Roster Projection: Montae Nicholson, D.J. Swearinger, DeShazor Everett, Fish Smithson, Troy Apke
Roster Locks: Montae Nicholson, D.J. Swearinger, DeShazor Everett
Offseason Sleepers: Fish Smithson, Quin Blanding
Many early projections have the Washington Redskins keeping only four safeties, but I’m not so certain this will be the case. Injuries worsened this unit in 2017, and with several players providing contributions in multiple places, there is an increased risk for injury for safeties.
Montae Nicholson and D.J. Swearinger are on the field for defensive snaps, while DeShazor Everett will be a valuable holdover on special teams. The nature of the position demands that teams be ready if injuries occur. That is why I chose to keep five safeties.
The team’s starters, Nicholson and Swearinger, should form one of the better safety duos in the NFL, if they can stay healthy. That was the issue for Nicholson last season. When on the field, he could cover the width of the field in only seconds, and he has the length and I.Q. to be disruptive at the point of the catch. Swearinger, meanwhile, is an aggressive leader at the strong safety position. He is somewhat inconsistent in coverage, but he’s solid overall, providing steady run support and playmaking ability that hasn’t often been expected from that position.
Again, the key is staying healthy. If the Washington Redskins starters can do that, then they will be one of the better safety duos in the NFL. They could even be elite. But if injuries have their way again, then the Washington Redskins will be forced to turn to the reserves.
DeShazor Everett has the ability to play the safety position, but that’s like saying Patrick Ramsey had the ability to play quarterback. He did. But he wasn’t nearly consistent enough to keep the job. Everett isn’t nearly as bad, in that regard. But we know what he is, and he isn’t a player who can be counted on to maintain consistency on the back end. His niche is on special teams. Still, the Washington Redskins won’t cut Everett. They underwent substantial turnover on special teams this year, and they re-signed Everett as a result. He’s locked in as the third safety. But he is lacking in some departments.
Thus, two better options to serve as reserve players are 2018 fourth-round pick Troy Apke and 2017 undrafted free agent Fish Smithson. Smithson was elevated to the Washington Redskins roster late in the 2017 season. A production artist out of Kansas, Smithson came into the league a bit undersized, but he has the instincts and ball skills that teams look for from safeties. He still has to prove himself this offseason, but he has the traits to succeed.
Troy Apke has a better chance of making the roster if the team is forced to keep only four safeties. The team spent draft capital on Apke this year, and they are in love with his 4.32 speed. Apke may be underdeveloped, but at 6-foot-1, 200, he has traits that can be honed and strengthened with time. Torrian Gray has made traits prospects like Apke work before (See Nicholson, above). Apke can contribute as a solid special teamer right away, but he also has potential as a free safety, if he can work on diagnosing during plays.
One player who shouldn’t be forgotten in the safety conversation is Quin Blanding. Blanding produced on a massive scale in college, showing solid tackling ability. He has good size, but he’s severely lacking in terms of positional speed. Although it’s unlikely, look for him to possibly beat out Smithson. If Blanding doesn’t make the roster, he could quickly be brought onto the practice squad.