Washington Football Team 53-Player Roster Projection: Alex Smith Makes the Cut
The NFL season is starting in just a few weeks, and despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, training camps have proceeded without many issues. Reading notes and observations from Washington’s practices has started to reveal the structure of the team’s 53-man roster to begin the season. Below I have taken a swing at projecting that roster – including what was once unthinkable in the quarterback room.
Offense: 25 Players
Quarterback (3): Dwayne Haskins, Alex Smith, Kyle Allen
It is becoming increasingly likely that Alex Smith will make it onto the initial 53-man roster. His incredible journey has gotten a lot of attention, but it might deserve even more. Making the active roster after his horrifying leg injury is a true testament to his dedication and grit. In late 2018, many thought his career was over. Instead, less than two years later, he is back on the practice field slinging the football.
That said, his appearance on the active roster might be a procedural move. Since he was activated from PUP earlier in August, there are only three options:
1 - Start the season on the active roster with the possibility to play
2 - Start the season on injured reserve (IR), with no option to play for the entire season
3 - Start the season on the active roster, then be moved to IR, which would allow him to return to the active roster after eight weeks
I see option 3 as the most likely – give him a few extra weeks to be around the team and acclimate to contact, then if he is ready, activate him later in the season. He still provides a lot of value as a Josh McCown-type of player coach for Haskins and Allen (the 15-year veteran has mentored Colin Kaepernick and Patrick Mahomes before). What happens next offseason if his health keeps trending in the right direction is another question, but there is no questioning that it would be really inspirational to see him throw another pass in the NFL.
Those who have been speculating a QB controversy in Washington will be disappointed. Haskins has been grinding this offseason and it has shown in strong performances in camp. He has not been perfect, but his improved preparation and progress from last year is evident, and he will be the day one starter. Coach Rivera accepted his position based on Washington’s strong young core; no chance he would jeopardize Dan Snyder’s favored player.
Kyle Allen was traded for because of his familiarity with Rivera’s system in Carolina, but he has not really shown a better grasp on the playbook than Haskins, and his physical abilities are not even comparable. If Smith is on the roster Allen is probably third on the depth chart. Carrying three quarterbacks has an impact on other positions’ depth, but I cannot see going down to two unless Smith is on IR for the whole season.
Running Back (4): Adrian Peterson, Antonio Gibson, Bryce Love, Peyton Barber
The departure of Derrius Guice made this position group a lot clearer. There are only five RBs on the roster right now and the team will likely carry four. The seasoned Adrian Peterson is the probable week one starter and early-down back; Antonio Gibson is the third down/gadget back (worth noting he has seen a lot of first-team touches in camp); and Bryce Love is the talented unknown who might get more touches as the season progresses.
That leaves the bruising Peyton Barber and the third-down option J.D. McKissic. It feels like a coin toss – they are both in their late twenties and on similar deals – but I am going with Peyton Barber for two reasons. First, he is very durable, having missed only one game in his first four NFL seasons. Durability is a concern for this group with Bryce Love and an aging Adrian Peterson above him. Second, coaches have been praising Love’s pass-catching ability, which would reduce the need for a third-down option behind Gibson.
McKissic would make most rosters in the league, which indicates that Washington’s RB room has serious depth. But Gibson and Love are almost total unknowns. This could be a position of great strength or mediocrity depending on how those two perform.
Wide Receiver (6): Terry McLaurin, Steven Sims, Jr., Antonio Gandy-Golden, Dontrelle Inman, Cam Sims, Trey Quinn
Losing Kelvin Harmon to an ACL tear earlier this summer was a big blow to this group – and when losing a second-year guy who had less than 400 yards last year is damaging, that says a lot about the state of the position. At least scary Terry McLaurin seems reasonable to bet on for another good year. He is still making awesome catches and demonstrating his rapport with his old college teammate Haskins during camp. Steven Sims should not be slept on either – he performed admirably down the stretch last year and has apparently put in a lot of work this offseason. Look for offensive coordinator Scott Turner to get the ball into Sims’ hands in some creative ways like he did with Curtis Samuel in Carolina.
