NFL head and position coaches all across the league are salivating over some of the elite players in this year’s very talented NFL draft. And why not? What coach wouldn’t give his headset for an Aldon Smith or Cameron Jordan? These young men will likely make an immediate impact for the teams that draft them (this, of course, is assuming there will be football in 2011).
There are any number of draft moves that would help the Washington Redskins this year and we can only guess at whether head coach Mike Shanahan will draft the best player on the board with the teams’ first-round pick or draft for need. (Perhaps there is no distinction between the two?) This is a very talented draft class. It would almost be impossible to go wrong – whoever they draft. And whoever that player is needs to make an immediate impact on the team if they are to be more competitive in 2011.
Quality first round draft pick players have the potential to make serious contributions to their teams in their rookie years. In the last 10 years, the Redskins’ organization has been fraught with instability and uncertainty, except during the short reign of Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs. On either side of those years, there was no continuity in the coaching staff and the system. Those players that were play-makers on the team were stifled by the instability and winning seasons were the exception rather than the norm. The first round athletes in this years’ draft can make a difference quickly and help this team win.
Think about LaDainian Tomlinson, Julius Peppers, Dwight Freeney, Terrell Suggs, Andre Johnson and Kevin Williams. These were all first round guys who made major contributions to their teams in their rookie years.
That’s not to say that the Redskins haven’t had some great first round picks. We had LaVar Arrington, Chris Samuels, (the late, great) Sean Taylor (RIP), Carlos Rogers, LaRon Landry, Brian Orakpo and Trent Williams who all came in and contributed. But there were also years when the team had no first round picks because they had been traded away for free agents that may or may not have made notable contributions to the team. Ouch.
In the second year of a regime in which we have a Super Bowl winning coach and lingering high hopes, Redskins fans are ready for results. There are guys in this 2011 draft that can provide them.
Identifying the draft needs of the Redskins is easy because they (ahem) don’t have too many. They only need a few players on the defensive line, at outside linebacker and at the cornerback position. Oh yea… and all along the offensive line they need depth. They could also use a running back and yes, a quarterback. And, oops… I forgot about a special teams position or two. It’s not that much… right?
OK, fine… so I’m a wise guy.
The possibility that Shanahan will trade the 10th pick (overall) back to get more picks is high. In Washington’s draft War Room, they will have plans for every situation and we won’t know what’s going to happen until it does. For the sake of this prose, I’m going to work on the premise that Shanahan & Co. will use the 10th and 41st draft picks overall without trading up or down.
In 2010, the team switched from the 4-3 defensive scheme that they had played for a zillion years to the 3-4. Disaster ensued. Shanahan should have (my favorite phrase) phased in the new scheme more gradually (but that’s another discussion for another day). It was a sad testament to how difficult it is to convert schemes in a single year when we saw a consistently high-ranking Redskins defense go from one of the top ten (or even top five a few times) to 31st in the league last season.
Two positions that would immediately make the Redskins’ defense better are a good pass rushing end and a pure nose tackle. While Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo handled the transition to the 3-4 system well, his stats suffered due to the lack of the right personnel – the right nose tackle – pushing people around up front and distracting offensive linemen. D-tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu did not come back as quickly from his injured Achilles heel as predicted and, while Anthony Bryant filled in well towards the end of the season, he is close to 30-years old. The ‘Skins need to get younger along the defensive line
Nose tackle is not a glamorous position though and, while I personally think Washington should draft one early, I would be surprised if they did… especially if any of the aforementioned “elite” potential draftees are still on the board at #10. Another bookend to compliment Orakpo would make a huge difference for Washington. I can think of several talented young players that would make an immediate impact along the line.
A lot of draft gurus have suggested that the Redskins should take Texas A&M’s Von Miller or North Carolina’s Robert Quinn but the guy I’d most like to see the Redskins take (and for which I’ll probably get some grief) at defensive end is J.J. Watt (6’5”, 290 lbs. out of Wisconsin). Watt is a natural pass rusher and a beast. He has long, long arms and can defend the run. Also, he’s a “character” guy and after last year, the Redskins need this. It doesn’t even bother me that he’s skipped his senior year to go into the draft.
Football fans have all heard about Aldon Smith (6’4”, 263 lbs., DE out of Missouri) and it’s true that he would be a good fit opposite Orakpo. Not having some of the off-field issues that other guys have had is a plus.
Here’s the thing however… what if, the Redskins did acquire a nose tackle with that #10 pick?
The 3-4 scheme will work most effectively – the way it was designed – with the anchor of a good nose tackle. Washington has enough talent at the other D-line positions that, if all they could do is draft that one position, they could get seriously better defensively in 2011, even as the rest of the squad continued to learn their jobs.
Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus would be a good acquisition for Washington. At 6’3”, 319 lbs., he is bit lighter than some of the other nose tackles available but an upside is that he is listed as a defensive end, defensive tackle and nose tackle. He is versatile. NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Smith says that Dareus has a “…tremendous amount of talent and upside.” If Bruce Smith likes him, that’s another plus.
