While Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland remained the starters for the Redskins, second-year cornerback Kendall Fuller took a big step in production during the 2017 season.
As the Redskins head into the offseason looking to get back to their winning ways, Redskins.com will provide position-by-position reflections from the 2017 squad.
Up next: the cornerbacks.
REVIEW OF THE UNIT:
Outside of injuries that briefly sidelined both players, the Washington Redskins had the same starting cornerback tandem from the 2016 season in Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland.
After surprisingly having his franchise tag rescinded in April 2016, Norman hit the open market but was quickly signed by the Redskins. In his first season in Washington, the former All-Pro recorded 67 tackles along with three interceptions and two fumbles forced. Additionally, he tied a personal best in passes defensed with 19.
While Norman still played at a high level in 2017, his numbers dipped as the Pro Bowl alternate recorded 64 tackles along with nine passes defensed and two fumbles forced. For the first time since the 2013 season when he was a reserve for the Carolina Panthers, though, Norman did not record an interception.
Despite the lack of picks, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden still believed that Norman was a game-changer on the outside.
"I think when you don't have any interceptions and statistically speaking you're probably like, 'Wow, he didn't do that good,' but if you look at, just say the last three games, how many balls were actually thrown his way?" Gruden said earlier this month. "He didn't really get a lot of opportunities. I think he is a solid tackler and did some good things, but the opportunities just didn't come across and come his way that often. They were throwing the other way or throwing to the middle of the field or what have you.
"He did have a solid year, but we are looking for more than solid. We are looking for impactful and I think he is going to do everything he can next year to be that impactful type guy. We have to put him in better situations possibly to make some more impactful type plays. So that is something we have to look at as a staff also."
Opposite Norman in the starting lineup was Breeland, a 2014 fourth-round pick who is currently Washington's longest-tenured cornerback. During the 2017 season, the Clemson product recorded 50 tackles with 19 passes defensed and one interception, which he returned 96 yards for his first touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers.
While Norman and Breeland manned outside wide receivers, Kendall Fuller was a lockdown player in the nickel cornerback role. After a rookie season in which Fuller struggled in his transition from college (this was due, in part, to his continued rehab from a torn ACL), the Virginia Tech product was Washington's most productive cornerback.
The 22-year-old tied the team-high in interceptions (four) as his picks against the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants ended comeback attempts.
Per ProFootballFocus' metrics, Fuller was the No. 5 cornerback in the NFL with a grade of 90.
Quinton Dunbar, meanwhile, posted career highs in tackles (35) and passes defensed (eight) despite starting only four of his 15 appearances. In his first start of the season against the 49ers, Dunbar drew a late offensive pass interference call that pushed San Francisco out of range for a potential game-winning field goal.
Rookies Fabian Moreau and Joshua Holsey were primarily used on special teams.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE GROUP:
On the first day of the new year the Redskins signed Dunbar to a multi-year extension, as the former college wide receiver was set to become a restricted free agent.
While some had considered Dunbar's signing a clear indication that Breeland – an unrestricted free agent – will be elsewhere next season, Gruden said that's not necessarily the case.
On Friday, April 28, 2017, the Washington Redskins selected cornerback Fabian Moreau with the 81st overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
"It has no effect on Bree whatsoever," Gruden said. "I think Quinton Dunbar is an exciting, young prospect. To only be playing cornerback for a couple years in his life and you see the progression he's made at such a rapid rate, I think to let him walk in free agency would be a mistake. I think the skill set that he has with his length and his speed is a rare combination and he's only going to get better. You can never have too many corners in your building, so whatever happens with Breeland happens, but I know that having another quality corner that can run and cover is a value."
As for Breeland himself, he was pushed into a starting role early in his rookie season after DeAngelo Hall suffered a season-ending torn Achilles. Impressing immediately, Breeland has remained in a starting role since, but the team knows that he could be highly coveted in free agency.
"He's handled adversity from time to time very well and he's been a consistent performer for us for the four years that he's been here," Gruden said. "He's another one of the key free agents that we have that we'd love to keep, but at the end of the day, I know he's got an agent like all of these other players and we'll have to evaluate what we're going to do with him when the season's over. But I've always liked Bree. I like his competitive nature and he can play zone, he can play man and he's long and tough."
If Breeland leaves, it could open the door to more playing time for Moreau. The UCLA product was considered a first-round talent before the draft last year, but a torn pectoral suffered during his pro day pushed Moreau down to the third round.
While he played just 59 defensive snaps as a rookie, Gruden said there's "no question" he has the skill to develop into a starter.
"I think like all young players, coming off the injury that he had in training camp – he missed a lot of training camp or OTAs, he missed all of them and was a late add in training camp," Gruden said. "So, this has been a great experience for him. I think he's, again, one of these players you love to keep in here and develop and he's got a special skill set. I think next year in the offseason and training camp is going to be a great test for him, but I think he's got the chance to be a true lockdown corner for us."
SEASON IN REVIEW