With two preseason games in the rearview mirror, it's worth taking a minute to look at each position and consider who will make the team's 53-man opening day roster. Starters appear set at most positions, but there's still competition for backup roles. At each position, I'm not trying to determine the precise depth chart (though my lists are in approximate order), but simply who the team would keep if they were required to make cuts today.
Quarterback (3) -- John Beck and Rex Grossman are locks. The Skins will likely keep a third QB, which will be either Kellen Clemons or Ben Chappel. Clemons probably gets the job -- he's played before Chappel in each preseason game, and Chappel has yet to attempt a pass in the preseason. It is conceivable that the Skins cut both and simply go with two QBs to start the season, but they'll probably keep Clemons.
Running Back (3) -- Tim Hightower has impressed, and will start the season as the feature back. Roy Helu and Evan Royster are the backups, though it's hard to tell in which order. The wrinkle here is that Ryan Torain, who led the team in rushing last season, has been out with a hand injury. If he comes back playing like he did last year, the coaching staff will have a tough decision. Can they afford to use a fourth roster spot on a ball carrier? My guess is no. The odd man out will probably be Torain and his significant injury history.
Fullback (1) -- Darrel Young is the man. He's a good blocker and pass receiver and will be the starter. If the Skins keep a second FB , it's probably Keiland Williams, who was the team's 3rd down back and reserve ball carrier last season. Previous incumbent Mike Sellers has been moved to tight end, but could be a reserve at both FB and TE. That plus Sellers special teams prowess may keep him on the team for another season.
Wide Receiver (5) -- The top three are set: Santana Moss, Jabar Gafney, and Anthony Armstrong. After that, Leonard Hankerson, Donte Stallworth, Terrence Austin and Niles Paul are competing for two spots. Brandon Banks won't make the team as a receiver, but could be on the roster as a return specialist. I don't see a way for Malcolm Kelly to make the team, even if he gets back on the practice field and plays well. His injury history is too lengthy for the Skins to trust him. My guess is that Hankerson (despite drop issues) and Stallworth will make the opening day roster with Austin and Paul going to the practice squad.
Tight End (3) -- Chris Cooley, Fred Davis and Logan Paulsen will make the team. I think Sellers makes it too as a TE, FB and special teams guy. If Cooley shows he's 100% healthy, Sellers could be released to make room for an extra receiver or defensive back. It's clear to me that Sellers is close to the end of his tenure with the team, but I think his versatility and Cooley's knee troubles will keep him around into the season.
Offensive Line (8) -- Trent Williams, Kory Lichtentsteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester and Jammal Brown will make the roster. All are sure starters, except possibly Lichtensteiger. The sure backups will be Sean Locklear, Erik Cook and Artis Hicks. Maurice Hurt, Clint Oldenburg and Willie Smith are pushing for roster spots and could move past Cook and Hicks. The Skins could keep 9. Figure Hurt and Smith will be sent to the practice squad, at least to start the season.
Specialists (4) -- The kicker will be Graham Gano. The punter is Sav Rocca. Nick Sundburg looks safe as the long snapper. If Brandon Banks makes the team, it'll be as a return specialist -- and that will largely depend on the health of his ailing knee. If the knee doesn't improve, or if the team decides they can't afford the extra roster spot, the team will keep Austin or Paul as a 6th receiver and let Banks go. My guess is that the only issue will be Banks' health. If he's well enough, he'll be the team's return man. For now, I have him penciled in on the final roster.
Defensive Line (7) -- Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Adam Carriker and Jarvis Jenkins will make the team. Kedrick Golston has also all but won his spot. That leaves Anthony Bryant, Darrion Scott, Doug Worthington and Chris Neild competing for two spots. Bryant probably makes it due to his experience. Neild -- the 7th round pick -- likely is headed to the practice squad. Scott and Worthington each made plays against the Colts. I wouldn't be surprised to see Scott on the roster with Worthington joining Neild on the practice squad.
Linebacker (8) -- These six are locks: Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, London Fletcher, Keyaron Fox, Rob Jackson and Perry Riley. Rocky McIntosh will almost certainly make the team -- he's still listed as the starter at inside LB. That leaves Horatio Blades (who arrived at camp overweight and still looks pudgy), Markus White, Thaddeus Gibson and Edgar Jones to compete for a single spot. Gibson showed why the Skins snapped him up from the waiver wire by overpowering a Colts tackle for a sack. Jones sustained a concussion against the Colts and will miss practice time, which hurts his prospects. I think Jones ultimately makes the team with Gibson and White going to the practice squad. Gibson could make the team if they keep a 9th LB.
Defensive Back (9) -- Locks: DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, Kevin Barnes, Laron Landry, Oshiomogho Atogwe. Phillip Buchanon will make the team as a reserve corner back, but must serve a 4-game suspension. That means the team will keep another CB until at least week 5, and that figures to be Byron Westbrook. At safety, Reed Doughty and Chris Horton appear to be on solid ground. Kareem Moore or DeJon Gomes could supplant Horton.
Note: this roster projection adds up to 51, not 53. That leaves space for two more players. I figure roster spot #52 goes to Sellers. The 53rd will probably go to a 9th offensive lineman, an 8th defensive lineman, or a 9th linebacker.
No matter what, it's clear that the Skins will release a number of good football players when they settle on their final roster. This is a good thing. Shanhan and Bruce Allen have significantly upgraded the team's depth and overall talent level. There's competition across the board, and there appears to be several legitimate NFL players at every position. There are still big question marks at QB, but early signs are promising.