is 6-9 and 330 pounds. It looks like he can move pretty well for his size. Bowen should be an interesting—and, because of his size, easy—prospect to keep an eye on.

Wins meter (my totally subjective prediction on how many regular season games the Redskins will win): 9—After getting Norman and drafting well they’ll be better but a tougher slate keep their record from improving.

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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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