Washington Redskins: 5 players to watch at rookie minicamp

Mar 4, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson speaks to the media during the 2017 combine at Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Redskins’ 2017 rookie minicamp gets underway this weekend, but which players should fans have their eyes on?

The 2017 NFL Draft is in the books. Now it’s time to see the players on the field for the first time. For the Washington Redskins, who signed nine members of their 2017 draft class on Thursday — third-round cornerback Fabian Moreau remains unsigned — it’s time for the team’s annual rookie minicamp.

The Redskins finally get a chance to see first-round pick Jonathan Allen and second-rounder Ryan Anderson. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula gets his first opportunity coach the talented Allen, while defensive coordinator Greg Manusky gets his first glimpse of Anderson in on-field drills. Moreau and seventh-round pick Joshua Holsey will not participate due to previous injuries.

Rookie minicamp is an opportunity for undrafted players to earn a spot on the 90-man roster with an invitation to training camp. That’s where you get noticed. Last year, players like Robert Kelley, Anthony Lanier and Maurice Harris all made Washington’s 53-man roster. Kelley even ended the season as the team’s starting running back. Harris not only made the roster, but proved to be a reliable third-down weapon for quarterback Kirk Cousins throughout the season.

The spotlight will be on numerous Washington rookies this weekend. Who can potentially be the next Kelley? Or, will one of the lower-round rookies impress coaches?

Washington Redskins

Apr 27, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Jonathan Allen (Alabama) poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (right) as he is selected as the number 17 overall pick to the Washington Redskins in the first round the 2017 NFL Draft at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

5. Jonathan Allen, DL

Rich Tandler of CSN Mid-Atlantic reported that the San Francisco 49ers called the Redskins on draft day about the No. 17 pick and were offering their second-, third- and fourth-round choices to come back into the first round. The Redskins, with Jonathan Allen on the board, said no thanks and went with the player they felt could transform their feeble defensive line into a team strength.

This weekend, Washington finally gets a chance to see Allen on the field and in a Redskins uniform for the first time. It’s exciting for the team and exciting for Allen, too. A native of Leesburg, VA, Allen literally returns home to play for his favorite childhood team.

Allen offers the Redskins all types of versatility. And Tomsula is exactly the kind of coach who will get the best of Allen. While the competitive portion of rookie minicamp will likely be held to a minimum, just seeing the rookie from Alabama on the field for the first time as a professional is exciting for Redskins Nation.

Rookie minicamp is also a great time for players to learn the playbook and receive some classroom time. Meetings in the NFL can be grueling. However, with Allen coming from Alabama, it’s probably routine.

Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson (22) attempts to sack Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

4. Ryan Anderson, OLB

Like Allen, Ryan Anderson is from Alabama and another player fans are excited about. Coaches are excited about him, too, feeling they got a first-round talent with the 49th overall pick. While Anderson is listed as an outside linebacker, he offers Washington plenty of options.

In a league that loves versatility, Anderson is a terrific prospect. Before the draft, the only knocks on Anderson were things he couldn’t control. Size and arm length. And he wasn’t the quick-twitch athlete teams fall in love with either. However, Anderson checks all of the other boxes.

An experienced player having started for Nick Saban, Anderson is as pro-ready as any outside linebacker in the 2017 NFL Draft. He plays with a mean streak, is a strong tackler and can get after the quarterback. Ask Deshaun Watson. Two of Anderson’s most important attributes are football intelligence and instincts. Those specific skills could allow Anderson to play inside in Washington’s 3-4 defense. If not, Anderson can stick outside and put pressure on the passer.

Washington coaches finally get a chance to see him on the field in rookie minicamp. They can get a feel for what he’s ready for and what he needs work on. Minicamp is also a great opportunity for Anderson to show coaches he’s ready to compete with inconsistent veterans like Preston Smith and Trent Murphy.

Sep 17, 2016; Madison, WI, USA; Georgia State Panthers wide receiver Robert Davis (19) catches a pass for a touchdown during the third quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

3. Robert Davis, WR

At first glance, the Redskins have a pretty strong group of wide receivers. Terrelle Pryor, Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Brian Quick, Ryan Grant are some of the experienced options on Washington’s depth chart. However, Pryor and Quick are in D.C. on one-year deals, while Grant’s roster spot is tenuous at best.

Davis is a tantalizing prospect because of his size and speed. At 6-3 and 219 pounds, Davis also ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the Combine. He has large hands and possesses plenty of experience. Davis, a sixth-round pick, was likely around later in the draft because a lot of people weren’t really sure about him. At Georgia State, Davis was a victim of poor quarterback play. One positive in that is it helped expand an already impressive catch radius.

Rookie minicamp won’t make or break Davis. He is going to need to prove to coaches he can make it on special teams, though. That will separate him from the rest of the pack. And minicamp is a perfect time for Davis to prove he will do anything to earn a roster spot in 2017.

Another positive for Davis at this weekend’s minicamp is Davis is likely to be the top pass-catcher on the field for the Redskins. So, this is an excellent time for Davis to make a name for himself.

Josh Harvey-Clemons 2017 NFL Draft

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

2. Josh Harvey-Clemons, S/LB

With one of their seventh-round picks, the Redskins took a flier on Louisville safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. With his selection, it’s clear Washington is planning on playing a hybrid defense. Anderson gives the Redskins options and so does Harvey-Clemons.

At 6-4, 217 pounds, Harvey-Clemons has imposing size. He began his career at Georgia before getting in trouble on more than one occasion and transferring to Louisville. While he rehabbed his reputation with the Cardinals, Harvey-Clemons didn’t necessarily boost his draft stock. He had some good moments over the last two seasons and his weaknesses also showed.

What the Redskins hope with Harvey-Clemons is he can add a few more pounds to his frame and play the role of a dime linebacker. It’s the role the team envisioned for Su’a Cravens last year before deciding to make him a full-time safety.

Signing his contract and getting right to work is a positive for Harvey-Clemons. It allows him to get on the field with his new teammates and spend some one-on-one time with his coaches. At the rookie minicamp, the staff will see exactly what they have in Harvey-Clemons and likely develop a role for him over the summer.

Stopping opposing tight ends continues to be an issue for the Redskins. Perhaps Harvey-Clemons can help solve that dilemma.

Sep 3, 2016; Lubbock, TX, USA; Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks quarterback Zach Conquer (2) is pressured by Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive end Kolin Hill (13) and defensive end Ondre Pipkins (9) in the first half at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

1. Ondre Pipkins, NT

Remember when head coach Jay Gruden said Tomsula promised him he’d find a nose tackle? Well, in Texas Tech defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins, an undrafted free agent, Tomsula may have found his guy. It isn’t without risk, of course. But how much risk is there in an undrafted free agent with loads of talent? The biggest problem with Pipkins is his health. And it is a major problem.

Pipkins began his college career at Michigan as a five-star prospect. However, he tore an ACL which cost him most of one season, while a neck injury compromised another season. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wanted Pipkins to retire from football (per ESPN), which led to him transferring to Texas Tech for his final season of eligibility.

Pipkins played his final season for the Red Raiders and likely went undrafted due to the medical concerns. For Washington, it’s a low-risk, possibly high-reward signing. The Redskins won’t need a true nose tackle expect for between 15-20 snaps per game. Can Pipkins give the Redskins that? Pipkins is probably Washington’s best bet for an undrafted rookie free agent to the make the team in 2017.

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