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Assessing the Redskins: Linebackers

Perry Riley was arguably the best Redskins linebacker once he entered the starting lineup. Rich Kane/Icon SMI

The Redskins linebackers figured to a team strength, and they were. Led by the old man London Fletcher and the NFL infant Ryan Kerrigan, the linebackers were arguably the team's strongest unit this season. While it would have been nice to get a few more game-changing plays out of this group, it's a tepid complaint given their solid performance throughout the season.

Washington's starters for next season appear to be set -- if they re-sign free agent London Fletcher. If Fletcher departs for free agent dollars, or Washington opts not to re-sign him because he's 36, the team will need an inside linebacker. If they bring Fletcher back, they'll want to add some depth, but doing so won't be a top offseason priority.

The grades:

  • London Fletcher: A+ -- Fletcher was the team's most productive and consistent player throughout the season. An injury slowed him for  a couple games, but he was still at least solid in those. He led the league in tackles, and is making a second (and much-deserved) trip to the Super Bowl. Hopefully, a contract can be worked out because the loss of his leadership would be an even bigger blow than his stellar production.
  • Ryan Kerrigan: A -- In the running for defensive rookie of the year, Kerrigan was rock solid from week one. Still learning the position after playing defensive end in college, Kerrigan tallied 8 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 9 tackles for a loss, 4 forced fumbles, and an interception. A bright future is there for the taking since  Kerrigan is highly coachable and a hard worker.
  • Brian Orakpo: B -- Orakpo started the season griping about not getting enough respect and then went out and had a season that was good yet a little disappointing. Yes, Orakpo was productive, but he didn't make the leap into the league's elite outside linebackers, and he was not a week-in week-out disruptive force. If this is as good as it gets, he's still a good linebacker. But there remains the sense that greatness is within Orakpo's grasp. He's not there yet, however.
  • Perry Riley: A -- Riley took over the "other" inside linebacker spot from Rocky McIntosh, and the defense immediately improved. On a per-game basis, Riley was even with Fletcher as the team's best linebackers, and he should return as a starter next year. Despite starting only about half the team's games, he had as many tackles for a loss as Orakpo.
  • Rocky McIntosh: C- -- It's not that McIntosh is a bad player. He's strong and mobile and can deliver a wallop. But, he doesn't wrap up, and he tends to overrun plays or get faked out of his cleats. The net result is a guy who will probably have a spot in the NFL, but not in a starting role. He returned this season on a one-year contract and got benched, so his time in Washington is likely at an end. It would be fine to bring him back in a reserve role, but he's not a starter.
  • Rob Jackson: C -- Jackson is a solid reserve and special teams player. One scout told me Jackson's technical pass-rushing skills are better than Orakpo's for whatever that's worse. He'll return next season in a similar role.
  • Keyaron Fox: D -- Brought in as a special teams specialist, Fox had a few opportunities to play in the base defense and failed to impress. On teams, he's solid. But the team should be looking for someone better -- on both teams and as a backup linebacker.

For next season, the depth chart looks something like this:

Starters

  • Kerrigan
  • Fletcher/???
  • Riley
  • Orakpo

Reserves

  • Jackson
  • McIntosh/???
  • ???
  • ???

The immediate need is to re-sign Fletcher. If they can't (or won't) do that, they'll need a high-quality inside linebacker. Either way, they will need to add 2-3 reserves for depth, but that's doable in free agency and/or the draft -- even with all the other team needs.

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