Roster cuts are coming for the Washington Football Team. But ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for teams to trim down from 80 to 53 players, coach Ron Rivera and his staff will be in meetings to discuss how they want to finalize a roster that’s much deeper than past years.
With that said, here’s a 53-man roster projection to predict what Washington might do:
Quarterbacks (3): Ryan Fitzpatrick, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen. This position has been set since the beginning of OTAs. There’s an argument to be made that Washington should only keep two, but Allen is coming off an ankle injury and is only an $850,000 hit to the cap — a bargain, as quarterbacks go. Last year’s problems at the position — Washington used four different quarterbacks — are probably more than enough to convince Rivera to keep all three.
The lone cut here is Steven Montez, who is very much still a raw prospect two years into his career. The Colorado product could land on the practice squad after cuts.
Running backs (4): Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Peyton Barber, Jaret Patterson. Washington ran something of a test earlier this month against the Cincinnati Bengals. On fourth-and-1, the team wanted to see if Gibson could convert the short-yardage situation, a role usually reserved last season for Barber. Gibson, however, didn’t punch through the hole — an indication that Barber could still be needed in 2021. Barber, a six-year veteran, isn’t flashy and his 2.7 yards per carry average is subpar. But he can squeeze through a crowded line, which could make him worth keeping.
Washington only had three running backs last year on its initial 53-man roster, but Patterson’s emergence should land him a spot. The undrafted free agent out of Buffalo was a standout in two preseason games and he could be used as a kick returner on special teams.
Tight ends (3): Logan Thomas, John Bates, Sammis Reyes. Like Patterson, Reyes is another nice training camp story. The former college basketball-turned-football player has a ways to go in his development, meaning he likely won’t contribute all that much this year. But his 6-foot-7 stature and other physical traits make him an intriguing prospect. Remember, Washington gave Reyes a three-year, $2.4 million deal and a roster spot outright instead of trying to land the Chile native through the International Pathway Program. Washington likely won’t want to risk exposing Reyes to waivers and having some other team pick him up.
The notable cut here is Ricky Seals-Jones, a veteran who had moments during camp.
Wide receiver (7): Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Adam Humphries, Dyami Brown, Cam Sims, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Dax Milne. This might be the hardest position to predict. Washington hasn’t kept seven receivers since 2012, and it’s rare for a team to do so. Then again, eight teams — one-fourth of the league — kept seven receivers on the roster in 2020, perhaps an indication franchises are more willing to do so in a pass-happy league.
Washington arguably needs a seventh receiver because the team lacks a clear punt returner on the roster. For that reason, Milne, a seventh-round rookie, edges out veteran DeAndre Carter. Carter had a strong start to camp, but Milne lined up as the punt returner in Saturday’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens and has flashed more offensively.
Offensive line (9): Charles Leno, Ereck Flowers, Chase Roullier, Brandon Scherff, Sam Cosmi, Cornelius Lucas, Wes Schweitzer, Saahdiq Charles and Tyler Larsen. Rivera loves offensive line depth and would ideally keep 10 linemen. But because of other spots on the roster, Washington can afford to go nine. The team can also take comfort in that the unit appears to have a lot of positional flexibility. Charles, for instance, can play four spots along the line, according to Rivera — left tackle, left guard, right guard and right tackle. That makes it easier to cut someone like David Sharpe, a swing tackle who was a backup for Washington in 2020.
Among other things to note with this group, Larsen is likely to beat out 2020 fifth-rounder Keith Ismael. Larsen was signed in free agency after spending the first five years of his career in Carolina, overlapping with Rivera.
Defensive line (8): Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, Matt Ioannidis, Tim Settle, James Smith-Williams, Shaka Toney. When Rivera referenced that six spots were up for grabs after Saturday’s preseason finale, it would make sense if he was partially referring to the backup defensive end. After letting Ryan Kerrigan go, Washington lacks a clear rotational pass rusher behind Young and Sweat. The team drafted seventh-rounders Toney and William Bradley-King and were optimistic that second-year players like Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill would take a step forward.
But Toohill (toe) missed a big chunk of training camp with an injury. Smith-Williams was also sidelined recently with a sore leg after undergoing shin surgery in the offseason, though still seems to be a safe bet to make the roster. For the final spot, let’s have Toney — a speedy pass-rusher out of Penn State — edge out Bradley-King, David Bada and Daniel Wise. Toney’s speed could provide the highest upside of that bunch, though it wouldn’t be a surprise if the last spot went to someone else.
Linebackers (5): Jamin Davis, Jon Bostic, Cole Holcomb, Khaleke Hudson, David Mayo. Finally, an easier position to sort out. The first four spots are locks, while the last spot came down to Mayo and Jared Norris. Norris was a tough omission — Washington values his special teams prowess, in particular. But Mayo was signed in the offseason and has more starting experience. Jordan Kusnazyk and Joe Walker were other notable cuts, players who could possibly wind up on the practice squad.
Cornerbacks (6): William Jackson III, Kendall Fuller, Benjamin St-Juste, Jimmy Moreland, Torry McTyer, Troy Apke. It might be noteworthy that Moreland wasn’t among the large group of starters and reserves Washington’s coaches rested against the Baltimore Ravens. But Moreland, last year’s primary slot cornerback, should be safe, all things considered.
The last two spots at cornerback could be debated. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio dubbed McTyer a “pleasant surprise,” though his roster spot could be in jeopardy after suffering a concussion over the weekend. Perhaps McTyer’s injury opens a spot for Darryl Roberts or Danny Johnson, the latter of whom can return kicks and play on special teams. That said, McTyer’s body of work and impressive camp should be enough for him to stick.
As for the sixth spot, Apke’s case is clear: Rivera called the 2018 fourth-rounder a special teams ace and noted how those are hard to find.
Safeties (5): Landon Collins, Kam Curl, Bobby McCain, Deshazor Everett, Darrick Forrest. Jeremy Reaves’ absence from this list was tough. Still, it’s hard to imagine Washington parting ways with Forrest, its fifth-round draft pick, so soon. Rivera said that a rookie’s draft status is usually factored into the team’s decision-making process during roster cuts. Reaves went from the practice squad to starting three games in 2020. Perhaps Washington hopes it can keep Reaves on the practice squad again.
Specialists (3): Dustin Hopkins, Tress Way, Camaron Cheeseman
These are set — even with Hopkins’ struggles in the preseason. Rivera has repeatedly backed Hopkins this offseason, doing so again after the kicker missed a 55-yarder over the weekend.
“We’re going to go with him,” Rivera said.