One day before the NFL Draft began, Mike Shanahan met with reporters at Redskins Park. The veteran NFL executive who is taking part in his 20th selection process as a head coach was asked what his draft philosophy is. His answer was that he had several of them, and that sometimes his teams would look to fill needs while others they would take the best player on their board.
On Friday night the Redskins made their first two picks of the 2013 draft, curing a major need with their first selection while picking a player they wanted but may not have needed with their second pick.
At No. 51, the Redskins chose NC State cornerback David Amerson to add some much-needed depth to a thin position.
With Deangelo Hall and Josh Wilson both playing on expiring contracts and 2012 third-cornerback Cedric Griffin no longer with the team, Washington was in need of an injection of quality youth in the secondary. Amerson’s ceiling is higher than former seventh round picks EJ Biggers and Richard Crawford, both of whom could be asked to play some important downs for the Redskins this season.
Amerson, who hasn’t spent much time playing nickel, intercepted a nation-leading 13 passes in 2011. The 13 picks were the most by a NCAA Division I defender since Oregon’s George Shaw intercepted a record 14 passes back in 1967. For his collegiate career, Amerson finished with 18 interceptions in 26 games.
A sturdy-framed (6-0 and 205) defender with speed (he ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the combine), the Redskins like the tools that the 21-year-old defensive back possesses.
“I thought Amerson played really well the last couple of years,” Shanahan said post-draft. “The last couple of years he’s really done a good job of getting interceptions. He’s a guy we think can play in off coverage and in bump coverage. He’s got the speed that you look for. He’s got some length. He’s just a guy we thought would fin into our system very well.”
Selecting a cornerback at No. 51 seemed like a no-brainer for a Redskins team that finished 30th in passing defense while allowing 11 passes of 40 or-more yards to be completed in 2012. The only question was which of the available cornerbacks would Washington have rated highest on their board.
Thirty-four picks later, at No. 85 overall, the Redskins used their third-round pick on Florida tight end Jordan Reed.
Reed is a speedy pass-catcher with supreme athleticism who could ultimately become a dangerous open-field weapon based on his combination of size (6-foot-2 and 243-pounds) and speed (4.7 40-yard dash).
With pro bowl caliber Fred Davis and steady backup Logan Paulsen anchoring a solid position group at tight end, the Redskins couldn’t have entered the draft feeling like they needed to upgrade their personnel at Reed’s position. But the selection of the Gators’ 2012 leading receiver came down to a simple case of Washington evaluating his potential as being too impressive to ignore.
“Sometimes you have guys projected in the second and third round that are gone,” Shanahan said. “When he was there with our pick, we felt it was a value we couldn’t pass up. We think he brings a lot to our football team that we didn’t have.”
But while Washington felt good about its tight end situation before taking Reed, it isn’t as though there won’t be any opportunity for the former high school quarterback to get on the field if he develops into the type of pass-catching threat Shanahan projects that he could become. Davis, coming off a serious Achilles injury, hasn’t finished either of the last two seasons on the Redskins’ active roster. Paulsen, a steady blocker and a tireless worker, isn’t a threat to make plays in the open field after a catch. And Niles Paul, entering his second season as a tight end after being drafted as a wide receiver, is still a project.
Reed could be viewed as a future replacement for Davis, who isn’t under contract beyond this season. Or he might just be viewed as a high-upside athlete at a position where lots of teams are trying to incorporate two players on the field at the same time. Regardless, he’s an intriguing prospect in an offense that led the NFL in yards per completion a year ago.
With five picks still remaining in the final four rounds of the draft, which will be completed on Saturday, the Redskins still have several areas where they could use a bolstering of depth. The team still doesn’t have a trustworthy and proven starting free safety on its roster, in the wake of an offseason that saw Washington return 21 of 22 starters from offense and defense (every position but free safety).
Offensive line depth and linebacking help could also be areas Washington looks to focus on with a couple of its mid-round selections. The selection of a wide receiver who could operate out of the slot would also make a lot of sense for a team that doesn’t have a plan for life without Santana Moss (in the final year of his contract) just yet.
Having made one pick that fills a need and another to add a player at a position that was already professionally built, you can expect the Redskins to begin the final day of the draft trying to add players who may be able to contribute at some point in 2013. By the end of the day, though, Shanahan and his staff will likely just be trying to find players that they deem rosterable, regardless of the position they play.