After those two, though, things look fairly bleak. Antonio Gandy-Golden has size and speed but he is still a fourth-round rookie who will need some time to make the notoriously difficult transition to the pro game as a receiver. Dontrelle Inman is the veteran of the group and will provide a decent floor as a depth option. Cam Sims could provide the red-zone threat and has been making some clown catches during camp, but he has been a preseason darling for the previous two years and has yet to make an impact in the regular season. It will still probably be good enough for a roster spot this year, though.
Fan-favorite Trey Quinn no longer enjoys the coaching favor he had from Gruden. He has had flashes but has yet to exceed his billing as the last pick in the 2018 draft. His experience and ability on special teams is enough to give him a nod over Darvin Kidsy and Isaiah Wright, but I could also see the team carrying only five receivers if they want more depth at defensive line or defensive back. For this position group to pose a real threat on gameday, McLaurin and Steven Sims will need to make second-year jumps, and at least one guy behind them will need to step up into a solid starting role.
Tight End (3): Logan Thomas, Marcus Baugh, Jeremy Sprinkle
The hype around undrafted rookie Thaddeus Moss has evaporated since his move to IR, but this group was going to look a lot different than was expected before camp anyway. Logan Thomas has surprisingly cemented himself as the top TE so far in camp, and has shown a good connection with Haskins, especially in the red zone. The converted QB is still learning the nuances of the position but he could contribute more than people expect.
Marcus Baugh is probably the second TE on the depth chart, which is something no one expected in July. Coach Rivera signed him in Carolina last offseason and snagged him again this year, so maybe he knows something no one else does, because Baugh has looked solid as a blocker. He still needs some progress as a pass-catcher, though. Jeremy Sprinkle, who was a starter for much of last season, rounds out the group as a medium blocker and receiver. I do not think the team can afford to keep a fourth TE slot for Hale Hentges or Richard Rodgers with greater needs elsewhere on the roster. Washington will see what they have at TE this season and re-evaluate next year.
Offensive Tackle (4): Geron Christian, Morgan Moses, Cornelius Lucas, Saahdiq Charles
As nice as it would be to put Trent Williams down at left tackle, the reality is that he was never really close to playing for Washington again. Instead they will be rolling with Geron Christian, who has seemingly improved his technique and strength from last year. He has gotten plenty of first-team reps at camp and admitted that his preparation the past two seasons was not up to par. Even if he only plays at a replacement level as Haskins’ blindside protector this season it would be a positive development. Write down Morgan Moses as starting right tackle in pen for this season, but if his penalty and pressure issues continue, he could be a cut candidate next year.
Cornelius Lucas is a journeyman who has experience at both tackle spots, so he makes a solid swing tackle. Coach Rivera cast a vote of faith in rookie Saahdiq Charles by selecting him in the fourth round – Charles had second round talent but significant discipline concerns. So far in camp, though, he has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury. It does not seem serious but it has prevented him from competing for a starting spot. If his health is worse than it appears, he could start the season on IR and Timon Parris could take his roster spot.
Interior Offensive Line (5): Wes Martin, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, Keith Ismael, Wes Schweitzer
Despite getting called out for poor effort by Coach Rivera in a fiery speech at camp, Wes Martin has still been given most of the first team reps and is the presumed starter at left guard. The strong man played well when he filled in last year and with improved technique could be an asset to the offense. Chase Roullier will start at center for a third year in a row, and right guard Brandon Scherff could again be the team’s best player if he stays healthy.
Rookie Keith Ismael was drafted in the fifth round and can probably play all three spots, so he is a great depth player to develop. His work ethic has been praised so he could move to starting center next year if Roullier is not brought back. Guard Wes Schweitzer was signed to a surprisingly large deal in the offseason for a below-average depth player. The contract has no guaranteed money after the first year so he could be cut, but it is probably enough to guarantee him a spot for this season.
