Washington Redskins: Christian Jones

Offseason needs: inside linebacker

March, 4, 2014
Next up in the offseason needs category: inside linebacker. This could be a tricky one to fill because, while there are some good options, there's not a lot of depth of choices for teams that need an immediate starter.

Why it’s a need: The Redskins have to replace starter, and captain, London Fletcher. Perry Riley is a free agent, too. If he somehow leaves, then they’d obviously have to find two starters. They also need to find more depth, especially players who can help on special teams. The Redskins would like to re-sign Riley, but if he gets in that $5 million a year range, then it’s tough to justify. I don’t know that he’s going to get a whole lot better than he is now.

In-house options: The Redskins don’t have many. Keenan Robinson is coming off his second torn pectoral muscle in as many seasons and there’s no way you can project him as a starter. He lacks experience and must prove he’s durable. He has good speed and can help in coverage, but my guess is they’d be happy if he became a part-time player who helps more on special teams. He needs a year to show what he can do. Nick Barnett is a free agent and not an option. He was a two-down guy and not well-suited for special teams. Bryan Kehl also is a free agent and coming off a torn ACL. He's a backup/special teamer. They need a starter.

Free agent options: The player that jumped out for me was Arizona’s Karlos Dansby. He was the best all-around inside linebacker of the available options, but it’s hard to see the Cardinals letting him walk. He moved well laterally, arrived with some pop and did a good job taking on blockers. As coaches like to say, he played with his eyes. D’Qwell Jackson is free, but seems more interested on returning to a 4-3 where his play was better than in a 3-4. He was OK; didn’t think he was special but also didn’t see a lot of missed tackles in the games I watched. I saw him too often trying to avoid blocks, which is OK if it works but it can also take you out of the play. New England’s Brandon Spikes is a two-down player tops, coming out in obvious passing situations. But he’s excellent against the run. Keep in mind, though, one of his best games last year occurred against Cincinnati and Jay Gruden’s offense. In that game, I saw him getting off blocks well to make a couple plays and he also intercepted an Andy Dalton pass. If you sign him, you’d have to hope Robinson is ready for a big role in the pass game, as he was doing as a rookie. But how much do you spend for a two-down guy (though this staff emphasizes stopping the run first and foremost)? Baltimore’s Daryl Smith is good and is a three-down linebacker, but will the Ravens let him get away? He’d be a strong pickup. Smith and Dansby turn 32 and 33 before the season, respectively. Spikes is only 26. Houston’s Joe Mays is a candidate for one of the backup/special teams roles -- they almost signed him last summer and I wouldn't be surprised at all if they pursue him again. The New York Giants’ Jon Beason is probably best suited for a 4-3. When you look at the list, it’s limited and that’s why they’ll need to try and keep Riley, albeit at a smaller deal than he probably desires.

Draft options: Everyone says this is a deep draft, one of the deepest in years. But I’m not sure that’s the case at inside linebacker, where only one inside linebacker is projected as a first rounder (C.J. Mosley) and perhaps only one as a second-rounder (Chris Borland). But there are a couple intriguing options, including Florida State’s Christian Jones. He played inside and outside for the Seminoles, but likely will slide inside in the NFL. His athleticism is apparent. I saw one stat that jumped out: he missed only two tackles last season. But after playing multiple spots it likely would take him time to be ready to start. Wisconsin’s Borland lacks Jones’ athleticism, but he’ll be tempting just because he’s a solid player with good instincts and toughness. Those latter traits compensate for many shortcomings and his play against the run will tempt any staff. But will he be able to cover? Connecticut’s Yawin Smallwood, who left after his junior year, covered receivers on occasion. There’s a good chance he’ll be better in the pass game, both in coverage and as a blitzer, than against the run. He’ll need to develop in that area. Stanford’s Shayne Skov might be more of a two-down backer. Jones, Smallwood and Skov are projected as third-to-fifth round picks. It’s tough to find day one starters at those spots. It’s a good thing the Redskins have Kirk Olivadotti coaching the inside linebackers; he’s a good teacher who will help their development.

In case you missed it
Monday: Receivers

Redskins combine prep: Inside linebacker

February, 20, 2014
There are some positions the Redskins will have more interest in this offseason, starting with the scouting combine that takes place over the next week. Wednesday we took a look at some safeties; Thursday it's inside linebacker. The Redskins already know they need to find one starter this offseason. If they somehow let Perry Riley get away, they would need two and it could be hard to fill both spots in free agency. So here are four to watch for various reasons. It's not a deep group.

Inside linebackers
Chris Borland (Wisconsin): He will be a good player in the right system. The question will be, can he do what Washington asks of its linebackers, particularly in coverage. That’s a big part of playing inside in a 3-4 and it’s one area of Borland’s game that has been questioned. His instincts give him a chance. It’ll be interesting to see what his 40 time is. It’s not the main measuring stick (nor should it be), but it is a piece of the puzzle.

Shayne Skov (Stanford): He was highly productive at Stanford, but Skov is not considered a fast player, which will impact where teams want to draft him. Scouts Inc. rated him as average in every key category aside from productivity where he was above average. They liked his ability to take on blocks, but wrote of his coverage skills: “Possesses adequate range in underneath zone coverage. However, lack of elite athleticism puts a cap on his overall play making ability in coverage. Will have limitations in man coverage. “

Christian Jones (Florida State): Not everyone lists Jones as an inside linebacker because he also played outside at Florida State, so some might view him more as an outside linebacker. He’s talented. He might go a couple rounds lower than Borland, but he’s an active player with good range and might be the most intriguing. He just hasn’t stayed at one spot long enough. He’ll need to show a strong understanding when teams quiz him about the X's and O's. An inside linebacker in a 3-4 must have a good command of this area.

Here’s what ESPN’s Scouts Inc. wrote about him: “Flashes above average upper body strength and appears to have long arms. Not violent enough at the point and can take too long to get off blocks in phone booth … Gets to depth and can cover a lot of ground on underneath zone. Picks up backs and H-backs releasing out of the backfield. Appears long and fast enough to match up with tight ends.”

Max Bullough (Michigan State): He was productive, but there are plenty of questions that need to get answered, starting this week at the combine. Bullough was suspended for the Rose Bowl and must answer questions about that as well as why he put on so much weight. He weighed in at 265 pounds at the East-West Shrine Game -- about 20 pounds more than he had previously been listed at (I think it was his playing weight in 2012). It made a difference in his performance. Bullough will need to lose around 20 pounds to play in a 3-4. As of now, it sounds as if he’s a guy you’d pick in the fifth round or later.