- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2016

By Saturday at 4 p.m., the Washington Redskins will have finalized their 53-man roster. There are always tough decisions, but this year certainly seems to feature more. Several players who are on the horizon of making the roster have displayed prominent preseason performances, but could find themselves on the wrong side of that bubble.

It’s not an indictment on their talent, but more so the quality depth the Redskins are developing the roster. When a team can afford to cut players that will likely end up on another team this season, that’s a good sign of progress.

That has shown already when the Redskins opted to cut veterans Perry Riley Jr. and Stephen Paea. I’d be surprised if both are not on another NFL roster at some point this season.

With that, here is a projection of what the 53-man roster looks like on Saturday.

Quarterbacks (3)

In: Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld.

There aren’t many questions here other than do the Redskins use a spot to keep Sudfeld on the roster rather than risk a team signing him from the practice squad? Burning a spot for a guy that won’t be active all season barring significant injuries could seem wasteful, but I don’t the Redskins do it.

Running backs (4)

In: Matt Jones, Chris Thompson, Robert Kelley.

Last one in: Mack Brown.

Keeping four running backs is unconventional but the Redskins can do it without a traditional fullback on the roster. Jones is expected to return from his separated left shoulder injury by the regular season but that injury could linger. Based on his previous injury history, it doesn’t hurt to have insurance on the roster. Kelley endeared himself to coaches with his decisive running and pass protection skills. After Brown’s 149-yard rushing performance in the preseason finale, it’s hard not to keep him.

Tight ends (3)

In: Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Niles Paul.

Last one out: Logan Paulsen.

It appeared the Redskins would be in position to keep four, but it seems more beneficial to keep a fourth running back. Davis’ run blocking has been a pleasant surprise since the Redskins bought the veteran in this season, which makes Paulsen expendable. Paul gives the team versatility both at the line of scrimmage and the fullback position.

Wide receivers (6)

In: DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, Ryan Grant, Josh Doctson, Rashad Ross.

Last out: Maurice Harris.

This group had little room for change after returning everyone but rookie Josh Doctson from last season. Ross showed an improved skillset this summer, offering more than just the deep route, and the Redskins like them as the kick returner. It’s the second consecutive preseason Ross has led the team in receiving. In those two years, he’s combined for 36 catches, 394 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s earned it.

Offensive line (8)

In: Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao, Brandon Scherff, Morgan Moses, Kory Lichtensteiger, Spencer Long, Ty Nsekhe, Vinston Painter.

Last out: Arie Kouandjio, Austin Reiter.

Coach Jay Gruden has yet to name a starting left guard. Long has played more in the preseason with the starters, but the Redskins liked the way Lauvao was playing before he got hurt last season. It will be interesting to see who starts Week 1. If the team is confident Lauvao is fully healthy and knocked off the rust from his five offseason surgeries, he gets the nod. With Long learning the center position, he gives the Redskins options if there is an injury in-game to Lichtensteiger. It’s unlikely the Redskins keep Reiter on the roster unless a significant injury occurs and they desire a true center. They can get by with Long in a pinch, which leaves Reiter on the practice squad. Ty Nsekhe has a lock on the backup tackle position. The other backup guard spot is where it could get interesting. The Redskins brought in veteran Vinston Painter this week and he played 26 snaps in the preseason finale. If Washington feels they saw enough to indicate he can contribute, Kouandjio has practice squad eligibility. Though he was on the active roster last season, he only dressed in three games.

Defensive line (7)

In: Chris Baker, Ziggy Hood, Kedric Golston, Kendall Reyes, Ricky Jean Francois, Cullen Jenkins, Anthony Lanier.

Last out: Matt Ioannidis, Corey Crawford.

Baker and Hood are locks and the latter has been an impressive surprise after the team signed him to a one-year deal in the offseason. After only playing two games last season, the 29-year-old has more than proven he has something to offer. He’s versatile and can play nose tackle as well as end, which is a big boost for this defensive front. It was surprising to see Jean Francois travel to Tampa Bay for the final game, though he did not play. Perhaps they brought him as an emergency — most of the starters remained in Washington after the team’s Welcome Home Luncheon. It’s puzzling, but I’d still be surprised if he was cut. The Redskins also signed the 35-year-old Jenkins on Monday. After they cut Stephen Paea, it seemed he had a spot on the roster and I think he earned it Wednesday. Washington wanted to see if he still played with enough quickness to warrant a roster spot and he played 18 snaps and recorded a sack. Lanier has come on strong in the last three preseason games and I think it warrants sending Ioannidis to the practice squad.

Inside linebacker (5)

In: Will Compton, Mason Foster, Martrell Spaight, Su’a Cravens, Terence Garvin.

This group became certain last week when veteran Perry Riley Jr. barely played in the third preseason game. The Redskins liked the depth behind Compton and Foster, which made Riley expandable as a $5 million backup. Spaight and Cravens have come on strong in the preseason, and Garvin’s special teams production won him a spot.

Outside linebacker (4)

In: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Trent Murphy, Houston Bates.

Last one out: Lynden Trail.

This is another tough one. I think before Murphy was moved back to outside linebacker from defensive end, Trail had a good shot at making this team. Bates is a strong special teams contributor, so much that coach Ben Kotwica asked him to be a leader for the unit after Darrel Young was not re-signed. Trail also made some good plays on special teams as well in the preseason finale such as the forced fumble on a punt return. If the Redskins choose to keep six defensive linemen, Trail could sneak in.

Cornerback (6)

In: Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland, Dashaun Phillips, Greg Toler, Quinton Dunbar, Kendall Fuller.

This group is fairly straightforward. Phillips returned from the offseason and emerged as the nickel corner. Toler, who was signed to a one-year deal, was also a surprise, so much so that in training camp Gruden called him the “forgotten man of the secondary” after he made some nice plays. Dunbar continues to learn since switching from wide receiver last season and Fuller has improved toward the end of the preseason and plays with good effort.

Safety (4)

In: DeAngelo Hall, David Bruton, Duke Ihenacho, Will Blackmon.

Last one out: Deshazor Everett.

This is probably the toughest cut. Everett has played exceptionally well on special teams and was moved to safety from cornerback this season. Keeping five safeties would be tough only for the special teams addition, but the Redskins could find room elsewhere if they feel strongly about keeping Everett. He played 90 snaps in the finale, including a team-high 67 on defense.

Special teams (3)

In: Dustin Hopkins, Tress Way, Nick Sundberg.

This trio is so solid they weren’t challenged in training camp. Plus they’re filthy at ping pong.

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