There are several other guys in play here, but I doubt they can overcome Ismael’s draft investment and Schweitzer’s contract investment. Ross Pierschbacher, who was drafted in the fifth round just a year ago, could be the first Alabama boy on the team to get cut or moved to the practice squad. The team seems to have swapped allegiance to Ohio State anyway.
I think the offensive line could be better than most people expect, especially at run blocking, where Christian, Martin, and Scherff excel. The development of the left side will be critical for protecting Haskins in a pivotal year, but unless it is a total liability in pass protection, I do not think the offensive line will sink the team.
Defense: 25 Players
Defensive End (5): Montez Sweat, Ryan Kerrigan, Chase Young, Ryan Anderson, Nate Orchard
Here is a position that can be discussed with great confidence. The switch to a 4-3 defensive scheme is great for the team’s personnel. Montez Sweat could be in store for a breakout second year in his more natural defensive end position where he will not be asked to drop into coverage. Ryan Kerrigan has been handling most of the starting work across from Sweat, and the defensive end position is kinder to aging veterans than outside linebacker.
We are all excited to see Chase Young enter (and dominate?) the league, but so far in camp, he has dealt with a minor hip flexor aggravation and has been held out of most work. Look for him to be eased into a starting role in place of Kerrigan as the season progresses. Is it crazy to think that Washington has the most athletic pair of edge defenders in the league between Young and Sweat? We will have to wait to see their production, but their physical ability is absurd.
Ryan Anderson is an interesting player. The former second-rounder was labeled as a bust before he came into his own in the second half of last year. So far at camp, he has been given work on both the line and at linebacker, but I left him at defensive end which is most like what he played in the past. I think the team could try Anderson at a few spots to see what they have – he is in the last year of his rookie contract, so the team will have to make a decision next year.
I think the team can afford to keep nine defensive linemen, and I am giving the last spot to Nate Orchard. Do not forget that he blew up the last couple plays in the Panthers game last year in front of Coach Rivera just before he was fired. The journeyman Orchard has experience on the field, which cannot be said about the injured Jordan Brailford and Jordan Smith-Williams, seventh round fliers taken in the last two drafts. One final note on defensive end – David Bada was brought to Washington through the league’s International Player Pathway program. The German is a long shot to make the roster, but he gives the team a free extra spot on the practice squad, so he is an interesting name to watch for next year.
Defensive Tackle (4): Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Tim Settle
The confidence in the defensive line continues at the tackle position. With Sweat, Kerrigan, and Young rushing from the edge, Jonathan Allen should spend most of his time at tackle, although he could be put at end for passing downs similar to how Chris Jones is used in Kansas City. Daron Payne is the starting run-stuffing nose tackle and made great strides last year. If he continues his progress, he could soon rise into the upper tier of interior defenders.
Matt Ioannidis will spell Payne on passing downs, where he has quietly been dominant, eating up double teams and still producing with 16 sacks over the last two years. His team-friendly extension last offseason was one of Gruden’s best parting gifts. Tim Settle has not seen the field a lot over the impressive athletes above him, but all accounts describe him as an above-average player who would start at nose tackle on most teams.
There is a lot of potential in the defensive line the whole way down the depth chart. It is a very young, athletic group, if unproven. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has some great tools to generate pressure and clog the run – we will see if he can get the group to produce at the level their potential indicates.
Linebacker (7): Reuben Foster, Jon Bostic, Thomas Davis, Sr., Shaun Dion Hamilton, Cole Holcomb, Khaleke Hudson, Kevin Pierre-Louis
Washington has quietly assembled a linebacker room filled with young talent. Reuben Foster is the headliner; if he can stay healthy, out of trouble, and regain his form from a few years ago, he could be a true difference maker on the second level. That is a lot of ifs, but it is a perfect scenario for a team in rebuild, and his ceiling is sky high. If Foster does not pan out the team can let him walk next offseason. He could also potentially see a trip to IR like Alex Smith if he is still not fully up to speed for the start of the season.
