The day after possibly finding a long-term solution at cornerback, the Washington Redskins selected two turnover-forcing safeties Saturday on the final day of the NFL draft, potentially shoring up one of the most uncertain positions on the roster.
With their three remaining draft picks, the Redskins improved their depth, selecting speedy running back Chris Thompson and pass rusher Brandon Jenkins — both fifth-rounders out of Florida State — and then added Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison in the seventh round.
With a total of seven players added in six rounds, Coach Mike Shanahan declared Washington’s draft a success.
“When you get done with the draft, you’re trying to look for some depth and some competition on your football team and I thought we were able to do that today,” he said. “I felt good about the guys that we did get. It gives guys a chance to compete against one another, and we’re a better football team today than we were yesterday, and I thought the draft went well.”
The Redskins appear to have gotten bargain deals in Thomas and Rambo. Shanahan called his team fortunate to have landed both safeties, which he and his staff rated highly, but didn’t know if they’d both be available.
The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Thomas — a unanimous first-team all-American selection by the American Football Coaches Association, the Associated Press and Football Writers Association — was expected to be drafted either late in the second round or somewhere in the third round.
But both rounds came and went on Friday, and Thomas remained available.
Then on Saturday afternoon, at the 119th selection of the draft (22nd of the fourth round), Thomas’s phone rang, and on the other end was the team he grew up cheering for.
“I started getting a little anxious, going throughout the whole draft, watching everybody get picked,” Thomas said via conference call. “But I knew God had a plan for me, and all I needed to do was wait. I couldn’t be happier with where I’m going now. . . . I’m going to come in and give it all I got. I feel like I’m going to be the steal of the draft.”
The 6-foot-1, 211-pound Rambo also went much later than was expected. He was considered a third- or fourth-round pick before the draft.
“I thought everybody had forgotten about me, man,” Rambo said. “I was sitting here, praying, asking God to give me one team that liked me, and the Redskins called. It’s just a blessed moment and I just thank the organization for believing in me.”
Although frustrated by the long wait, Rambo believed off-field issues scared teams off. He served multiple drug suspensions in college — most recently at the start of his senior year — but said those issues are in the past.
“I understand where they’re coming from, but that’s behind me,” he said. “That’s my past. I can’t control my past, I can just grow from it.”
Speaking further about his suspension, Rambo said: “It was a very selfish decision I made, but I grew from it, and it helped me put my priorities in order and just take every moment as it comes. It helped me be a better person and be mentally strong.”
Shanahan said that the Redskins feel good about Rambo’s maturity level despite his past.
“We do a lot of background checks,” the coach explained. “We talk to these people quite a bit, and not only him, coaches and head coaches, and if we don’t feel comfortable with someone, we don’t sign them, and we felt very comfortable with him.”
In selecting cornerback David Amerson in the second round along with Thomas and Rambo, Washington acquired three of the top interception leaders in the last two college seasons. In 2011, Amerson notched an NCAA-high 13 picks in 2011 and Rambo ranked second with eight. Thomas missed all of 2011 with a broken leg and dislocated ankle, but rebounded last fall with a nation-leading eight picks. Amerson and Rambo had five and three interceptions, respectively, in 2012.
“We’ve talked about turnovers since I’ve been here,” Shanahan said. “Usually, the team that excels in turnovers, they win championships. If it’s not Super Bowls, it’s getting into the playoffs, and that will always be an emphasis on offense and defense. These guys have come up with a lot of turnovers and it’s one of the reasons why they were drafted where they were.”
Shanahan said Thomas, who played in a nearly identical system in college — and whose position coach at Fresno State was former San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl safety Tim McDonald — potentially could start if he does well during the offseason practices.
“That’s what you’re hoping for. . . . Some guys can pick things up fairly quickly,” Shanahan said. “I think for a guy like Phillip Thomas, it’ll be a little bit easier because they ran a very similar system to what we have, so he might be able to help us a little bit quicker. But you never know for sure until they get out here, start working out. But we feel very good about the guys we signed.”