WASHINGTON — The Redskins have a defense full of holes and severely lacking playmakers.
Their offensive line was solid in 2016, but they could use an upgrade at left guard and center.
They might also lose both of their top two receivers, and the combination of Matt Jones and Rob Kelley isn’t exactly inspiring when it comes to a one-two backfield punch.
There is very real reason to believe the Redskins will need to considerably improve their running back situation and their receiving corps this offseason or suffer a significant offensive decline next season. But is that as high of a priority as the defense, which was arguably one of the five worst in football a season ago?
It depends on who you ask, really. GM Scot McCloughan is a very firm believer in the draft strategy of taking the best player available no matter the circumstances. Generally speaking, fans without any experience running a team are opposed to that strategy and demand their favorite teams draft the best player at what they perceive to be the biggest hole on the team.
Also worth taking into consideration is positional value: McCloughan endured some criticism for his selection of Brandon Scherff with the fifth pick in the 2015 draft, as guards aren’t typically considered top-10 picks.
The value of running backs dropped steeply in recent seasons, though it enjoyed something of a revival thanks to the stellar rookie season of Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott. The value of wide receivers is fairly high, but it’s also become clear in recent seasons that plenty of high-end is still available in the later rounds, as evidenced by 2016 second-round pick Michael Thomas, second-round pick Sterling Shepard, fourth-round pick Malcolm Mitchell and fifth-round pick Tyreek Hill.
So the question begs to be asked: Would the Redskins really draft a receiver or running back in the first round?
Despite the glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball and the possible later value, it is certainly possible they would do exactly that, and several analysts seem to think that’s exactly what they’ll do.
Take as reference the second mock draft by ESPN expert Mel Kiper. Kiper projects the Redskins to draft Florida State running back Dalvin Cook with their first-round pick, which is the 17th pick overall.
Here’s Kiper’s take:
At what point should a team forget about what’s conventional and just take the best football player, period? That’s a question that could come into play with Cook, whom some teams will have graded as nearly on par with Leonard Fournette. The Redskins like Rob Kelley, but they don’t have a home-run hitter like Cook, who could help take some pressure off QB Kirk Cousins, assuming he’s back.
Cook is considered by many to be the best running back in the draft, though others consider him a close second to LSU’s Leonard Fournette — Kiper has Fournette going No. 6 overall to the New York Jets. He would almost definitely be a tremendous asset to the Redskins, but would it be the best use of their pick?
Kiper is one of the few analysts projecting Washington to take a running back in the first round, but there is a small contingent of draft experts who forecast the Redskins taking another receiver. If both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson leave in free agency this offseason, which is a very real possibility, the Redskins’ receiving core would be down to essentially Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson and a handful of virtual unknowns.
They’d still have Jordan Reed, who would help take some pressure off the rest of the receivers, but that’s a marked decline in talent from the group the Redskins put on the field in 2016.
That said, McCloughan didn’t earn himself many fans when he opted to select Doctson in the first round in the 2016 draft instead of addressing the porous defense, and fans won’t be thrilled if he does the same this time around — especially if Doctson doesn’t return to health.
In early January, we took a look at some mock drafts around the web, and two analysts had Washington going receiver in the first round. Dan Kadar of SB Nation had Washington taking John Ross, a burner from Washington, and Todd McShay had the Redskins taking USC star JuJu Smith-Schuster.
In our second mock draft roundup, earlier this month, we noted Bucky Brooks of NFL.com pegging the Redskins to take Ross, as well.
Plenty of analysts have forecasted the Redskins addressing their defense, whether it be via pass-rushing help, a star safety, a top-end cover corner or a space-eating defensive tackle. All are pressing needs, and there should be some talent available at each position when the Redskins pick.
But if the Redskins are on the clock with the 17th pick, and the best player available, in McCloughan’s eyes, happens to be a running back or receiver, will he let fan opinion sway him at all? Or will he adapt to his team needs and choose, say, the second-best player available?
Or, will he draft another receiver and possibly stake his job on the performance of that receiver and Doctson?