After Foster, who starts is very murky, but not necessarily in a bad way. Each of these players could contribute and have been shuffled through the first and second team defenses at camp. Jon Bostic was a solid starter and defensive play-caller last season. The long-tenured Thomas Davis was brought in by his old coach Rivera to provide a veteran presence, but he still piled up 112 tackles and started all 16 games at 36 years old last year. Shaun Dion Hamilton’s stats in coverage are pretty impressive and he would likely come onto the field on passing downs. Cole Holcomb was a welcome contributor as a rookie last season, flying around the field and collecting 99 tackles. He was a liability in coverage, but with his speed, he may be able to correct his mistakes.
Khaleke Hudson was somewhat of a surprise pick in the fifth round of this year’s draft. He was a good player on a notable Michigan defense, but it is unclear how he will be used in a crowded linebacker room in Washington. He might fit best as a dimebacker who can cover tight ends and running backs. Finally, Kevin Pierre-Louis might not be a household name, but you would not know it after hearing Coach Rivera rave about him. The veteran’s contract is cuttable but I think he will stay on the team given Coach Rivera’s favor. Both Hudson and Pierre-Louis could also find roles on special teams.
The linebacker corps is an intriguing mix of young talent and solid veterans. It will be very interesting to see how the depth chart shakes out as the season progresses. Whoever starts will hopefully look pretty good playing behind the impressive defensive line.
Cornerback (5): Kendall Fuller, Ronald Darby, Fabian Moreau, Jimmy Moreland, Greg Stroman
The cornerback group is a microcosm of the rest of the roster: lots of young potential, little proven production, and somewhat injury prone. Even if the team overpaid a little to bring Kendall Fuller back to Washington, he will be a welcome addition to a group that got torched from the slot last year. Fuller has experience on the outside and at safety as well, so he provides defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio some flexibility, but I predict he will be used most in the slot where he excels.
Ronald Darby was brought in on a one year prove-it deal from the rival Eagles. His ability is unquestionable, having been a starter on Philadelphia’s Super Bowl-winning defense, but he has not been able to stay on the field. He has missed 20 games over the last three seasons and ended the last two on IR. However, he has been healthy during camp, and until proven otherwise he will surely man one of the outside corner positions.
After floundering in the slot for his first two and a half seasons, Moreau was moved to his natural position on the outside midway through last season, and his performance dramatically improved. That is where he has been practicing during camp and he looks solid (although he is lining up with an inexperienced set of receivers). Fan-favorite Jimmy Moreland has also gotten mixed in with the first and second team defense and displays a propensity for splash plays, just like last preseason. Coaches have also expressed confidence in the young cover man. Moreland will fill in where needed as the team’s fourth corner.
Several guys are competing for the team’s last cornerback spot, but Greg Stroman is the early favorite. He has seen a lot of action during training camp and the new front office has prioritized athleticism. Stroman offers a little more in that department than Aaron Colvin, Danny Johnson, or Simeon Thomas. Athleticism is also valuable for special teams roles that the last few cornerbacks can be expected to fill, so Stroman gets the nod here. The team could really use a sixth cornerback but here they face the cost of rostering three QBs. If Alex Smith is moved to IR shortly after the start of the season, look for Washington to add another corner, perhaps a player that another team cut.
The cornerback group lacks a high ceiling, but playing behind a voracious pass rush tends to make secondaries perform better. If they play sticky enough to be an average unit and let the defensive front get pressure, the season could be a success for the cornerbacks. Still, they are an injury or two away from starting guys off the street. The health of the top players – especially Darby – will go a long way in shaping Washington’s pass defense.
Safety (4): Landon Collins, Troy Apke, Sean Davis, Kamren Curl
Landon Collins is practically sharpied into Washington’s roster as strong safety for years to come after his big contract last offseason. He was fine last year, but look for defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to get a lot more of the talented young player. At camp he has been playing closer to the line of scrimmage where he does a lot of damage in run defense and blitzing.
