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Who will be the Redskins' top players on defense in 2019?

Who will be the Redskins' top players on defense in 2019?

It is the season for looking into the future, both to the 2016 season and beyond.

Let’s look at the Redskins three years from now. Who will still be here? Which players will be top performers? Here’s a possible snapshot of the team going into training camp in the year 2019. Yesterday we looked at the offense and today it's the 2019 defense.

To define the terms here, a blue chip player is one who is one of the top four to six players in the league at his position, is a consistent Pro Bowl caliber performer and at least occasionally gets All-Pro consideration.

A solid starter is also known as a red chip player. The team is happy with his level of play and is not looking to upgrade, These players are below the elite level but firmly in the top 10 or 12 at their positions. These players perhaps make an occasional visit to the Pro Bowl.

Potential starters are exactly that, players who could be starting in three years or who could be on the bench or playing elsewhere. Even if they are starting in Washington the team may be on the lookout for an upgrade.

Potential blue chip players: Josh Norman, Preston Smith
Solid starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Su’a Cravens, Bashaud Breeland
Potential starters: Kendall Fuller, Matt Ioannidis, Junior Galette, Will Compton

Norman and Smith are both projections. The cornerback seems to be more of a sure thing, although he has performed at a high level for only about a season and a half. We know how that past performances don’t guarantee future returns for Redskins free agents. Smith is more of a stretch but he has displayed the potential to be a star.

Kerrigan will be 31 by the time the 2019 season starts. There is no reason to think he will be washed up by then, although the team may start looking for an eventual replacement in the draft.

Breeland works hard and keeps improving. It looks like his ceiling will be as a consistent starter but perhaps he could break through to the next level like Norman did.

Cravens will have a lot to learn but once he gets established in a role he should be a valued member of the defense.

Fuller could turn out to be in essence a second first-round pick for the Redskins if he can stay healthy. With the defensive line in flux, Ioannidis will have a shot at establishing himself this year.

For the first time in his career Compton enters the season as the starter. He has been taking on a leadership role as the defensive signal caller. The third-year player had his ups and downs last year and the organization will need some more evidence to determine if he is the long-term answer at Mike linebacker.

Galette may be a near-blue chipper in 2019, when he will be 31, or he might not be on the team. He’s on a one-year contract and if he plays well will the Redskins be able to pay him the premium contract that a star pass rusher commands? Smith will need a new contract by 2019 and between him and Kerrigan there will be a lot of money tied up in pass rushers. If Galette plays just OK, will the Redskins want to move on?

Of the other key performers on defense now, the one I might have included as a potential starter is Chris Baker. He will turn 32 early in the 2019 season. But he didn’t play much early in his career and he could have a lot of miles left.

Contract status

Of the players listed above, Norman, Kerrigan, Cravens, Fuller, and Ioannidis currently are under contract through the 2019 season. Galette will be an unrestricted free agent and Compton will be a restricted free agent after the 2016 season. The contract of Breeland expires after 2017. Following the 2018 season the team will need a new deal for Smith.

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Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Accentuating the negative leads to positive results for Chris Thompson

Some NFL players ooze confidence. They thrive on emphasizing what they do well and not speaking about weaknesses. In a game as tough and physical as pro football, some players need to feel bulletproof to survive.

Chris Thompson is not like that. He was one of the stars in the Redskins’ 27-20 win over the Rams on Sunday. He rushed three times for 77 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 29 yards. And while he enjoyed the win, he did not revel in his performance as he made a glaring mistake.

RELATED: JAY GRUDEN NOT INCREASING THOMPSON'S WORKLOAD

In the third quarter, quarterback Kirk Cousins threw him a perfect pass over the middle. The speedy Thompson had nothing but green grass and white stripes in front of him. But he dropped the pass, turning what likely would have been a 62-yard touchdown into an incompletion.

That play stuck with him despite his touchdown runs of 61 and seven yards.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “On the plane ride, getting dressed after the game, this morning watching film, when I was outside at practice, I was thinking about that one play. My first thing I wanted to do when I got out there in individuals with the quarterbacks was to run that route again and catch the ball.”

FANTASY: TO START CHRIS THOMPSON OR NOT?

Instead of reliving his glory, he went to work to correct one mistake.

