For the past few years, being a Washington Redskins fan usually meant an unexciting draft day. Owner Dan Synder and Redskins executive Vinny Cerrato's modus operandi was to trade away draft picks for established players who often turned out to be busts. Recently cut wide receiver Brandon Lloyd would be the latest example.
This year, things were going to be different. In recent years, former head coach Joe Gibbs, along with Synder and Cerrato, made the drafting decisions. There was speculation that having three different inputs caused confusion and chaos for personnel moves. Gibbs retired at the end of last season and Synder anointed Cerrato de facto GM in the offseason. According to reports, Cerrato's new title gives him the bulk of the power when it comes to personnel choices. Like many others, I had assigned most of the blame for the Skins recent poor choices to him. Nevertheless, I thought that with less interference he might actually come up with a draft that made sense.
He certainly would have plenty of opportunity; Washington had the most draft picks in one year since 2000. They had plenty of holes to fill, but nearly enough draft picks to address them all. Looking back on their draft, it did match match their needs, but in almost a completely backwards order.
Primary priorities going into the draft should have been right guard, cornerback, safety, and a left guard/left tackle or center. I thought secondary priorities should have been punter, defensive tackle, wide receiver, and a weak side linebacker.
The offensive line is getting old; all five starters are over 30 years of age. Starting RG Randy Thomas and starting RT Jon Jansen combined for only four starts last year. Stephon Heyer, an undrafted pickup last year, did his best at RT, but still has leaps and bounds to go in improvement. Randy Thomas' backup is Jason Fabini; he is a not a youngster at 34. He did not particularly dazzle in relief last year either, defenders too often got at the quarterback from his side. The left side of the line missed no starts last year, and center Casey Rabach only missed one. However, given the age of the line I would say it is about time the 'Skins starting bringing in some new blood.
In last year's playoff loss against Seattle, opposing quarterback Matt Hasselback just had too much time in the pocket. Without anyone pressuring him, he easily found open receivers and kept drives going longer than they should have. Clearly, the 'Skins needed to add a fearsome pass-rushing defensive end during the draft. Philip Daniels is a decent DE, but not a feared one. The line needs to be able to add pressure from both sides. Right now, opposing offensive lines can concentrate on stopping the elite DE Andre Carter.
Second corner Carlos Rogers will likely miss the first few games of the season due to injury. Number one corner Shawn Springs is often nicked up. Fred Smoot is the third corner right now, but will have to play as the second until Rogers heals, and if Springs gets hurt again might even have to move up to number one. There has also been some talk about Springs' contract; he may not be around in 2009. All of this should have made adding another corner a high priority.
Most of the national pundits were predicting the Redskins to pick a safety in the first round. But why? Reed Doughty and LaRon Landry played well last year and deserve to keep their first string positions. Still, the 'Skins only had three safeties on the roster going into the draft; surely drafting another would be their fourth or fifth priority.
So, when the draft went down, I was confused. First, the Redskins traded away their first round pick to the Falcons to get another pick in Round 2. The Falcons then took offensive tackle Sam Baker, whom the Redskins could have used. He is a big, strong offensive lineman that can play guard and tackle.
Their first pick in the second round was Devin Thomas, a big-bodied wide receiver whom the commentators regarded as a steal at this draft pick. Nevertheless, their next 2nd round pick is beyond puzzling: tight end Fred Davis. He sounds like a fine TE and all, and may even become an NFL star later in his career, but there was absolutely no need for him. Chris Cooley is one of the elite TEs in the NFL and has never missed a start. Second TEs in this league are a dime a dozen; there always seem to be serviceable ones out there in free agency and later in the draft.
At this point, surely Cerrato and Synder were done with pass-catchers and were about to get down to business. No! They chose wideout Malcolm Kelly with their third pick of the second round. Again, a big-bodied receiver considered a steal at this late in the draft. Jason Campbell now has plenty of receivers to throw to – if the line holds up long enough for him to get to that. Now with Antwaan Randle El, Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, and the draft picks Thomas, Davis, and Kelly, you have six receiving threats. Six threats who will probably all want to touch the ball during a game.
On Sunday, Cerrato and Synder seemed to come to their senses and realized that you have to play defense sometimes too. And they took offensive tackle Chad Rinehart, corner Justin Tyron, punter Durant Brooks, safeties Kareem Moore and Chris Horton, quarterback Colt Brennan, and defensive end Rob Jackson. The pundits seemed to have liked the majority of the 'Skins later picks. The consensus was good selections at great values with a few possible starters.
On day two, I really liked the selection of Brennan. He can come in and compete for a third-string spot and then for second-string in a few years. There are many knocks on him that allowed him to fall so far. His character issues, injuries, and the fact that he's a product of Hawaii's system. However, he has great accuracy and I cannot wait to see how he develops.
I also like drafting Durant Brooks at punter. Derrick Frost is a mediocre punter who buckles under pressure. This pick will end up either replacing him with an upgrade or make him up his game. Either way the Redskins need it.
Reports and articles have said that Cerrato and Synder were simply following their board. They chose the best player on their list, regardless of needs. In a recent Washington Post article, Cerrato commented that: "In the past, when we've made mistakes, it's because [we] didn't go by 'take the best players, not fill a need." Regardless of Cerrato's justification, this smacks of the 'Skins once again choosing the razzle-dazzle over their actual needs.
Articles have also defended their decisions, pointing out that a wide receiver's NFL potential is harder to predict than perhaps any other position. By taking two, the 'Skins have twice the chance of success.
Other factors may be that there simply were not any sure things at the other positions. The more marquee names taken at defensive end and offensive line all had some sort of question mark. Some are banged up, others are criticized for being one-dimensional.
The talking heads say it takes three years before you know whether your draft is successful. That may be, but I still think the Redskins have some holes in their roster. They still need a backup defensive tackle to add depth and competition to that position. That line also needs another DE to complement Andre Carter. We saw how important having a solid D-line is last year with the Giants. I do think they addressed their needs with their later picks, if they plan on those picks playing later this year.
Overall, it was a better draft than usual for Washington, but not the one that is going to push the team over the top. That might be next year's.