The Redskins’ defensive backfield has changed quite a bit since the end of the season. Starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland is about to become a free agent, and the team had to give up promising young slot cornerback Kendall Fuller as part of the Alex Smith trade with the Chiefs.
That leaves Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau as the top cornerbacks behind Josh Norman. Safety D.J. Swearinger had a strong first season with the Redskins, as did rookie Montae Nicholson when healthy, but the team lacks depth behind those two.
Here are some potential options for the Redskins in free agency:
Re-sign candidate: Bashaud Breeland
Breeland had a strong 2017 as he finally started to consistently live up to the potential he displayed early in his career. He proved just how good he is in press man coverage, even on plays designed to beat tight man coverage.
Here, the Eagles attempt to run a pick play. Breeland lines up over the outside receiver, who runs a slant, but the slot receiver runs a fade designed to create traffic for Breeland.
Breeland reads the quick break and darts under the route from the slot receiver to catch up to his receiver. He gets himself in position to undercut the route and get his hand on the ball to deflect it away from the receiver.
Man coverage has always been Breeland’s strength. The Redskins, however, play plenty of zone and pattern-matching concepts, in which Breeland improved greatly this past season.
On this play, the Seahawks run a combination designed to trick the outside cornerback in Cover 3. The outside receiver runs a hitch, while the slot sprints up the seam. The outside cornerback in this scheme is responsible for his deep third of the field, meaning he has to avoid taking the bait of the hitch and stay with the seam route from the slot.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is quick to pull the trigger on the seam route from the slot, forcing Breeland to open his hips and turn quickly to catch up. Breeland steps up to the challenge and gets back in time to cut in front of the receiver and break up the pass. The only complaint with Breeland here is that he perhaps should have come away with the interception, but it was still a good play.
Breeland seems probable to test the market and will likely get a good contract, given his youth and upside. But the Redskins would be wise to at least stay in touch with Breeland throughout the process. If the price is right, he would still be the second-best cornerback on the team behind Norman, and his return would give the Redskins some continuity in the secondary.
High-level target: Lamarcus Joyner, Rams
Joyner is somewhat undersized at 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, but the 27-year-old doesn’t appear to have any issues with his frame on the field. He’s a versatile defensive back who can play free safety as the single high safety or rotate down and cover the slot when needed.
Here against the Saints, Joyner lines up in the slot across from Saints receiver Ted Ginn Jr. on the left side of the formation.
Ginn runs a simple slant route and initially gets inside of Joyner. But Joyner recovers quickly, undercutting the route as Drew Brees delivers the pass. Joyner is in perfect position to contest the pass as the ball arrives, deflecting it away from Ginn and nearly into the hands of the safety.
Joyner is also a capable defender in the deep middle of the field. He has good range and, despite his size, he packs a punch when breaking on routes underneath.
On this play, Joyner is the single deep safety in the middle of the field, nearly 20 yards off the line of scrimmage. The Texans receiver to the right runs a slant into the middle of the field.
Joyner reads the quarterback and quickly diagnoses his intent to throw the slant, driving down from his deep position on the route. Joyner arrives as the ball does and he lands a big hit, forcing the receiver to drop the ball.
Joyner would add some versatility to the Redskins’ secondary but will likely come with a lofty price tag. Joyner is one of the top defensive backs available and could receive the franchise tag from the Rams to keep him in Los Angeles.
Under-the-radar target: Kyle Fuller, Bears
Fuller bounced back from a 2016 season lost to injury to have a phenomenal 2017. He had two interceptions and 24 passes defended, good for a tie for third in the NFL. He’s not a press cornerback, preferring to play off, where he excels in zone coverage.
Here, the Steelers look to run a corner-flat route combination. The Bears play a two-deep coverage with Fuller in an underneath zone responsible for the flat.
However, Fuller reads and identifies the intent of the offense early in the play, and he sinks back in his zone to cover Antonio Brown on the corner route. With the ball already in the air, Fuller locates the ball and ignores Brown, playing the ball in the air. He wasn’t able to come away with the interception, but he made sure the ball fell incomplete.
While Fuller is an excellent zone cornerback, he’s also capable in man coverage.
On this play, Fuller works against Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, who runs a comeback route.
Fuller starts about five yards off the line of scrimmage and backpedals off the snap to gain more depth. As soon as Gordon shows his first sign of breaking off his route, Fuller drives down on the route. He then gets his eyes inside to locate the ball while undercutting the route. Fuller gets a hand on the ball just before it gets to Gordon, breaking up the pass.
Fuller is one of the better cornerbacks on the market, and he will likely get an opportunity to be a top cornerback elsewhere. But he does have links to the Redskins, being from Maryland and having played for Virginia Tech, where he was coached by Redskins defensive backs coach Torrian Gray.
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