The Redskins have plenty of adequate pieces in their secondary in 2018. To get the most out of those pieces, they have to use them correctly.
Last year, the Redskins’ pass defense ranked No. 9 in the NFL. After losing starting-caliber cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland, Torrian Gray will need players who previously have served depth roles to step up.
Quinton Dunbar has reportedly been impressing in camp at the No. 2 cornerback spot opposite Josh Norman, and past experience tells us he should only get better as he gets another opportunity. Another player searching for an opportunity in 2018 after seeing his 2017 campaign cut short is sophomore safety Montae Nicholson, out of Michigan State.
Drafted in Round 4, Nicholson wasn’t expected to make an impact early. Based on his relatively uneventful college tape, Nicholson was viewed as a raw prospect who would need time to learn the nuance of the NFL, if he ever did.
Well… Nicholson did. There were some growing pains, as there always are for young players, but by Week 2 of the regular season, Nicholson took over the starting job for the Redskins at free safety. He showcased impressive range and instincts in the back third, using his length and closing speed to make hits, as well as make plays on the ball.
Ultimately, Nicholson would be lost to injury by midseason, but the impact he made was undeniable. The secondary was worse when he wasn’t roaming in the back of the field. In 2018, Nicholson needs to stay healthy. And the Redskins also need to utilize his talents correctly.
In their recent unofficial depth chart (which is no longer available on the website), the Redskins had Nicholson listed as the team’s starting strong safety, while D.J. Swearinger was the team’s starting free safety.
This isn’t the end of the world. D.J. Swearinger is a versatile safety who can make an impact with his well-rounded skill set, and Nicholson has the ability to step up into the box and provide run support, as well as cover in the slot. But the Redskins need to use Nicholson as a free safety primarily, if they want to maximize the returns they get from him. His specialty is playing as the roaming safety up top.
Nicholson is 6-foot-2, and he has 4.4 speed. He has the range to be a deadly center fielder, and with more knowledge on how the game of chess plays out for the offense in 2018, the upside for him at free safety is immense. Jay Gruden has likened Nicholson’s impact to that of Jordan Reed’s on offense (Per D.J. Bland of Redskins Wire). But the Redskins wouldn’t use Reed as a full back. Why should they use Nicholson anywhere other than free safety?
The first depth chart must be taken with a grain of salt; much is subject to change in the coming weeks, and it’s clear that in some spots (Derrius Guice as the No. 6 running back), the Redskins favored a wait-and-see approach above all else. But in the future, the Redskins need to feature Nicholson at the correct position. Otherwise, they won’t get nearly as much out of their young secondary as they can.