Redskins’ third draft under Mike Shanahan was about Robert Griffin III and added depth


Kirk Cousins was a curious fourth-round pick after the Redskins had taken quarterback Robert Griffin III in the first, but he’s demonstrative of how Mike Shanahan approached this draft looking for backups as well as starters. (Gregory Shamus/GETTY IMAGES)
April 29, 2012

The Washington Redskins kicked off the NFL Draft with a move that will make an immediate impact, taking quarterback Robert Griffin III second overall. The rest of the Redskins’ draft, however, was about depth.

The eight players taken in rounds three through seven all will receive on-the-job training likely as backups this year, and some could develop into starters next season or the year after.

Shanahan has preached the importance of building through the draft. The past two years, he has drafted a total of 21 players — the most for the Redskins since the NFL Draft went to a seven-round format in 1994.

Eleven of the 12 draftees from 2011 made the 53-man roster — the exception being Jarvis Jenkins, who spent the year on injured reserve. If the Redskins hit on this year’s picks in a similar fashion to those made last year, things bode well for this team.

“We feel very good about where we’re at,” Shanahan said after the draft.

The Redskins did raise eyebrows with some of their selections.

Entering the draft, right tackle, guard, tight end, cornerback, safety and inside linebacker seemed to rank high on the team’s priority list after quarterback.

The Redskins wound up taking two quarterbacks, two interior linemen, two defensive backs, a tackle, running back and linebacker.

Shanahan said on the eve of the draft that he felt better about the condition of Jammal Brown and his recovering hip. Sure enough, the Redskins didn’t use a high draft pick on a right tackle as was expected.

The coach said Chris Cooley’s rehab from a season-ending knee injury is going well, and that the tight end feels better than he has the past couple years. And the move of Niles Paul — drafted last year as a wide reciever, to tight end was preferable to the options the Redskins saw in the draft.

The selection of Kirk Cousins upset many Redskins fans, who believed that high fourth-round pick could have been better used elsehwhere — say, right tackle.

Could the Redskins have gotten first-year starters had they taken Oklahoma’s Donald Stephenson or Mississippi’s Bobby Massie? Maybe, but maybe not. There’s a reason why so many teams passed on both until the later third and fourth rounds, respectively. There were questions on Massie’s work ethic. And limited experience on Stephenson’s part could have made him more of a project rather than the answer over Brown or second-year pro Willie Smith.

And so, Shanahan went quarterback (Cousins) and linebacker (Texas’s Keenan Robinson — London Fletcher’s understudy) in the fourth round.

Shanahan described the chance to grab Cousins as a steal. He said the Redskins’ roster construction in the past two offseasons afforded him the luxury of drafting for depth at quarterback.

The Redskins have lacked stability at quarterback for years. Washington this weekend finally got the elite-level talent it has lacked for an eternity. But the team hasn’t had a quality backup for some time, either.

As Shanahan said, the Redskins hope Griffin doesn’t miss a game the next 10 years. But how realistic is that? Griffin is often compared to Michael Vick. Like Vick, he has amazing speed and elusiveness to go with his strong arm. But mobile quarterbacks have bull’s-eyes on their backs. Vick takes some mean licks, and in 10 seasons has played all 16 games only once.

What happens if Griffin does get hurt? Grossman knows the offense and is fearless, but he keeps both teams in games. After a year or two of grooming, Cousins should develop into a player who can step in if needed, and run the show without missing a beat.

“You can never have too much depth,” Shanahan said, referring not only to quarterback, but offensive line as well.

The coach learned that the hard way last year when Kory Lichtensteiger went down. There was no veteran to fill his spot, and so Will Montgomery slid over to guard, where he struggled, and Erik Cook did just as poorly at center. The Redskins spent the rest of the year shuffling linemen, whether it was at guard, at right or left tackle.

Shanahan didn’t neglect the line, however. The trio of rookies drafted — Josh LeRibeus, Adam Gettis and Tom Compton — have a chance to develop into solid backups at multiple positions on the line this year and next. With more experience, a player like LeRibeus could wind up starting.

And so, the Redskins drafted for depth. They’re taking the patient approach: abstaining from reaching on players, and instead picking those they can develop behind the starters they have. Then, next year or the year after, when Griffin has fully learned the NFL and turns into a dangerous quarterback, maybe his fellow 2012 draft classmates will have blossomed into reliable pieces as well.

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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