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Need to Know: Which Redskins will surprise in 2016?

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Need to Know: Which Redskins will surprise in 2016?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, May 23, one day before the Washington Redskins start OTAs.

Timeline

—The Redskins last played a game 134 days ago. It will be 112 days until they host the Steelers in their 2016 season opener.

Days until: Redskins training camp starts 66; Preseason opener @ Falcons 80; Final roster cut 103

Two up, two down

Here are four Redskins who I think will surprise in 2016; two who will exceed expectations and two I think will fall short of expectations.

Two up

DL Stephen Paea—I think after last year the expectations of him are so low that he could do just about anything and exceed them. Paea has last year’s injuries behind him, he’s had a year in the defense, and he should be ready to contribute. I’ll put him down for about eight starts, 650 snaps, and five sacks. He isn’t going to get any Pro Bowl votes but he should be a solid contributor.

S DeAngelo Hall—He will be 33 before the season ends and many are skeptical that he can learn a new position and thrive. I think he will do well if—and this is a big if—he can make at least 14 starts. Hall missed major portions of the last two seasons but he has been healthy most of his career. If he makes 14 starts I think he plays almost every snap and ends up with six interceptions.

Two down

WR DeSean Jackson—I sense some high expectations for Jackson this year but I’m not so sure that a big year for him is in the cards. I don’t think he’ll be a bust but I don’t think he’ll approach his 2014 stat line of 56 receptions for 1169 yards (20.9 yards/catch) and six touchdowns. He’s likely to miss a few games with injuries—he has only played 16 games in a season only once in his eight years in the league. And the additions of Josh Doctson and Vernon Davis and a possible resurgence in the running game will mean fewer targets for him. Jackson will be more productive than he was last year (30/528/4) but a 1000-yard seasons looks unlikely.

CB Josh Norman—I think that Norman will be a victim of high expectations and expected to do things that he isn’t necessarily capable of doing. He’s not a shutdown corner who will be expected to take the other team’s best receiver out of the game. And he’s not going to get eight or ten picks; he has only seven interceptions in his four-year career. He will contribute a lot but I think a lot of fans will be looking for numbers that he won’t deliver.

Stat of the day

Kirk Cousins completed 69.2 percent of his passes on third down last year, the highest completion percentage among the 26 quarterbacks who had at least 100 third-down passing attempts.

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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