Investing in depth has always separated the good teams from the basement dwellers. With COVID-19 now an added factor to the 2020 NFL season, depth will surely be tested around the league. One thing fans can be encouraged about is that Washington has invested draft capital and utilized free agency to build depth on both sides of the football.
Washington has a slew of young defenders that could emerge as legit contributors or even potential starters. There are four players that we have our eye on at The Burgundy and Gold Report, who might have low expectations performance-wise, but could have a big year. It’s no coincidence these “other guys” are on the defensive side of the ball, considering Washington has spent the majority of their resources, overwhelmingly, on defense.
Second year corner Jimmy “The People’s Corner Moreland” was a fan favorite during Washington’s 2019 Training Camp and tops the list as a player that should emerge as a star. The former JMU star was viewed as one of the top ball-hawk’s on the small school level, finishing his collegiate career with 18 ints (6 ret for scores) and 63 passes defended.
At 5’11” 182 lbs some say Moreland is best suited to play inside. The last productive slot corner Washington had was Kendall Fuller who returns to the team after a brief hiatus in Kansas City. As it stands, Fuller likely becomes CB#1 playing on the outside in base formations with Fabian Moreau and Ronald Darby battling for the other starting CB. So, where does that leave Moreland? Although Washington’s corners are viewed as average, the lack of experience has more to do with those reviews. Darby has had issues staying healthy and Moreau has yet to consistently display he can be a starter in the league.
From a film evaluation point a view, Moreland has more upside than most corners on the team. The second year corner takes risks, but his ability to recover and his sure tackling ability make him an ideal defensive back in Del Rio’s defense. With Nickel base packages becoming the norm and utilized the majority of the time, the slot corner is a valuable cog.
Although Fuller is, hands down, the best inside corner on the team, matching him up with the opposing teams’ top receiver is something coaches will likely do. Moreau showed he was out of his league when playing inside, so look for coaches to avoid that mistake again. As for Darby, his inconsistent play and injury history are cause for concern. The time seems ripe for Moreland to seize the starting nickel corner spot. In saying that, look for Washington to shuffle their defensive backs around, allowing Moreland to also see time on the outside as well. Although his first season had its highs and lows, with 43 combined tackles and no ints., year two should lead to more snaps, which in turn, should lead to more turnovers.
Big Man in the Trenches
Although John Allen and Daron Payne got the majority of snaps as the interior defensive starters, Matt Ioannidis still managed to record 8.5 sacks with significantly less snaps. With the transition to the 4-3 defensive base alignment, it is expected that a rotation will be utilized so players won’t get so gassed, which was an obvious issue in previous season.
Enter 3rd year tackle Tim Settle in the the equation. Under former Washington defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, Settle was used sparingly, even though his impact was obvious with limited snaps. Since leaving Virginia Tech, the former Hokie has experienced a total body transformation. He has spent the last two off seasons in an intensive weight-training regimen .
Initially coming into the league, Settle tipped the scale north of 330 lbs. He now boasts a stout 308 lb frame and has looked visibly faster in drills. The majority of Settle’s snaps occurred on early downs and what consistently stood out was his ability split double teams and get up filed. Settle will surely have a bigger role with JDR running the defense, but also having the potential upside as an every down lineman gives Washington another advantage in the trenches.
Linebackers that Could Surprise
Washington continued to add depth to it’s linebacking core this offseason, starting with bringing back Jon Bostic. Two other linebacker prospects acquired by Rivera are viewed as potential role players, albeit versatile with free agent acquisition Kevin Pierre-Louis and 2020 5th round selection Khaleke Hudson. Both linebackers will have roles on the special teams unit, but will likely have differing responsibilities on defense.
Ron Rivera during Washington Presser on the linebackers.
“You may have three different guys starting on the base package, two different guys starting in the sub-package and your might have another sub-package have two other guys. This might be linebacker but committee because it’s a very talented group.”
The former Chicago Bears journeyman Kevin Pierre-Louis is a player Washington coaches have brought up in numerous discussions with the media as a player they like. Although Washington will be Pierre-Louis’s 5th team in five years, that shouldn’t diminish his potential to be a valuable contributor on a linebacking core that is still a work in progress. At 6’0″ 230 lbs, Pierre-Louis packs a punch when attacking ball carriers. His ability versus the run gives him a chance to get meaningful snaps early in the season.
As Rivera mentioned, it “might be a linebacker by committee approach” with multiple linebackers getting an opportunity to see the field on every possession. Pierre-Louis’s role as a run-stopper could end up being one of the surprise storylines off the offseason.
The last player on this list that fans should watch closely is Michigan rookie linebacker Khaleke Hudson who was selected 162nd overall in the 5th round.
Per NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah.
“I think he plays a little bit bigger than his size at 5-11. A little bit inconsistent when he’s asked to cover tight ends down the field, had some wins, had some losses. I think he’s going to have to make it up for what he does on fourth down, on special teams, I think he’ll have to carve out his role as he goes forward.”
The former Wolverine was used in the “Viper” hybrid role, appearing in 52 career games with 37 starts during his time at Michigan. At 5’11” 224 lbs, many doubt he’ll have a true role on an NFL roster, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Evaluators believe if Hudson was little bit taller, he would have likely been drafted much higher.
During Washington’s weekly zoom presser Hudson had the following to say about his potential role and playing in Jack Del Rio’s defense.
“I have a knack for getting to the ball and feel I can play anywhere on the field. Coach Del Rio wants us to create turnovers and play smash-mouth football.”
Hudson’s film shows an aggressive tackler who did most of his damage rushing the passer from the outside. However, that isn’t a likely role for Hudson, considering Washington already boasts so much talent at edge rusher. In Michigan’s Viper role, Hudson played all over the field and his coaches moved him around based on offensive formations. New DC Jack Del Rio loves to be aggressive, but he’ll also have the chance to be creative with a talent like Hudson. The former Michigan linebacker has an uncanny ability to sniff out screens, anticipate RPO/Zone Read plays and always seems to be around the ball.
In year one, Hudson should emerge as a solid special teams contributor. With the threat of COVID, seeing spot duty at linebacker is possible. Using Hudson in “NASCAR” type defensive alignments is something Del Rio could experiment with considering Hudson’s skill set as a Viper. Either way, his rookie year will be a learning experience, but similar to Antonio Gandy-Golden, a few injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart could quickly lead to serious snaps as a rookie.
With this unique NFL season on the horizon, teams with serviceable depth will have the upperhand. Although Washington is a team officially in rebuild mode, that doesn’t mean that more wins shouldn’t be expected. The dedication to building a stout defensive line while continuing to add more overall depth on defense should lead to a big turn around. But sometimes it’s the “other guys” that come through in the clutch and these 4 could be breakout players in 2020.
By Adam Aniba
Follow on Twitterer @TheBandGreport and on Facebook at https://m.facebook.com/groups/344619956055227
More from the Burgundy and Gold Report….