NEW YORK —Two weeks before the Washington Redskins made the bold decision to spend their first-round pick in the NFL draft on a pass rusher rather than address their need at the quarterback position, Ryan Kerrigan made his first trip to Washington.
Kerrigan had visited nearly 20 NFL teams, but his meeting with Redskins coaches felt different.
“He said, ‘Mom, I’d really like to go there,’ ” recalled his mother, Anita. “And he hadn’t said that about any other team.”
The feeling was mutual. The Redskins enjoyed a busy first day of the draft, trading the 10th overall pick and adding Kerrigan, instantly bolstering the league’s 31st-ranked defense and adding a much-needed pass rusher opposite Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo.
“I know they’ve got a great core great group of guys -- Brian Orakpo, London Fletcher, LaRon Landry -- I’m looking forward to being a part of that,” Kerrigan said moments after stepping off the stage at Radio City Music Hall, with his new burgundy jersey and black Redskins’ cap.
With the opportunity to select a possible franchise quarterback, the Redskins instead traded away the 10th overall selection, sliding back six spots and picking up another draft pick in the process.
“When you look at him, we think he fits in our system very well,” Coach Mike Shanahan said of Kerrigan, “not only to play the run but to play the pass. Blue-collar player and we’re sure glad he’s part of the Redskins.”
The draft unfolded favorably for Shanahan and the Redskins, with several top prospects still on the board when the Redskins went on the clock. It was enough to entice the Jacksonville Jaguars to pick up the phone and negotiate a trade.
The Jaguars parted with their first-round pick (the 16th overall) and their second-round selection (the 49th overall), in order to move up and take Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, considered by many to be the draft’s second-best quarterback behind Auburn’s Cam Newton. With Donovan McNabb’s future in Washington in doubt, many analysts predicted the Redskins would chase a quarterback in the first round of this year’s draft. Even with Gabbert, Florida State’s Christian Ponder and TCU’s Andy Dalton available at the No. 10 slot, Washington preferred to slide back six spots, where the team still was able to secure the pass-rusher coaches coveted.
“We felt fortunate,” Shanahan said. “It doesn’t always work out that way. Obviously Jacksonville wanted a quarterback. It was a perfect situation for us. They called us up with about six minutes left, and we were able to make the trade and hopefully [it’s] good for both teams.”
Though Kerrigan played defensive end for the Boilermakers’ 4-3 defense, he’ll likely transition to outside linebacker in Washington’s 3-4 defense, a position change that Orakpo underwent when the Redskins drafted him in 2009. Orakpo now usually lines up on the right side of the line. For Kerrigan, it feels like a perfect fit.
“I’ve always been a strong pass rusher on the left side. That’s what really excited both parties, both me and the Redskins,” Kerrigan said. “I’m really excited about playing the left side for them.”
Kerrigan is an athletic end. He clocked a 4.72 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and bench-pressed 225 pounds a total of 40 times.
He forced 14 fumbles and tallied 33.5 sacks during his four years at Purdue. He led the nation in fumbles caused in both his junior and senior seasons.
Kerrigan was a unanimous all-American and voted all-Big Ten first team as a senior, when he tallied 70 tackles — 50 unassisted — 12.5 sacks and 26 tackles for losses. Purdue’s defensive MVP each of his final two seasons, Kerrigan led the Big Ten with 13 sacks during his junior campaign, ranking him third in the nation. He tied the school’s single-season record that year with seven forced fumbles.
“If you look at my production over the past couple of years, I’ve steadily gotten better every year,” he said. “I think that was one of my strongest selling points. I’ve been productive, I’ve proven it in college. I think that’s something that can carry over into the pros.”
The Redskins began the draft with eight total picks, but only two in the first four rounds. By trading away the 10th overall selection, they gave themselves the chance to pick up three players who might be able to make an immediate impact next season, rather than just two. For a team with plenty of holes, it was a trade the Redskins felt fortunate to make.
For now, Kerrigan and the Redskins are excited about their new union. Following the first round, Kerrigan was outside the green room when Corey Liuget, San Diego’s new defensive lineman, offered congratulations.
“I told you when we was in New York, I’d take you before me any day,” Liuget said.