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Redskins Combine Countdown: Virginia safety Anthony Harris

anthony-harris-head.png

Redskins Combine Countdown: Virginia safety Anthony Harris

The NFL Combine gets underway in Indianapolis in just 7 days. I will be there and in between now and then I’ll be doing a lot of work getting up to speed on the draft class of 2015. Along the way I’ll be sharing some of what I find out with Real Redskins readers. The focus will be on players in areas of need for the Redskins but I might look at players at just about any position since Scot McCloughan has said that he will take the best player available regardless of need.

Anthony Harris
Safety
Virginia

Height: 6-1
Weight: 190

What they’re saying:
STRENGTHS: At 6-1, Harris has a lean, wiry frame with long arms and nice proportion throughout. He makes good breaks on the ball with a strong first step despite his long-striding run style, and has quick hips and a second gear to recover over the top when plays go vertical.

WEAKNESSES: Despite the durability Harris showed at Virginia, his lanky frame looks better suited to cornerback or even wide receiver than safety. He isn't an intimidating hitter over the middle and resorts to ankle tackling, at times -- though to his credit, he's a generally reliable open-field tackler.
Derek Stephens and Rob Rang, CBS Sports

How he fits the Redskins: I wrote about the possibility of Harris being the Redskins’ starting strong safety at some point during the 2015 season. The position is a major need for the Redskins and Harris could be sharp enough to get up to speed in time to start at some point during his rookie year. Harris logged plenty of playing time at Virginia, seeing substantial action as a freshman and becoming the starter his last three years there.

At 6-1, he’s probably just about at the bottom end of the height that Scot McCloughan is looking for in a safety. Some analysts think he’s better at free safety, some prefer him at strong. As the NFL often requires players to be adept at both, that versatility could be a good thing.

Potential issues: The other side of the size coin is the “lanky” description. Can he add on weight and still move as well? If he plays smaller than his height he won’t fit into McCloughan’s long-term vision for a “Legion of Boom” sized backfield.

Bottom line: It’s tough to rely on any draft pick to start as a rookie, especially on picked after the first round. The second round might be a reach for Harris; the third is likely where his value is. Out of 36 third-round picks in 2014, just nine started at least half of their teams’ games as rookies. Having the pick earlier in the round does help. Four of the players who had eight or more starts were picked in the top 10 selections in the round.

If McCloughan is going to pick Harris in the third round it’s going to be because he thinks he is the best player on the board at the time and that he will be a good player in 2016 and beyond. An immediate need at safety won’t drive the pick.

But sometimes a draft pick steps up when you don’t expect him to, like Bashaud Breeland did in 2014. If the Redskins do take Harris it wouldn’t be shocking to see him as a major contributor by the time the year is out.

Previously in Combine Countdown:

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Redskins Playbook: After worst to first in 2016, how strong will NFC East be?

Redskins Playbook: After worst to first in 2016, how strong will NFC East be?

When the Redskins won the NFC East in 2015 with a 9-7 record, most critics dismissed the division as weak. That theory was largely proved right when the Redskins got stomped at home in the first round of the playoffs by the Wild Card Green Bay Packers.

In 2016, however, the NFC East largely looked like the best division in football, or at least among the best divisions. Dallas won 13 games and took the NFC East title, the Giants won 11 and took the NFC's top Wild Card spot. The Redskins had a chance to make the playoffs in Week 17, but unceremoniously lost and fell short.

Still, Washington won eight games and Philadelphia won seven. In fact, the NFC East was the only division in the NFL without a team that lost 10 or more games. The AFC West - a division that some would argue was tougher than the NFC East - still had the Chargers and their 5-11 record.

What does it mean for 2017? If anything the only team expected to regress would be the Cowboys, and their regression could easily still have them looking to win around 10 games. 

The Eagles have improved with young, star QB Carson Wentz. New York will be interesting, as they have some age at various spots on their roster but still feature a two-time Super Bowl winning QB in Eli Manning and one of the best defenses in the NFL.

As for Washington? The defense should be much improved. It almost has to be as the 2016 version struggled significantly. If the defense can just be average (and I'd argue it could push for Top 15) the offense should continue to move the ball well. Producing in the red zone needs to look different than last season too.

The NFC East looks like a beast yet again. It would be no surprise if both NFC Wild Cards come from the division.

Let us know what you think in the comments. 

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Need to Know:Redskins faced one of the toughest schedules in NFL in 2016

Need to Know:Redskins faced one of the toughest schedules in NFL in 2016

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 28, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start their mandatory minicamp on June 13.

Timeline

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/27) 60
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 74
—Season opener Eagles @ Redskins (9/10) 105

Note: I am on vacation this week in the Outer Banks. Need to Know will be a mix of new content and some of the most popular posts of 2017.

Redskins faced one of NFL’s toughest slates in 2016

(originally posted January 28)

As the Redskins came off their 2015 playoff season and looked towards 2016, one thing jumped out. Even before any games were played it looked like their path to a repeat playoff appearance would be difficult, more so than it was when they went 9-7 and took the NFC East title.

The 2015 schedule looked fairly easy when applying the eyeball test. They played just two games against teams that made the playoffs and those teams, the Patriots and Panthers, plus the Jets were the only teams they faced that finished the season with winning records.

The eyeball test was borne out by the numbers. According to the stat gurus at Football Outsiders the Redskins faced the 28th toughest schedule in terms of the DVOA of opposing defenses and the opposing offenses added up to the 24th most difficult.

The going was considerably tougher in 2016. The Redskins played seven games against teams that were in the playoff field. The defenses they faced stacked up as the toughest group of any NFL team. They played nine games against teams that finished in the top 11 in defensive DVOA. The offenses they faced were a little better than average, ranking 13th as a group.

While the Redskins’ season was widely regarded as a disappointment, it would be reasonable to say that given vastly improved quality of the competition that they did well in only having their record drop by half a game.

Of course, the goal is to be good enough to prosper and make the playoffs no matter what mix of teams the luck of the draw happens to put on the schedule. They will need to get there in a hurry. Awaiting the Redskins on their 2017 schedule are seven 2016 playoff teams plus one more that finished the year with a winning record.

The fortunes of NFL teams can’t always be predicted in advance, especially more than seven months before the season kicks off. But it’s safe to say that the 2017 slate will be challenging. If they are going to improve their record they are going to have to improve their level of play dramatically.

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.