The D-tackle ran the 40 in 4.92 at the Combine. That shows athleticism.
There were rumors earlier in the week that Washington has talked to the Denver Broncos whose first-round pick is number two overall. The Broncos have a need for a defensive tackle and there are mock drafts out there that have them taking Dareus. Hmm… could the Redskins be thinking of moving up rather than back?
Baylor’s Phil Taylor has been ranked to go in the first or second round. He is 6’3”, currently listed at 334 lbs. and is more the prototypical nose tackle. Heavier than Dareus, he ran a 5.18 40 at the Combine – faster than projected – and that speaks well of his work ethic. His scouting report lists some his attributes as: “Massive frame, carries weight well, great strength and power.” It goes on to say that he has “violent quick hands” that he “uses well,” that he can “push the pocket with bull rush,” that he is a “space eater who occupies blockers” and that he has a “mean streak.”
What more could you ask for in a nose tackle?
Dareus’ scouting report lists some of the same attributes as Taylor including the ability to “shed blockers.” He might not have the size and/or power that the Baylor tackle has but he had a good pro day. Either of these young men would make an immediate impact in Washington.
Were the Redskins to use the 10th pick on a position other than nose tackle, there are others at the position the team could take later, if available, with their second round pick (41st overall). Hampton’s Kenrick Ellis (he is heavier at 346 lbs. but unfortunately, is listed as having some work ethic concerns) or Jerrell Powell out of Ole Miss are just a couple of them.
Again, I’m focusing here on the scenario of the Redskins keeping the 10th and 41st picks. While I am as anxious for the ‘Skins to find a franchise quarterback as the next fan, I would be surprised if Washington was able to take one in the first round. They’ll never get Auburn’s Cam Newton (the Carolina Panthers are reportedly looking hard at him and they pick first overall) or Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert (Washington would have to fight with the Buffalo Bills at number three overall) unless Shanahan trades up. Hopefully, they will find a QB later and either Washington’s Jake Locker or Florida State’s Christian Ponder would be worthy of any pick beyond the first round. TCU’s Andy Dalton, 6’2, 215 lbs. is more recently making noise in the news and there are mock draft gurus who grade him as a decent quarterback if he gets – and accepts – some coaching up.
Call me overly optimistic but, before they spend the early picks on a player like Alabama wide out Julio Jones or Georgia’s A.J. Green (who will likely be unavailable anyway), I’d like to see the receivers that they have given a chance to progress through the second year of the offense. Receiver Malcolm Kelly was put on injured reserve last year rather than released for a reason. Why go out and draft a receiver when Kelly, at 6’4”, could be the end zone, jump-ball player the Redskins have needed since they drafted him? The guy is healthy (actually, he was before the end of last season) and talented. Recall Shanahan’s mantra: “You wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think you gave us the best chance to win.”
I say bring back Santana Moss, let Anthony Armstrong do what we know he can do, give Kelly a chance to SHOW us what he can do and keep the 41st overall pick for a d-lineman; Locker or Ponder; or an offensive lineman to protect whatever quarterback Washington ends up with (don’t even get me started on the McNabb debacle).
I’d be ecstatic if Florida State guard Rodney Hudson was still available at the 41st pick though he probably won’t be (the New England Patriots could take him). USC’s offensive tackle Tyron Smith could be an important addition with the expiration of right tackle Jammal Brown‘s contract. Offensive line depth has been neglected for so long that I almost hate to suggest the Redskins take any other position in the first or second rounds.
The other position that could be addressed is running back (Alabama’s Mark Ingram visited Ashburn yesterday) only because Washington’s guys are still unproven or have some issues. We know what Ryan Torain can do. He justified Shanahan’s keeping him last season but he needs to stay healthy. Keiland Williams only carried the ball 65 times last year. While he showed flashes of talent, we didn’t see enough to really know.
I like Redskins’ RBs Chad Simpson and James Davis. They both have experience but the former did not carry the ball at all last season and the latter, while only carrying the ball 15 times in three games, had an 11.3 yards-per-carry average. Not bad.
The cornerback and safety positions have a few question marks in 2011 but they are not dire. DeAngelo Hall’s record speaks for itself (as does he) and new Redskins safety A.J. Atogwe is an upgrade at the position.
Once the CBA is completed, some position issues could be addressed via free agency. I do think that the team should not waste first and second round draft picks on positions that are not critical.
The two lines – offensive and defensive – are two critical areas of need for the Washington Redskins. Whether the team keeps the 10th and 41st picks overall, or trades back to get more, these are the positions that need to be addressed in the draft first. In my humble opinion, unless Shanahan somehow finesses the acquisition of one of the class’s highly ranked quarterbacks, a solid nose tackle would address a critical need and benefit the team the most.
As always… Hail.