This is not a lone instance of Thompson focusing on negative plays that he made. He said that mistakes stick in his mind more than good plays. During a few minutes talking to reporters on Wednesday, he recalled going the wrong way on a choice route against the Dolphins in 2015, costing a possible touchdown, making a similar mistake against the Browns last year, and errors that led to sacks of Cousins last year and of Robert Griffin III a few years ago.

“All of those things that I look back at that I did wrong, it helped me become a better player this year,” said Thompson. “I’ve been able to go back and look at that and see what went wrong and fix it now. As of late as I’ve become more confident in what I’m doing and more confident in my abilities I’m able to play better.”

Whatever Thompson is doing to become a better player is working. He signed a two-year contract extension earlier this month. Jay Gruden sings his praises whenever he’s asked about him. His teammates almost universally admire and respect him. In his fifth NFL season, many analysts around the league are starting to recognize him as a main cog in the Redskins’ offense.

It is unlikely that he will change his approach.

“I had to mess up a lot in order to get where I am now,” he said. Thompson will continue to perfect his game by putting his imperfect moments under the microscope. 

MORE REDSKINS: FIVE UNDER PRESSURE VS. RAIDERS

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Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

Redskins Playbook: Cousins, Gruden remain quite confident in offense. Maybe they're right

One of the best offenses in 2016, the Redskins early returns so far in 2017 rank somewhere between underwhelming and underachieving. That does not mean good games aren't coming in the future, however, at least according to head coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Kirk Cousins. 

"I would like to think that as the year goes on the offense gets better and better," Cousins said Wednesday. "Hopefully we take those steps going forward and we just hit our stride and play much better than we have the first two weeks."

RELATED: FIVE REDSKINS UNDER PRESSURE VS. RAIDERS

In the first two games of the season, a loss at home to the Eagles in Week 1 and a win in Los Angeles over the Rams, Cousins hasn't played particularly well. Against Philadelphia, he played poorly, accounting for three turnovers and completing just 57 percent of his passes. In LA, he showed progress. No turnovers and his completion percentage jumped up nearly 10 points. 

More importantly, Cousins shined on the final drive of the game, going 3 for 3 and throwing the game-winning touchdown. It was that drive, and a number of near misses in both games, that has Gruden optimistic. 

The coach called the Redskins passing game "very, very close" to hitting on all cylinders.

"There is a lot we can improve on in the passing game, from Kirk to the routes to the protection. It’s a work in progress, but we will get there," Gruden said Monday. "We have total faith that we will get it done and his numbers will get better."

Considered in a certain way, he's right. 

In Week 1, the Redskins offensive line struggled and Cousins was sacked four times. The run game got nothing going, generating just 64 yards on the ground. Cousins was able to throw for 240 yards, and despite all the turnovers, the offense still had a chance to steal a win late in the fourth quarter. 

In Week 2, the Redskins line blocked better and the run game produced at a high level. Cousins' yardage total was quite low, only 179 yards, but a big gainer got dropped and a few other opportunities were missed. 

Cousins supporters will scream about passes being dropped in Weeks 1 and 2. Cousins detractors will scream about passes missed in Weeks 1 and 2.

READ MORE: KIRK COUSINS' HITS AND MISSES FROM WEEK 2

The truth is likely in the middle. There is a solid baseline of production from Cousins from the last two seasons, and clearly Gruden expects that to come. Perhaps Week 3 against Oakland will be the opportunity. 

"We’re just going to keep sticking with the plan, getting these guys open the best way we can and hopefully we give Kirk the protection and he sees the throws and makes the throws," Gruden said. "But we’re right there, really. I like the group that we have."

The 2016 Redskins finished third in the league in total yards gained. Obviously the team lost a ton of production with the exits of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. Don't discount that, or the departure of former offensive coordinator Sean McVay. 

Despite all that, Cousins still has weapons. And talent. He knows he can be better, and knows he needs to be better.

"We have still done some really good things the first two weeks and have moved the ball, but I think there is more in the tank there that we have got to bring out,” Cousins said. 

To beat the Raiders, the Redskins will need to bring everything out of the tank. That likely means a 300-yard passing game from Cousins along with multiple touchdowns. 

The quarterback and the coach think the offense is ready, and close to a breakout game. Maybe they're right. 

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