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Redskins 2017 roster battles: Who starts opposite Ryan Kerrigan at outside linebacker?

Redskins 2017 roster battles: Who starts opposite Ryan Kerrigan at outside linebacker?

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.

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

Outside Linebacker

The contenders: Ryan Kerrigan is the lone sure thing in the Redskins outside linebacker group, but that doesn't mean the unit is without talent. Kerrigan has averaged double digit sacks over the least three seasons, and it's safe to expect the same in 2017. What will be interesting to watch is who lines up opposite Kerrigan. Trent Murphy impressed last season, getting nine sacks in his first breakout season after a second-round selection in the 2014 draft. To start the 2017 season, however, Murphy will sit out the first four games for a substance violation suspension. Preston Smith slipped to five sacks after an eight sack rookie season in 2015. Those three got the vast majority of the snaps on the outside of the Redskins 3-4 base defense.

In 2017, second round pick Ryan Anderson will compete for snaps, likely right away. A highly productive player at Alabama, Anderson has the size to set the edge against the run that Washington has needed from their outside linebackers. He doesn't have the explosive athleticism of Smith, but his effort and strength will allow him to turn the corner against NFL tackles. The wild card in the outside linebacker room is Junior Galette. Blessed with elite speed off the edge, Galette proved to be a dominant edge rusher for the Saints in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He hasn't played since. Two straight years of Achilles injuries have kept Galette off the field. If he can remain healthy the Redskins would have a very deep group of highly competent edge rushers. 

The winner is...

Finlay: Let's preface this by making one thing clear: No good football team can ever have enough edge rushers. NFL teams pay a serious premium on the edge, both in guaranteed money and in draft position. If the Redskins get to Week 1 with Kerrigan, Smith, Murphy, Galette and Anderson all healthy and ready to go, they will be in a strong spot. And we know the Week 1 starter won't be Murphy because of the suspension.

Beyond that, it's just too hard to predict Galette to start. Injuries have derailed him for two seasons, and he will have to show coaches he is the same player before he gets back on the field. Plus, coaches would be smart to limit Galette's snaps to true pass rushing situations to preserve his health. 

That leaves Smith and Anderson, and that could be just what the Redskins brass wants. Smith is an elite athlete, but as Jay Gruden said repeatedly in 2016, the coaching staff also felt the need to push the former Mississippi State star. Maybe Anderson's presence - a hard-charging rookie - will push Smith to his best. The guess here is Smith is on the opposite side of Kerrigan against the Eagles, but Anderson will play plenty. 

Looking at 2016, Kerrigan led the Redskins edge defenders with 477 pass rush snaps. Murphy and Smith were not far behind though, with 417 and 400 snaps respectively. New Washington defensive coordinator Greg Manusky plans to be aggressive, and the best defenses have fresh legs to rush passers in the fourth quarter. With Anderson's arrival, and perhaps the return of Galette, the Redskins should have just that. And that should make them a much better defense on third down, and in general.

Tandler: 

A good assessment here by JP. I’ll add a quote from Gruden from just a few hours after the team drafted Anderson. He recalled watching film with Anderson when the prospect paid a pre-draft visit to Redskins Park:

“Watching film with him, he’s standing up watching film and talking about everybody’s job. He’s just a very high energy, high motor, tenacious guy and I think it’s going to rub off on a lot of people.”

There is no doubt that one of the people he hopes that Anderson’s attitude affects is Smith. If it does, then Smith should retain his starting job. But look for Anderson and Galette if he’s healthy and Murphy when his suspension is over to rotate in plenty. Waves of fresh, talented pass rushers are a quarterback’s nightmare and that is what Manusky would like to have at his disposal this season. 

<<<NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT>>>

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!

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

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Fantasy football: Ranking the top eight rookie quarterbacks in 2017

Fantasy football: Ranking the top eight rookie quarterbacks in 2017

Rookie camps are in the books as teams now move to organized team activities. Does that mean it's too early for fantasy football rankings? 

Probably, but seeing as the rookies are new to the scene, we might as well start projecting where and how they fit. 

CLICK HERE FOR CSN'S 2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL ROOKIE QB RANKINGS

Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Sterling Shepard and Michael Thomas were among the rookies who produced and then some in 2016.

Based on the early rounds of the 2017 NFL draft, there’s hope for even more first-year standouts.  

Starting with the Bears selecting quarterback Mitch Trubisky second overall, 19 skill players were drafted in the first and second round.

That includes fellow first-round quarterback selections Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Several sleeper candidates followed. 

Here’s my look at the Elite Eight quarterbacks with the 2017 fantasy football season -- and beyond -- in mind.

CLICK HERE FOR CSN'S 2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL ROOKIE QB RANKINGS

2017 Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings:

Running Backs - No. 1, Leonard Fournette, Jaguars

* Wide receivers - No. 1, Corey Davis, Titans

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Redskins 2017 OTAs to-do list: It's time to find a nose tackle

Redskins 2017 OTAs to-do list: It's time to find a nose tackle

Free agency is done. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview and the 90-man offseason roster has been filled out. Now comes the difficult part for Jay Gruden and his staff: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin on Tuesday, Redskins Insiders JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will examine top priorities on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the team for training camp in Richmond later this summer.

Up today …

Nose tackle

Finlay: There's a lot to do on the Redskins defensive line, and it starts in the middle. Expect free agent addition Stacy McGee to have a big opportunity to take over the nose tackle job. McGee ranked as a +5.5 run defender last season as rated by Pro Football Focus, and at 6-foot-3 and 308 lbs., he has the size to man the middle. McGee has plenty of talent, health has been his hiccup. He has only played all 16 games in one of his four seasons, and in 2016, he played only nine games.

Beyond McGee, the Redskins have some lottery tickets. Practice squad players A.J. Francis and Joey Mbu both have the size to play nose, but neither have the experience. Could Francis or Mbu emerge for significant snaps with the Washington defense? Sure, but it would be unexpected. 

A bigger lottery ticket remains. Phil Taylor, a former first-round pick in 2012, has shown serious talent at the nose tackle position. At 6-foot-3 and 337 lbs., Taylor certainly has the size for the spot. At the same time, Taylor hasn't played an NFL game since 2014, losing both 2015 and 2016 to injury. Counting on Taylor would be short-sighted, but if he can remain healthy, there could be big value.

According to Jay Gruden, the most important piece of the nose tackle puzzle will come from new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Gruden said he expects Tomsula to "make" a nose tackle and improve the Redskins D-line. It's a tall order, but Tomsula has an impressive track record working in the trenches. 

Tandler: The organization’s refusal to get a legitimate nose tackle either in free agency or in the draft will lead to them again spend the spring and summer trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

That’s what they did last year with Ziggy Hood. He took a lot of snaps at nose tackle and he simply wasn’t a fit for the job. It wasn’t his fault that the Redskins allowed a league-worst 5.0 yards per rushing attempt on first down; he’s an end and he was much more effective there.

Matt Ioannidis, a 2016 fifth-round pick, also took some snaps at nose, with similar results. At 6-3, 308, he just doesn’t have the size to be effective.

The worst part of it here is that they really can’t get too far in identifying the 2017 nose tackle. In the spring with no pads and no contact allowed they really can’t do much besides work on technique and learn assignments. Tomsula’s effort to “make” a nose tackle won’t really get going until they get to Richmond in late August.

<<<NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT>>>

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!

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