If the Washington Redskins are fortunate, Junior Galette's injury represents their most significant of the preseason if not the entire 2016 campaign. No offense to Galette, but if this is the injury dark timeline, the Redskins will take it. We live in the real world enough to know that more bumps, bruises and worse are coming. All painful, especially to the individual, but in the big picture sense, some hurt more than others.
At some point before each season, I like pondering not necessarily the Redskins' best players who has the greatest chance of become a future Pro Bowler, but who the most indispensable players on the team are. Those that, should they miss a series, a game, a month or more truly alter the coaching staff's plans and perhaps force the front office into action.
On the eve of the Redskins truly starting their on-field preparations for the upcoming season at training camp in Richmond, here are is the elite eight.
8. Josh Norman - If we're talking best players, the Pro Bowl cornerback might battle for the top spot. If we're talking who can the Redskins least afford losing, then we're not considering Norman and you can blame Bashaud Breeland (though don't because that's actually an overall positive). Last season Breeland showed he can hang with Odell Beckham Jr. and he's always caused Dez Bryant fits. In other words, Washington might have two "shutdown" corners, thus losing one won't become a dagger in terms of guarding the elite. If Quinton Dunbar, Kendall Fuller and Greg Toler meet expectations, the Redskins can survive a Norman injury if needed.
7. Chris Baker - Of all the players on this list, "Swaggy" is the least likely to receive Pro Bowl honors this season. The defensive lineman also might be the one player here opposing coordinators aren't losing sleep over. The thing is, look at the rest of the defensive line. Maybe Stephen Paea rebounds after a blah 2015 season. Maybe Kendall Reyes sparks moving from San Diego to Ashburn. Perhaps Matt Ioannidis helps sooner than expected. That's also a lot of individual uncertainty and that's what the Redskins face beyond Baker, who had a career-high six sacks last season.
6. Preston Smith - The second-year edge rusher was on this list even before Galette went down, but he moves up a bit now that the injury occurred. Smith took a minute during his rookie season to pass Trent Murphy on the OLB depth chart. By the end of the season, he was blowing by offensive tackles in the blink of an eye. Smith so impressed at the end of last season that another year like that and he could be atop the 2017 version of this list.
5. DeSean Jackson - There is speed and then there is speed. Anyone who has watched or played against Jackson understands he's the in that holy terror second category. The Redskins' offense zoomed once his deep-ball presence returned from a hamstring injury midway through last season. Jackson is frustrating. The skipping (non-mandatory) offseason practices, the sometimes-inexplicable decisions on the field. He's also a breathtaking force defenses must account for, always. In terms of speed receivers, the Redskins don't have that when he's in street clothes. It's possible a Pierre Garcon/Jamison Crowder/Josh Doctson combo with tight end Jordan Reed offsets any DJax absence this year. Until we see that happen though...
4. Kirk Cousins - Quarterback is the most important position in the four main North American professional team sports and I'm one of those people thinking the Redskins would have been wise going harder at getting a long-term deal done with Cousins before July 15. So why isn't Cousins No. 1? Partly because, at least for a spell, Colt McCoy can get the job done. Finish the half or start a couple of weeks, that type of thing. Maybe even more if the defense becomes truly formidable and the ground game does more than two yards and a cloud of dust.
3. Ryan Kerrigan - Simply put, the Redskins can have all the stud cornerbacks in the world and it won't matter if there is no pass rush. If there is no Kerrigan, then there is no pass rush outside of Smith, who isn't the same all-around threat. Outside of those two, there simply isn't a clear replacement for that needed skill set. Tony Romo and Eli Manning are cool if Houston Bates and Willie Jefferson are headed their way rather than Kerrigan's career 47.5 sacks.
2. Jordan Reed - We saw the truth last season. This tight end isn't just one of the top three in the NFL, but Washington's top offensive playmaker. Niles Paul and Vernon Davis can do stuff. Only a handful of players in the entire league can do Reed's kind of stuff.
1. Trent Williams - From keeping the quarterback upright to opening holes for the ground game to allowing receivers time to complete their patterns, it all starts with Williams. Again, this isn't just about the best player on the team. Take away Williams and Cousins' blindside protector becomes Ty Nsheke or Cody Booth or OMG it doesn't matter much. The timing will change, the holes will shrink and the Redskins offense will go down and go down hard.
Washington won't turn into the the 2008 Detroit Lions if any of these players are lost. Hopes of a repeat NFC East title could be dashed if one or more from this elite eight group exit stage right. Fingers crossed.
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