Over the next few weeks, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2016, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2017.
Starters: Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland
Backups: Quinton Dunbar, Kendall Fuller, Dashaun Phillips, Greg Toler
Free Agents: Greg Toler
Rewind: With Josh Norman starting opposite Bashaud Breeland, the Redskins should have one of the strongest set of starting corners in the NFL. Norman is an elite talent, and Breeland has shown he can be quite good. In 2016, however, the results weren't pretty.
The Redskins finished 25th in passing defense, and while that's not all on the corners, the position group doesn't get a pass either. Norman got his hands on a ton of passes, but was only able to haul in three interceptions. Breeland also had three picks.
Washington struggled for much of the season defending the slot. Rookie Kendall Fuller showed promise early, but that ended fast in a game where he got torched by Vikings WR Stefon Diggs. Quinton Dunbar is an incredible athlete with a lot of potential, though he logged just two starts last year. Greg Toler and Dashaun Phillips gave the team depth, but neither player provided enough for coaches to depend on them.
Fast forward: Confusion seemed to reign in the Redskins secondary in 2016. Some of that might be a result of a patchwork group of safeties and a poor performing defensive line, but coaching changes might help in 2017. When Joe Barry was let go, so was secondary coach Perry Fewell. Last season, some folks say Fewell's coaching style and scheme led to breakdowns for the Washington corners. With a new defensive backs coach in Torrian Gray, some of that may change, but it's also worth pointing out that some players wanted Aubrey Pleasant promoted to that job.
It would be near impossible for Breeland's 2017 season to start as poorly as 2016 did. Late in the year, Breeland was again playing well, especially when deployed in the slot. It's also hard to imagine Josh Norman can make as many clean breaks on passes without bringing a few more in.
This group will largely be back, certainly Norman, Breeland, Fuller and Dunbar. New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will have to decide early on his plan for a nickel corner, and if Fuller in his second season will be ready for that role. If not, it's possible Dunbar could work outside and Breeland move inside in spots.
Also, don't forget about Will Blackmon. The versatile defender was asked to play safety in 2016, but still has the wheels to play corner, his natural position. In 2015, Blackmon had two INTs and forced two fumbles as a corner. Should the 'Skins actually address the safety position via the draft or free agency, maybe Blackmon moves back to corner this fall, especially considering his ability to cover the slot.
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