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Redskins 2017 roster battles: Tight end questions behind Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis

Redskins 2017 roster battles: Tight end questions behind Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis

The Redskins go into OTAs with competition for jobs and depth chart position at several spots on the field. Over the next week, Redskins insiders Rich Tandler and J.P. Finlay look at how these competitions stand right now and they each make the case for a potential winner.

3rd Tight End

Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis are roster locks. Reed is arguably the best pass catching tight end in football, and Davis is much more than a veteran backup. The duo give Jay Gruden a myriad of options in the team's two tight end sets, and create matchup problems for linebackers and safeties.

After Reed and Davis, the depth chart gets interesting. Derek Carrier and Niles Paul both saw action last season but have each been dealing with injuries. Carrier opened the 2016 season on the PUP list, and Paul was sent to IR after a gruesome injury Week 8 in London. 

Washington has only carried three tight ends on its roster for the last several years, which already makes for a logjam at the position. Drafting Jeremy Sprinkle out of Arkansas in the fifth round creates even more competition behind Reed and Davis. Sprinkle is the biggest of the bunch and known for his blocking on the college level, and will carry the cheapest price tag.

And the winner is...

Finlay: Assuming all tight end options make it through training camp healthy, Sprinkle seems to be the leader for the third tight end spot. Why? Money. Paul is due nearly $2 million this fall and has played just eight games over the last two seasons. Carrier will cost just over $1 million on the Redskins books. Sprinkle will likely cost half of Carrier and a quarter of Paul's salary. Of course, if Sprinkle does not seem capable in camp, that could change the dynamic, but don't expect that to happen. The rookie proved a highly effective blocker on a run-first team in the SEC, while also flashing good hands as a receiver. Plus, he's got serious size at 6-foot-5 and 252 lbs. Jay Gruden talked about wanting his team to get bigger, and Sprinkle is bigger than both Carrier and Paul. Remember how often the Redskins like to deploy their three tight end jumbo set, and then imagine Sprinkle running onto the field for the formation. The biggest area where Sprinkle needs to prove himself, and quickly, is on special teams. Paul was a special teams standout when healthy.  

Tandler: I would think long and hard before cutting Niles Paul loose. He has been the heart and soul of the Redskins' special teams since he stepped on the field as a rookie. When he has had the chance, he has been productive as a receiver. In 2014, the last time he was fully healthy for a season, he was Reed's backup and he caught 39 passes for 507 yards despite a three-ring circus (RGIII, Colt McCoy, Kirk Cousins) at quarterback. And it's not really fair to call him injury prone. He suffered a broken ankle in a pileup during the 2015 preseason and last year he suffered a shoulder injury trying to make a leaping grab in London. 

In the grand scheme of the NFL's $167 million salary cap, the $1.875 savings that would come from moving on from Paul barely qualifies as a drop in the bucket. While I think that the Redskins need to keep Sprinkle, they should carve out a fourth tight end roster spot for Paul. They did it in 2013 when the drafted Reed when Paul, Logan Paulsen, and Fred Davis were already on the roster. Perhaps they could go with one fewer at the running back spot or at wide receiver. One way or another, if Paul is healthy they should be creative and find a way to keep him around. 

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

Redskins Playbook: 2017 schedule reveals some good news for Kirk Cousins

The Redskins offense performed at a high level in 2016, moving the ball well though the unit struggled in the red zone. Much of the success comes from Kirk Cousins' ability to quickly advance through his progressions and release the football before he takes too many hits.

Expect more of that in 2017, especially early in the season.

The Redskins don't face their first Top 5 sack defense until Week 9 when they travel to Seattle. From there, Cousins will face another Top 5 sack team when the Vikings visit FedEx Field in Week 10. 

After that, Washington's schedule doesn't feature a Top 5 sack defense until nearly Christmas. Unfortunately for Cousins, those two teams will come back to back in December when the Redskins host the Cardinals and the Broncos.

Sacks should not drive too much worry for Redskins fans. The Washington offensive line only allowed 23 sacks last season, two less than the Cowboys vaunted offensive line gave up on Dak Prescott. Cousins quick release and mastery of Jay Gruden's offense helps too. 

The Redskins have plenty to worry about in 2017, though facing fierce sack opponents shouldn't be too high on the list. 

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ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

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Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Need to Know: The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 25, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp in Richmond on July 27.

Timeline

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago; they will open the 2017 season against the Eagles at FedEx Field in 77 days.

Days until:

—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/17) 22
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/2) 69

The top five running backs the Redskins will face in 2017

Here are the five running backs on the Redskins’ schedule who gained the most yards in 2017. We looked at the top QBs last week.

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys, 1,631 yards in 2016—The NFL’s leading rusher didn’t pop for a big day against the Redskins as a rookie last year. He still did plenty of damage in two games with a combined 180 yards and three touchdowns. We’ll find out in Week 8 just how much the Redskins’ rushing defense has improved.

David Johnson, Cardinals, 1,239 yards—Yeah, him again. He chewed up the Redskins in Arizona last year, picking up 84 yards rushing and another 91 yards receiving. I think I might pick Johnson over Elliott in a draft simply due to Johnson’s versatility.

LeGarrette Blount, Eagles, 1,161 yards—Blount picked up those yards with the Patriots last year and rushed for 18 touchdowns for good measure. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, 27th among qualifying running backs. It should be noted that the Eagles probably have a better offensive line than the Patriots do. It’s safe to say Blount is one dimensional; none of the top 50 in rushing yards had fewer than his seven receptions.

Mark Ingram, Saints, 1,043 yards—While Ingram had a good year, the Saints apparently weren’t overly impressed. They signed Adrian Peterson as a free agent and they drafted RB Alvin Kamara in the third round. We’ll have to see who is healthy and on the field in Week 11

Melvin Gordon, Chargers, 997 yards—The 2015 first-round pick missed the last three games and most of another one with an injury. When healthy, he was very effective. His stats projected over 16 games come to over 1,300 yards.

Best of the rest: Carlos Hyde of the 49ers just missed the top five with 988 rushing yards last year Besides Kamara, the only running backs drafted in the first three rounds the Redskins will face are Dalvin Cook (Vikings) and Kareem Hunt (Chiefs). It will be interesting to see if new Rams coach Sean McVay can revive Todd Gurley, who followed a 1,100-yard rookie season with a 4.8 per carry average by gaining 885 yards with a paltry 3.2 average in 2016. Marshawn Lynch comes to town with the Raiders after spending a year in retirement; with the Seahawks, he picked up 111, 72, and 132 on the ground against the Redskins. 

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.

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