When the 2019 season kicks off, the Washington Redskins are expected to have three or four starters from their 2018 draft class, and seven of their eight selections should see playing time in the regular rotation.
This can be viewed from two perspectives. On one hand, it’s clearly a positive that the team drafted well enough to have players ready for significant snaps in Year 2. The negative viewpoint is that the roster is in such a state that they need to rely on so many young players. Several of those players were forced into playing time as rookies, when the team had a league-high 24 players (including four rookies) land on injured reserve.
Take the slot receiver position. After Jamison Crowder left for the New York Jets in free agency, Trey Quinn, the last player selected in the 2018 draft, is in line for a bigger role despite having just three games of experience. Quinn impressed during training camp, but the combination of his injury history and inexperience creates a question mark at the position.
The goal for all NFL teams should be to draft well enough that young players on first contracts can fill significant roles quickly, allowing teams to spend more money on difference-makers at key positions. Players such as Daron Payne and 2017 first-rounder Jonathan Allen are examples of that, but there’s also risk in being forced to play youngsters before they’re ready.
Here’s a look at each member of the 2018 draft class and his expected role for this season — keeping in mind that much could change with additional free agent signings and this year’s draft.
Round 1, 13th overall: Defensive tackle Daron Payne (Alabama)
The Redskins were one of the worst run defenses in the NFL before Payne arrived. He was a major factor in Washington finishing 15th against the run in 2018, and that was after ranking as one of the best in the league before injuries affected every defensive category. Payne has all of the makings of a long-term star. He already commands double-teams because of his strength, and he has good enough feet to be more than a bull-rusher. He started all 16 games and recorded five sacks and eight quarterback hits to go with 56 tackles. The plan is for Payne and Allen to anchor what the team hopes will be one of the better defensive lines in the league.
Round 2, 59th overall: Running back Derrius Guice (LSU)
After rumors of character issues contributed to his slide into the second round last year, Guice became a fan favorite just through organized team activities and three weeks of training camp. He showed all of the traits that made many evaluators rank him the second-best running back in the class behind Saquon Barkley — speed, power, sharp cuts — before a torn ACL at the end of a 34-yard run in the first preseason game ended his rookie season. Guice was the team’s top back before his injury, but he will share time in the backfield with Adrian Peterson, who re-signed this offseason after being signed off the street in August and taking over as Washington’s top running back. The questions: How long will Guice’s recovery last? And how will the carries be split once he returns?
Round 3, 74th overall: Offensive tackle Geron Christian (Louisville)
Christian’s season ended after he played three snaps in a 16-3 win over Tampa Bay in Week 10. He tore a medial collateral ligament that required surgery and sent him to injured reserve. Injuries forced him into the lineup earlier than the Redskins had planned; he made his debut in Week 9 against Atlanta after guards Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff were hurt and Trent Williams was inactive with a thumb injury. Christian is athletic, and the team hopes he can develop into the right tackle of the future, but there’s plenty of work before he gets there. He will be a backup in 2019.
Round 4, 109th overall: Safety Troy Apke (Penn State)
The concern about Apke when drafted was that he’s more of a speedster (he ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash) than a well-rounded talent. He never disproved that as a rookie: He didn’t play a defensive snap before going on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. (Apke did play on special teams.) But Washington might need him to play a key role this year. The Redskins cut starter D.J. Swearinger before the final game of last season and still don’t know how an assault arrest will affect Montae Nicholson’s availability. The team signed Landon Collins to be a starter, but it needs additional contributors at the position.
Round 5, 163rd overall: Defensive tackle Tim Settle (Virginia Tech)
Settle was considered a steal in the fifth round, but he was still developing as a rookie. He got more snaps in the final seven weeks of the season and showed flashes of power and athleticism, but he had work to do on technique and endurance. Settle’s presence is one of the reasons the defensive line is one of the strongest and deepest positions on the roster. He will rotate behind Payne, Allen and Matt Ioannidis in his second season.
Round 6, 197th overall: Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton (Alabama)
Hamilton is expected to be the staring inside linebacker alongside Mason Foster when the season kicks off. He supplanted Zach Brown in the lineup in the final four games of the season, and Brown was released this offseason to make way for the former Alabama captain. The Redskins envision a future with Hamilton and Reuben Foster as the starting inside linebackers once Foster comes off the commissioner’s exempt list and serves an expected suspension. This is the first healthy offseason Hamilton has had in years, so big things are expected for the cerebral second-year player.
Round 7, 241st overall: Cornerback Greg Stroman (Virginia Tech)
Stroman went from being doubtful to make the 53-man roster to starting important NFC East games against Dallas and New York while the team was still in contention. The Redskins decided to go with a youth movement at cornerback behind Josh Norman and Quinton Dunbar, but a nerve issue in Dunbar’s leg pushed Stroman into a significant role earlier than planned. He gave up big touchdowns against New Orleans and the Cowboys and found himself on an Odell Beckham Jr. highlight reel, but teammates and coaches loved his ability to let the bad plays go. Stroman won’t have the pressure of starting this season but should be an improved rotational cornerback with another year of punt and kickoff return responsibilities.
Round 7, 256th overall: Trey Quinn (SMU)
Crowder’s departure increased Quinn’s expected workload. He was the backup slot receiver as a rookie and proved to be an elusive route runner with strong hands. He scored a touchdown in a Thanksgiving loss to the Cowboys, but a persistent ankle injury cost him most of his rookie year. Quinn will get the opportunity to have a significant role in the offense in 2019, and he would be the starting slot receiver if the season began today.
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