Reporting Grant Paulsen
One of just six NFL teams to have suffered at least 20 losses in the past two seasons, there are a a plethora of areas where the Redskins need to add talent. But which positions are most pivotal for the Redskins to upgrade?
With the NFL draft just three days away, the following is a compilation of Washington’s biggest areas of need.
There is no question that the Redskins’ biggest need is under-center. Donovan McNabb is the only proven passer on Washington’s roster and he’s a long-shot to be on the team come September. Strangely enough, Rex Grossman, who isn’t under contract, is a safer bet to be a Redskin at the start of this season. But he isn’t the team’s long-term answer.
John Beck, 29, hasn’t played in an NFL game since 2007 and he’s got four career starts to his name. The BYU product has never been given a fair chance to run an offense and there’s no guarantee that opportunity will come with the Redskins.
You have to assume that Mike Shanahan wants to hand-pick a passer who he can groom into a franchise signal-caller. He did it in Denver with Jay Cutler. The question is, will the guy Shanahan likes the most be available to the Redskins at No. 10 or No. 41 (if they don’t make any deals on draft day)?
The NFL is a quarterback league. You can’t win without a good one. Mike and Kyle Shanahan know that. But needing a field general doesn’t mean you have to reach for one now. If the Redskins do draft a passer, they’d better do so because they are convinced the guy they are getting is a future star. Not because he’s the best available quarterback when they happen to be on the clock.
I view drafting a franchise quarterback like marriage. It’s a long term commitment. Don’t settle on a ‘decent’ player who you ‘like a little’ because they are available and because you’re lonely.
The lack of a force at nose tackle crippled the Redskins chances to be an effective defense in the team’s first season running the 3-4. Washington ranked 31st in total defense and 26th against the run, yielding an ugly 4.6 yards-per-attempt on the ground. The Redskins also struggled to generate any pressure with their front-three. No lineman tallied more than 2.5 sacks and a 35-year-old led Washington’s defensive line in quarterback pressures.
Adam Carriker will start at left-end. He’s stout against the run and proved that he could be a viable 3-4 option with a strong finish to his inaugural season in DC. Kedric Golston will likely return for a sixth season with the Redskins as part of a veteran-laden rotation that will likely include both Vonnie Holliday and Phillip Daniels again.
But the Redskins still need a nose tackle and they could greatly benefit from a young defensive end who can generate penetration. The team’s 29 sacks last year, 11 fewer than the team tallied in 2009, ranked 25th in the NFL. One reason for the decline was the lack of pass rush orchestrated by Washington’s front.
A nose tackle who could draw double teams and collapse the pocket from the interior would dramatically increase the Redskins’ sack count. An end who could learn from Holliday and Daniels would be a fitting addition for a team trying to get younger as well.
Every Batman needs a Robin. Every Jordan needs a Pippen. Every Harrison needs a Woodley.
It’s not a coincidence that most of the NFL’s best pass rushers have a complimentary defender playing opposite them in their scheme. James Harrison’s sack count (36.5 in the past three seasons) wouldn’t be as high if quarterbacks were able to leave the pocket running away from him. They can’t, though, because LeMarr Woodley (35.5 sacks in the past three years) is providing pressure from the other direction.
Brian Orakpo needs somebody forcing quarterbacks toward him in the pocket. Orakpo has made two pro bowls in two seasons. After tallying 11 sacks as a rookie, the former Texas standout recorded only 8.5 as a sophomore. More disappointing than that: only 1.5 of those sacks came after Week-7 last season.
Lorenzo Alexander is a hard worker and a unique talent. He’s more athletic than he gets credit for and there are times where he’ll still be a nice fit on the outside in Washington’s 3-4 scheme. But there are other ways for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to better-utilize his strength while getting more pressure out of the outside-linebacking position opposite Orakpo.
The Redskins’ 29 sacks last season weren’t enough and there isn’t a deeper position in this year’s draft than ‘pass rusher.’ A complimentary rush-first linebacker would be a welcome addition to a defense that is ravenous to make more plays.
Jammal Brown became a free agent when the NFL’s calendar year ended in early March and his status with the Redskins is still uncertain. He played much better at the end of last season than he did at the beginning and he claimed that he was finally playing pain-free. Considering that Washington has more needs than it has positions where the team is set, re-upping with Brown makes sense.
If he leaves, however, right tackle probably slides up any needs list as a growing priority. Trent Williams is a quality anchor on the left side of the Redskins’ line but there isn’t a viable option behind Brown on Washington’s depth chart to solidify the right side.
The outlook along the interior of Washington’s offensive line improved as the season went along last season. Kory Lichtensteiger looks to have solidified himself as the Redskins’ center-in-waiting behind Casey Rabach, who will be back as an offensive captain this season. It’s also safe to assume that Will Montgomery, who developed nicely in his first season in Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme last season, will have a chance to compete for a starting gig at guard.
Selecting a center or a guard with one of their first two picks wouldn’t be a bad idea, though. There’s value in getting one of the best centers or guards in the draft where Washington is picking, and having a dominant force inside of Williams would be a second nice building block moving forward.
Wide Receiver / Cornerback
Sorry, I cheated. But these two positions are similar. Are free agents Santana Moss and Carlos Rogers — Washington’s best pass-catcher and pass-defender over the past five seasons — staying or leaving? If Moss departs, Anthony Armstrong would be the Redskins’ most accomplished wide receiver. He had never played in an NFL game at this time last season.
Armstrong is a play-maker but his track record isn’t long enough for the Redskins to fell comfortable with him as a top option. Malcolm Kelly, who missed all of 2010 with a hamstring injury, and Terrence Austin are the other top players on the roster at the position.
As for cornerback, if Rogers signs elsewhere DeAngelo Hall would become the team’s top cover corner. He’s more a play-maker than he is a coverage stalwart.
Is Kevin Barnes, a third-rounder out of Maryland who played extensively at safety in the final month of 2010, ready to start at cornerback? If Haslett thinks he is than the Redskins may have a replacement for Rogers in-house. I’m not convinced that’s the case.
Running back: Ryan Torain ran like a starter when he was healthy. But that’s the problem. He’s suffered injuries in both of his abbreviated opportunities to start in the NFL. He looks good enough to be a starting tailback but is he durable enough?
Inside linebacker: London Fletcher is a machine. Really, he’s not a real human. He gets better as he gets older. But at some point, Washington will have to prepare for life without him. And with Rocky McIntosh possibly free to sign elsewhere after a new C.B.A is signed, now could be the right time to start looking for another Perry Riley like prospect.
Punter: Josh Bidwell got hurt, Hunter Smith struggled and Sam Paulescu isn’t the answer. The Redskins don’t have enough picks to have the luxury of using one on a punter, but weirder things have happened. (Durant Brooks).