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The Redskins could have an advantage with a less 'accurate' kicker

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The Redskins could have an advantage with a less 'accurate' kicker

Why would the Redskins cut an accurate field goal kicker like Kai Forbath?

It could not have been an easy call for Jay Gruden and Scot McCloughan to make. The 2015 Redskins are likely to be in a lot of close games and Forbath has come through for Gruden. Last year, three of the team’s four wins came on Forbath field goals either in the late going or in overtime.

But Forbath's field goal accuracy came at a cost. Forbath has struggled with his kickoffs during his NFL career. Last year he was 31st in the league in both percentage of kicks that went for touchbacks and average net kickoff distance.

“We were looking for a little bit of a stronger leg, especially on kickoffs,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

But is Gruden potentially trading points for touchbacks? While we don’t know how new kicker Dustin Hopkins will do since he has no regular season NFL experience, if he can kick touchbacks consistently, the Redskins could be ahead of the game if he is even a below-average field goal kicker.

First of all, let’s dispose of the notion that Forbath is one of the most accurate field goal kickers in the game. Last year he was ninth in the NFL among kickers who had enough attempts (16) to qualify. He was good on 24 of 27 attempts, 88.9 percent. That’s fine, but not great (six kickers were over 90 percent) and, really, not very significant. Here’s why.

Let’s look at the Rams’ Greg Zuerlein, who ranked 26th with a field goals success percentage of 80.0. Is Forbath a better field goal kicker? Well, if Zuerlein had the same number of attempts as Forbath last year, he would have made 22, two fewer than Forbath. Depending on when those missed field goals happened, they could have been costly.

But if you look closer, you’ll see that Zuerlein attempted seven field goals of 50 yards or longer and made five of them. Forbath had zero attempts from 50 or longer. So two of Zurlein’s misses came on kicks that Forbath didn’t even attempt, presumably because they were out of his range. In the third quarter against the Dolphins, the Redskins were up 10-7 and had a fourth down at the Miami 36. With Forbath as their kicker, they punted and got a touchback. With a kicker with a stronger leg like Zuerlein they could have tried a 54-yard field goal and would have had about a 71 percent chance of taking a 13-7 lead that would have changed the complexion of the rest of the game.

Let’s look at the factor that Gruden cited, kickoffs. Last year Forbath had a net kickoff average (gross yards minus return yards and touchbacks X 20 yards) of 40.7 yards. Zuerlein’s average was 44.6. Rounding to the nearest yard line, an average Forbath kickoff ended with the other team taking possession at the 24 while Zuerlein’s ended up at the 20. Big deal? On one individual kick, maybe not. Over the course of a season it adds up.

According to some numbers crunchers who are much smarter than I am, a team that starts a drive that starts on the 24 has a 17.6 percent chance of scoring a touchdown and a 10.9 percent chance of making a field goal. For a team starting on the 20, the TD chances are 16.4 percent and 10.1 for a field goal. The average NFL team kicked off 81 times last year. So on average, following kickoffs the team that kicks to the 24 will allow 14 touchdowns and nine field goals while the team that kicks to the 20 will allow 13 TDs and eight field goals.

You don’t have to be a genius numbers cruncher to figure out that the defense giving up 10 fewer points with a kicker like Zuerlein slightly more than compensates for the six points lose being less “accurate” in field goals than Forbath. If you add in the chance that Zuerlein gives the team to score on an attempt from over 50 yards out the advantage goes to the less “accurate” kicker with the stronger leg.

Looking at it right now, we don’t know if Hopkins will miss a makeable field goal in a clutch situation. But in the big picture, if he can hit on 80 percent of his field goals, give the Redskins a chance to score when they get inside the opponent’s 40, and have opponents starting drives at the 20 more often than not, the move could end up being a net plus for Gruden and the Redskins.

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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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