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Blueprint To Success For Washington

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The Washington Redskins are in a position to draft for talent over need. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.
The Washington Redskins are in a position to draft for talent over need. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

The check is now starting to come due.

This time last year, the Washington Redskins brass and an elated fan base were toasting the acquisition of the second overall pick and the pending arrival of the one-man hope machine, Robert Griffin III. RGIII’s selection kicked off what would be an 18-week long party culminating with a thumping of the Dallas Cowboys, a division title and only the second home playoff game in the third millennium of recorded time. The ending came abruptly, sort of like when the music stops and the lights go on in the bar at 2am (you know what I’m talking about), when RGIII broke down and the Redskins lost to Seattle, but it sure was a big time while it lasted.

Now the partygoers are dealing with the hangover. RGIII’s in rehab, Mike Shanahan’s facing on-going scrutiny of his reckless management of The Franchise’s knee injury, Dr. James Andrews has become the only orthopedic surgeon capable of Twitter fame and the ‘Skins are prepping for an NFL Draft without a first round pick — the first of two surrendered outright to the Rams (the teams swapped first-rounders in 2012) for the second overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

After being forced to pinch his wallet during free agency, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder will now have to endure the excruciating process of watching 50 prospects doing “grip-n-grins” with Commissioner Roger Goodell or fielding televised cell phone calls from their new employers before his team is on the clock with its first selection. It must have been times like these that inspired Tom Petty to pen The Waiting – it is “the hardest part.”

Barring a trade, the Redskins will finally arrive at the draft party in the second round with 51st overall pick. The team has six other picks scattered across the remaining rounds — two picks in the fifth round, one pick in the remaining rounds. How are the ‘Skins likely to fill out the 2013 draft class? What other positions are likely to be addressed? Who are next stars of Snyder’s annual NFL Draft party? I’ll start with the obvious: the team’s most pressing needs.

Top Needs: Safety and offensive tackle.

If the season started today, Reed Doughty and DeJon Gomes would be the starting safeties for my, your, our Washington Redskins. Think that puts any fear in DeSean Jackson, Dez Bryant or Victor Cruz? Brandon Meriweather and Tanard Jackson, last year’s projected starters, are coming off lost seasons due to injury and suspension, respectively, but the ‘Skins have to assume they’ll get nothing in return (again) from either one in 2013.

While quietly acquiring capable warm bodies at cornerback this offseason — E.J. Biggers was acquired via free agency, DeAngelo Hall was re-signed and the team is kicking the tires on Quentin Jammer — the team has done nothing to address its lack of a long-term answers at either safety position. The bet is that they’ve earmarked the draft and what is believed to be a class deep at the safety position to fill that void. The bottom line is the ‘Skins defense is desperate for an athletic force in its secondary that can run with and create consequences for opposing wide receivers.  

In Week 3 against Cincinnati last season, LT Trent Williams sustained a knee injury and missed the better part of the game. His replacement, Jordan Black, struggled (to be very, very kind). There was, quite frankly, no more obvious drop-off from starter to backup at any position last season — and yes, that includes quarterback. What Williams’ injury brutally pointed out was the lack of depth at the tackle position. The ‘Skins don’t have a reasonably alternative if Williams were to miss considerable time in 2013, and the right tackle position, manned by marginal talents such as Tyler Polumbus and Jeremy Trueblood, doesn’t instill confidence.

Even though Robert Griffin III might be superhuman, he clearly isn’t unbreakable. And with him returning from injury, it would be wise for the ‘Skins to add a young prospect at offensive tackle via the draft.     

Secondary Needs: Inside linebacker and cornerback.

Pop quiz: who are the backup inside linebackers to starters London Fletcher and Perry Riley? It’s a trick question. With the departure of Lorenzo Alexander, there is no definitive answer. The candidates are Vic So’oto, Roddrick Muckelroy and Keenan Robinson, I suppose. The response you’re searching for is “who?” Expecting Fletcher, who’s nearly 38 and in all likelihood playing his final season in 2013, and Riley to remain healthy and available for 16 weeks is risky — too risky not burn a draft pick on an inside linebacker. 

