NFL draft 2013: Redskins need to unearth gems in later rounds

Post Sports Live’s Jason Reid offers his extra points about how the Washington Redskins should approach the 2013 NFL draft. (Post Sports Live)
Jason Reid
Columnist April 25, 2013

The Washington Redskins got the superstar they needed in last year’s draft. In this draft, the Redskins should help quarterback Robert Griffin III by fixing the defense.

Any team that made the playoffs despite a glaring deficiency on defense — the Redskins’ secondary was among the worst in the league — can’t expect Griffin, who’s rehabbing after major knee surgery, to rescue it as often as he did last season. Factor in that the club didn’t have a selection in Thursday’s first round (part of the price to get Griffin) and made no significant additions in free agency while dealing with the two-year, $36 million salary cap reduction imposed by the NFL, and it’s clear the Redskins are relying on the remainder of the draft for a whole lot.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

Beginning Friday, Washington will have seven picks, including the club’s first in the second round (51st overall). Barring trades, the Redskins also choose in the third, fourth, fifth (twice), sixth and seventh rounds. The word around the league is that defensive backfield help should be available in the middle rounds.

For the Redskins to get it right, they’ll need to uncover some draft gems, especially at safety. Strong additions at cornerback would help, and a right tackle or two with potential wouldn’t hurt. The Redskins must find those guys who slip into the later rounds because they fail to impress at the scouting combine or fall short in some measurable — but have what it takes to shine in actual NFL games. Those players are out there. They always are.

Throughout NFL history, there’s a long list of late-round picks who proved the so-called draft experts wrong. And it’s not just quarterbacks like Joe Montana and Tom Brady. Pick a position, and you’ll find effective players who missed out on the draft hype.

The Post Sports Live crew debates which position the Redskins should choose for their second-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. (Post Sports Live)

The New York Giants probably wouldn’t have won two Super Bowls in the past six seasons without one of the sport’s best defensive lines. Defensive lineman Justin Tuck is the group’s leader. He also was the 74th pick in 2005. Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen is another monster edge rusher who hung around late: pick No. 126 in 2004.

In 2003, there were 67 players chosen ahead of Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs. During the same draft, cornerback Asante Samuel heard 119 names called before his.

Despite the big bucks the NFL spends on scouting college players (we’re talking millions), the only “sure thing” in the draft is that mistakes will be made in every round. What eventually happens on the field reveals who was picked too low — and way too high. Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan has been through it all many times.

Shanahan is known for getting highly productive running backs very late in the draft. Sixth-rounderAlfred Morris was his latest find. As a rookie last season, Morris set a Redskins franchise record with 1,613 yards rushing. Morris’s surprising performance brought to mind another once-obscure sixth-rounder from Shanahan’s past: Terrell Davis.

While in Denver, Shanahan, who has had his share of misses, also drafted wide receiver Brandon Marshall and defensive end Elvis Dumervil with fourth-round picks. Shanahan doesn’t have some magic formula for late-round success. It’s just hard work.

“When it comes to your turn, you’re hoping to find guys like that,” Shanahan said in his office the other day. “That’s why you’re always talking to people, listening, watching all the film you can to see if you see something, anything, that maybe [other teams] missed. . . . That’s why you watch film from 7 in the morning to 6 at night, because finding those types of players helps you become an organization that wins.”

New England and Baltimore show no signs of slipping from their spots high on the list. Patriots Coach Bill Belichick and Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome run organizations that have proven to be better than most at evaluating players. Granted, the Patriots got lucky with Brady. But you don’t win three Super Bowls unless you know what you’re doing at draft time. Belichick definitely knows players.

Post Sports Live’s Dan Steinberg offers his extra points about whether or not the Redskins should target LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu. (Post Sports Live)

For a decade, Matt Light was the Patriots’ franchise left tackle. Belichick chose Light 48th overall in 2001. Samuel was a fourth-rounder, and longtime center Dan Koppen was a fifth-rounder in the same draft. Newsome has built two Super Bowl winners, in part, by drafting standout players such as running back Ray Rice (55th overall), wide receiver Torrey Smith (58th overall) and offensive lineman Marshal Yanda (86th overall) after the first round.

For the Patriots and Ravens, their draft success is built on the foundation of stability provided by Belichick and Newsome. Under Shanahan, the Redskins finally are moving toward the best.

Before Shanahan arrived, the Redskins were a textbook example of what not to do with draft picks. With the exception of talented tight end Fred Davis and backup linebacker Rob Jackson, their 10-member 2008 class was comically bad. Shanahan’s Redskins drafts, for the most part, have been solid.

The Redskins returned to prominence because of Griffin, the NFL’s 2012 offensive rookie of the year. He’ll be the face of the league for a decade or so, assuming he can stay in the game. Although Morris, more than anyone, benefited from the attention Griffin drew from defenses, Morris was a major draft success story nonetheless.

Last season, left tackle Trent Williams, Shanahan’s first draft pick in Washington, played in his first Pro Bowl. It was a nice comeback for Williams, who missed the final four games of the 2011 season after failing multiple drug tests.

Inside linebacker Perry Riley has settled into the starting spot opposite London Fletcher. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is a cornerstone guy. Defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, wideout Aldrick Robinson — Shanahan’s picks have made an impact.

Now, Shanahan will have to be creative in reconstructing the secondary in the draft to help Griffin lead the Redskins further. Fortunately for Griffin, Shanahan has experience with this sort of thing.

For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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