The Redskins have made a lot of moves this off season. They have a new coach, some new defensive backs, and oh yeah, they signed some wide receiver from Philadelphia. After a disastrous 2013 campaign that saw Washington finish 3-13, such splashy moves have revived hopes that Washington can bounce back and return to the playoffs this season.
While the moves in free agency are promising, particularly the DeSean Jackson signing, there are still holes to fill heading into one of the most significant events of the off season, the NFL Draft. The success of teams like the Packers, 49ers, Seahawks, and Patriots underlines the importance of the draft in building a team for long-term success (not to mention how the continued failings of a team like the Raiders illustrate the failings of a free-agent heavy approach).
With the ever-increasing global popularity of the NFL — a league that has played more and more games on foreign soil in places like Toronto and London in recent years –the audience for NFL content is at an all-time high, leading sites like the UK-centric Gambling.com to include a lengthy section extolling the importance of the draft in their primer on American football, and pretty much from the time the final whistle blows on Super Bowl Sunday fans and pundits alike start focusing heavily on the draft. Outlets big and small devote all kinds of ink to the three-day event. Fans can find dozens of mock drafts published every week alongside individual scouting reports on the top prospects their favorite teams are eyeing.
So yeah, the draft is kind of a big deal for every team, and the Redskins are no different. For a team looking to find a lasting identity after alternating from a playoff team in 2012 to last year’s terrible finish, a few quality picks this time around may be the difference between a return to the postseason and another year of counting down the weeks to the end of the season. With that in mind, here are a few of the most pressing concerns the Redskins need to address come May 8.
The offense, particularly the skill position players like RG3, Jackson, and Alfred Morris, should be one of the best units in the NFL barring injuries. That is not so much the case on the other side of the ball. The Redskin defense allowed 29.9 points per game in 2013, tied for 30th in the league, just barely ahead of the last place Vikings (30 ppg). As Pro-Football Reference points out, the 478 points allowed by Washington was over 50 points worse than preseason models expected from the team.
Of particular concern is the secondary. The signings of Ryan Clark and Tracy Porter are attempts at addressing this deficiency, but they are far from long-term solutions. Clark is 34 years old, and Porter has a limited skill set best suited to covering slot receivers, yet both will be expected to play a majority of snaps this season. David Amerson is young and full of potential, but he is about the only member of the secondary that those labels can be applied to. With Washington’s first pick coming at 34th overall thanks to the 2012 trade that allowed them to draft Robert Griffin, some of the top secondary defenders like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Darqueze Dennard will almost certainly be off the board. But players like Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby should be available and could provide an instant boost to a defensive backfield that could sorely use one.
With the retirement of London Fletcher and questions surrounding Brian Orakpo’s long-term future in the nation’s capital, now could be the time to find some talent to pair with players like Ryan Kerrigan at the second level of the defense. Hoping Alabama’s CJ Moseley will still be available at 34 is probably unrealistic, but talented and productive linebackers like Brigham Young’s Kyle Van Noy and Wisconsin’s Chris Borland should be available in later rounds.
Protecting RG3 better is obviously a priority, as the talented but injury prone quarterback is the most important factor in determining the success of the Redskins. They have already signed guard Shawn Lauvao from Cleveland to strengthen their front five, but the addition of a talented right tackle could go a long way toward easing the minds of Redskins fans. Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio is the most tantalizing prospect in that regard, as he was once regarded as a sure-fire first round pick before a disappointing final college season dropped his expected selection slot. Despite the falling stock, he is still a talented athlete from Nick Saban’s football factory and will be worth a long hard look if he is still available early in the second round.
The NFL draft takes place May 8-10 and can be seen on the NFL Network.