As mentioned above, the acquisitions of veterans Biggers and Hall quietly turned the cornerback position from one demanding attention into one the Redskins can address more deliberatively. The two veterans, along with holdover starter Josh Wilson and second-year man Richard Crawford comprise a cornerback corps that lacks elite talent but at least offers multiple layers of competence. With Brian Orakpo back and the front seven likely to experience better overall health in 2013, the pass rush — a corner’s best friend — figures to be improved as well.

Still, there’s not one cornerback on the roster that you’d bet a nickel on as a starter two years from now. That alone likely justifies a mid- or late-round draft dart being thrown at the cornerback board.

Potential Top Picks

Mike Shanahan has shown a propensity in recent drafts to trade up for must-have talents or to trade down and acquire additional picks. In other words, he allows the draft to come to him and his board reacts accordingly. The guess is, given the safety need and depth at the position, the Redskins are positioned well to have need and talent align organically at or around the 51st pick. They may trade up or down slightly (such is the lure of the NFL Draft), but a bold move into the first round or out of the second completely seems unlikely. With that assumption, here are a few possible selections for the ‘Skins at or around the 51st overall pick.

1. Eric Reid, Safety (LSU)

2. Matt Elam, Safety (Florida)

3. Phillip Thomas, Safety (Fresno State)

4. D.J. Swearinger, Safety (South Carolina)

5. Justin Pugh, Offensive Tackle (Syracuse) 

How’s that for a dart…I mean draft board? The truth is, I’m drawing straws here. Predicting the 51st overall selection isn’t a precise exercise. Here’s what is known though: the ‘Skins have a need at safety and there’s a handful of them projected to be taken from late in the first into the third round. In addition to those noted above, J.J. Wilcox, T.J. McDonald and Bacarri Rambo (is there a cooler name for defensive back?) all figure to be selected in the late second to fourth rounds.

The Redskins could trade up if they’re in love with a safety that falls into the second round or trade down if they grade several similarly. They could also pass on a safety in the second round altogether if a hotter commodity — say offensive lineman Justin Pugh — falls to them at 51 and revisit the safety position with their third-round pick (85th overall).

And then there’s Tyrann Mathieu. Would it be surprising if Daniel Snyder offered Shanahan a lucrative contract extension during the draft if he agreed to forfeit personnel authority back to the owner for a few brief moments during the draft? I think not. With Snyder lurking, the ridiculous and outrageous is possible.

Beyond the Second Round

Three season into the Shanahan era or, perhaps more importantly, three years removed from Vinny Cerrato’s reign of incompetence, the Redskins find themselves with a talented roster and few glaring needs. This situation — extremely unique in D.C. — affords the team the opportunity to execute in accordance with the draft’s top commandment: take the best player available.

Do they need a safety? Absolutely, but if an attractive commodity falls to the 51st pick, the ‘Skins are in a position to base picks on talent ahead of need. Will they address safety, offensive line, inside linebacker and cornerback during the draft? Probably, but only if the talent on the board supports it.

The importance of best available — having the nerve to draft ability regardless of position — is proven every year. For a recent example, Redskins faithful need to look no further than last year’s draft. Did the ‘Skins need another quarterback after taking RGIII with the second overall pick? No, but when Kirk Cousins was still on the board in the fourth round, they pounced and scored a backup that won a couple of games in spot duty and may be a valuable commodity at the start of next season and beyond. And did the ‘Skins, with entrenched 2011 draft picks Roy Helu and Evan Royster and Tim Hightower returning from injury, need another running back entering the 2012 NFL Draft? Absolutely not, but when a guy named Alfred Morris was available in the sixth round, they called his name. 

For all my hedging and vague predictions, I do expect a safety will be added early in the draft and an offensive tackle to be selected at some point as well. Beyond that, who knows? Mel Kiper doesn’t. Todd McShay doesn’t. I don’t either (gasp!). Only time, and available talent, will tell. And that’s why we watch.