The Redskins have so many holes in their secondary, a group that was stunningly ineffective against deep passes last season, Amerson and Thomas should compete for significant roles as rookies — if the coaching staff can get them ready in time. Reed may need to learn a lot quickly as well.
Talented tight end Fred Davis returns as the starter, but he’s still recovering from an Achilles’ tendon injury and is on a one-year contract. Shanahan expects Reed to be a playmaker. And Shanahan is counting on Washington’s top three picks to keep the team’s momentum going.
The Redskins, coming off their first NFC East title in 13 seasons, didn’t have a pick in the first round. In the last year of the NFL-imposed $36 million cap reduction, the Redskins made no major additions in free agency.
Still, before the draft Shanahan expressed confidence the Redskins would improve with their seven draft picks. His outlook was based, in large part, on last season’s turnaround. After watching the draft unfold, I understood his thinking.
“If this were a few years ago, when we started, well, yeah, then that would be tough,” Shanahan said. “But you go into it [the draft] with a plan. You go into it knowing what you want to do.”
Focusing on the secondary was a smart move. Last season, the Redskins had the NFL’s third-worst passing defense. Redskins opponents had 27 pass plays of 25 yards or more. That’s a lot.
The inability of the safeties to provide deep support for cornerbacks undermined defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s game plans. The fact that the Redskins reached the playoffs despite such poor secondary play indicates how well quarterback Robert Griffin III performed in leading the team’s outstanding offense.
Perhaps the newly configured secondary will help out Griffin, who is rehabbing from major knee surgery, and the rest of the offense next season. Amerson possesses enough talent to ignite change.
As a sophomore, Amerson, the Redskins’ first pick, led the nation with 13 interceptions. Most successful cornerbacks fall far short of that total in a four-year college career.
Amerson, who entered the draft as a junior, struggled last season. Chasing expectations, he gambled too much, was undisciplined and frequently out of position. But Amerson has the type of speed — he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds — and athleticism Shanahan wants at cornerback. Haslett and his staff will work on smoothing Amerson’s rough edges.