Sep 25, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants tight end Will Tye (45) attempts to catch a pass as Washington Redskins linebacker Will Compton (51) defends during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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The linebacker position had been a weakness for the Washington Redskins in prior seasons. Has that changed now?
The Washington Redskins have had some issues at the linebacker position over the past five years. They had struggled to replace London Fletcher since he declined, but they have been able to add some solid pieces this year. They are far from a perfect unit, but they have fared well enough to date.
That said, they have some major issues as well. The group is filled with potential packed players, but are the results where they need to be? We will explore that as we grade the performance of the Redskins linebacker group through the first eight games of the season.
Aug 19, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; New York Jets tight end Kellen Davis (47) fumbles on a hit by Washington Redskins linebacker Perry Riley Jr. (56), linebacker Martrell Spaight (50) and linebacker Preston Smith (94) in the second quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
There has not been a linebacker that has disappointed more than Martrell Spaight this season. The second year player had lost almost his whole rookie season to a concussion, but he was ready to come back strong. He looked great in the preseason and was in contention to take on a role as a primary backup.
That never materialized. Spaight has played just four defensive snaps this season and has spent most of his time as a special teams player. On that unit, he has failed to record a single tackle. He really has not flashed, and at times it seems like he is not even on the team.
Despite his disappointing start, Spaight still has potential. After all, he looked like a role player in the preseason, but he just has not gotten a chance. I am not sure that Jay Gruden and the coaching staff are confident in his ability. It will be interesting to watch this situation moving forward. For now, I have to give Spaight a bad grade.
Aug 19, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins linebacker Terence Garvin (52) breaks up a pass intended for New York Jets wide receiver Charone Peake (17) during the second half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
When the Redskins brought in Terence Garvin over the 2016 offseason, it was for one purpose and one purpose only. The linebacker was to help with the special teams unit and be one of the aces there next to Houston Bates. That move has panned out thus far, as Garvin has done well in limited action.
Garvin has had an impact when on the field, and he has even gotten a chance to play at linebacker a bit. He does not have a big enough sample size to judge him, but he has shown versatility. That is what counts in this situation. He also has record 0.5 sacks, so the team at least knows that he can help bring down a man if put into the right situation.
On special teams, Garvin has been even better. He has greatly helped the unit improve and he should continue to play at a high level. He is definitely a likeable player.
Still, at the end of the day it is hard to give Garvin a grade higher than average. He unfortunately qualifies as a replaceable cog. As a result, the grade will not overvalue him.
Oct 9, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Washington Redskins inside linebacker Mason Foster (54) celebrates after tackling Baltimore Ravens running back Terrance West (28) during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium. Washington Redskins defeated Baltimore Ravens 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Another player who looked good early was Mason Foster. From the start of the game, Foster just seemed to be around the football. He recorded four tackles during the game and his instincts were absolutely terrific. Though he has struggled a bit in pass coverage in the past, Foster looks like he will be able to take one of the starting jobs at the middle linebacker position.
Well, Foster has been good, but he has not been altogether stellar.
Foster’s main skill set is his run stopping ability. He does have above average instincts, and that is his big strength. However, after recording 14 total tackles in the opener, he has slowed down a bit. The veteran has recorded 39 in the seven weeks since, and he has been losing some playing time in coverage situations to Su’a Cravens. This has been an issue as it virtually limits him to being a two down linebacker.
Of course, that may be justified. Foster does struggle in coverage due to his stiff hips and inability to make quick breaks towards receivers. He is still a good player, and a decent starter. He just is not a great coverage player.
With all of that said, Foster definitely is still an above average player. He deserves a solid grade and maybe he will get more opportunities as the season goes on.
Since the 2016 NFL Draft, I have been a huge fan of Su’a Cravens. The young linebacker was a real playmaker at USC, and I was interested to see how his skill set would translate to the NFL. Thus far, the experiment has been a good one for the Redskins.
Cravens looks to be a future star through half of a season. He possesses great athleticism and excellent coverage skills. Because he had some experience at safety, he was naturally better in coverage than most linebackers. Still, he has already defended four passes and notched a sack. Cravens can virtually do it all. He has the potential to be one of the league’s top linebackers.
The rookie linebacker was absolutely clutch late in the game. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Cravens wreaked havoc in the backfield and picked up a sack. He also deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage to help derail a Bengals drive.
That type of playmaking ability was huge for the team, and it will continue to be huge.
The only issue for Cravens is his health. He suffered a concussion and missed a couple of games as a result. He should be okay, but the team needs to take his long term health into account if he suffers another. At the end of the day, he is going to get the most solid of grades.
Oct 2, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (16) make a catch as Washington Redskins linebacker Will Compton (51) looks on during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Of all the Redskins linebackers, the most impressive of the 2016 season has been Will Compton. The former undrafted free agent out of Nebraska was entering his first full season as the starter. Thus far in extended action, he has looked like a very solid player.
Compton has a good nose for the football, but the area that he really excels in is coverage. Through eight games this season,, Compton has posted five pass defenses and also an interception. Considering that his primary job is to work as a tackler, those numbers are spectacular. He has been fluid in space, and that has really helped the Redskins to fare batter in the pass defense category.
In addition to the strong performance in the passing game, Compton has been able to perform well in the run game. The veteran has recorded 67 total tackles (39 solo) and has been able to move up in support quickly. Simply put, he has great instincts and that has allowed him to become the solid starter that he now is.
Overall, the team has to be excited by Compton’s performance. The team had a weakness at the middle linebacker position, but Compton has filled it nicely. He also has played 97 percent of the snaps. As long as he continues to be healthy, he should see a lot of playing time and as a result, a lot of success.
Oct 2, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson Jr. (29) is tackled by Washington Redskins linebacker Mason Foster (54) during the second half at FedEx Field. Washington Redskins wins 31 – 20. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Overall Linebackers Grade
This unit is one that the Redskins have built themselves. They have found impact players both in and outside of the draft. They have signed underappreciated free agents to help fill roles and that has definitely made them stronger.
That said, this is not the strongest unit on the team. They do not have any standout players, though they have many potential packed guys. That is good news for them, but that will not be known until a couple of years from now.
Personally, I like the Redskins linebackers, but I do not want to overrate them. I think that an above average grade is fair game.