Seeing how the rest of this group fills out would have been a shock just a few months ago. Perhaps the biggest surprise of camp, third year player Troy Apke has basically locked down his role as the starting free safety, earning almost all the first-team reps. His athleticism was never in doubt – he blazed a 4.34 40-yard dash at the combine – but he did not always play with discipline and was notorious for taking bad pursuit angles. Apparently he has cleaned some of those errors up, and he is flying around camp popping ball carriers and playing with a lot of physicality. Perhaps something with the scheme change made his assignments click. In any case, his development as a starting safety would be a huge development for the team.
Former D.C. native and Maryland Terrapin Sean Davis was brought over from the Steelers this offseason. He had an up-and-down career there and missed almost the entire 2019 season with a shoulder injury, but he at least has a lot of starting experience. It should be considered a luxury if he is the depth option behind Apke.
Finally, I think Kamren Curl will get the nod as the last safety in the group. He was a somewhat surprising pick in the seventh round of this year’s draft, but that makes me believe Coach Rivera sees something he likes in him. Curl’s gotten action in camp and could be a solid special teamer. Speaking of special teams, it might be a mistake to leave special teams captain Deshazor Everett off the roster. He signed a random three year extension last November that would carry a small amount of dead money over the new few years. However, Everett was always one of Gruden’s guys, and Curl is one of Coach Rivera’s. Coaching changes bring casualties and I think Everett could be one. Unfortunately, I cannot foresee a situation where Jeremy Reaves makes the roster, even though he was solid as a depth piece last year.
The performance of Washington’s safeties this year will depend on Del Rio’s ability to maximize Collins and Apke’s mental growth. It might also depend on how the cornerbacks fare; if they can hold their own in man coverage, the safeties will have a lot more freedom to make splash plays.
Special Teams (3): Dustin Hopkins, Tress Way, Nick Sundberg
One of the few luxuries about being a Washington Football Team fan the past few years is that a solid special teams unit feels like a guarantee. Dustin Hopkins is a fine kicker, All-Pro Tress Way is an elite punter (and perhaps the team’s most valuable player, depending on how much one values punters), and reliable long snapper Nick Sundberg is the team’s longest tenured player, having been in Washington since 2010. No competition was brought to camp for any of these positions so their spots are assured. It is worth noting that Hopkins and Sundberg are both in the last year of their current deals, so this group might look a lot different next year.
Overall Roster Assessment
Washington has a potentially elite group of defensive lineman and a lot of uncertainty everywhere else. Many players have potential but have yet to back it up with production. I think there is room for a little more optimism than what this roster is currently getting, especially in the offensive line and linebacker groups, and especially considering the improved coaching staff. Still, fans should brace themselves for a brutal season in the win/loss column.
When observing the entire roster, one bright note is that it is filled with young players from the last several drafts. Whether many of these players become fully reliable starters remains to be seen, but they have at least shown some promise, which is a good indictment of the team’s scouting and drafting.
It is important to remember that this year is about rebuilding, not competing. If the team goes 4-12 but shows a lot of improvement from individual players and as a group by the end of the year, I would consider the season a success. In particular, Dwayne Haskins’ development is critical to the team’s future. I hope the team has put a roster around him that will facilitate his success.
Bonus - 54th man: J.D. McKissic, Jordan Brailford, Aaron Colvin
These three bubble players would probably be the next players added to the roster if there were room. McKissic is elusive and a good pass-catcher on a team with few pass-catching threats, but the RB room is very full and players like Gibson and Sims offer a similar skillset at a younger age. It would be nice for the team to keep another young defensive lineman, like second-year player Jordan Brailford, on the active roster to develop because contracts for Allen and Payne in the near future will occupy a lot of money at the position. But with the needs elsewhere on the roster, Washington probably cannot afford that luxury. I mentioned before that the team would like to keep a sixth cornerback, and if they did so, it could be the veteran Aaron Colvin. He was once a member of the elite Jaguars secondary and has collected lots of real game action. However, I still think it is most likely that the team tries to scoop up another team’s cut cornerback if they move Alex Smith to IR.