After sitting idle for the first 50 picks of the NFL draft, the Washington Redskins got to work on Friday night. They selected North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson with the 51st overall pick and Florida tight end Jordan Reed with the 85th overall choice.
Looking to upgrade a secondary that ranked 30th in the league last season, yielding 4,511 passing yards, Washington added a ball hawk: Amerson recorded 13 interceptions in 2011, which tied for second most in a season in NCAA history, and added five picks in 2012.
Blessed with size (6 feet 1, 205 pounds) and speed (he once ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds), Amerson plays with an aggressive, physical style that makes him a threat in man-to-man coverage.
He meets a need because although starters DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson remain on the roster, both are entering the final year of their respective contracts. Meantime, last year’s third cornerback, Cedric Griffin, no longer is with the team.
The team signed free agent E.J. Biggers, but the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer has started more than six games in a season only once in his four-year career. He presumably will compete for the third cornerback spot along with Amerson, second-year pro Richard Crawford and Chase Minnifield, who spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve.
Amerson visited the Redskins on April 10. He met with secondary coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. He said he came away from that meeting with the belief that he would be a good fit in Washington’s system.
“I think they’re both brilliant guys and great coaches and will make me a better player. I’m real excited,” Amerson said. “I know it’s a hard-nosed defense, a lot of good players, a lot of competitors. They just get after it. It’s something I would like to be a part of, really.
“When I got that call, all the hard work over the years and being one of the dreams since I started playing as a kid, it all hit me at once. It was one of the best feelings ever,” Amerson later added.
Amerson admittedly didn’t have as strong a junior season as he did as a sophomore in 2011. He recorded four interceptions in his first seven games of the 2012 season, but also gave up numerous big plays in which he said he gambled and lost.
“Just trying to top off last year. Me being the competitor I am, trying to excel past that. Just trying too hard,” Amerson said. “At the beginning of the season, I was trying to make every play, trying to make everything an interception, trying to just jump every route, and I started sitting on routes, eyes in the backfield, and it was more so beating myself more than getting beat by other receivers. It’s something I had to eliminate.”
Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan dismissed the notion that over-aggression would plague Amerson.
“We don’t really worry about that,” the coach said. “We’re going to coach him the way we coach him, to fit into our system, and he’s got the athletic ability to make plays. Any time you’ve got length, you’re in that 4.4 range, you’re in that 6-foot area, you have the ability to play off coverage and bump, we do a lot of different things with our secondary. We think we can give him some opportunities he hasn’t had in the past, and we’re just looking forward to working with him.”
Meanwhile, tight end also is a position that carries a degree of uncertainty.
Fred Davis is the most talented of a unit that also includes Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul, but he is coming back from surgery to repair a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon. He re-signed this season on a one-year deal, but isn’t yet 100 percent. Paulsen started in his place, but lacks comparable speed and explosiveness. Paul, who played wide receiver as a rookie, switched to tight end last season and is still learning the position.
Reed also is relatively new to the position.
Coming out of high school, he was one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. He played tight end and slot receiver for the Gators in 2010, and started at quarterback in the Outback Bowl that season.
Reed played almost exclusively at tight end in 2011 and ranked second on the team with 28 catches for 307 yards and a touchdown.
In 2012, he earned first-team all-Southeastern Conference honors after leading Florida with 45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns. Because of his versatility and ability to line up at tight end, wide receiver and H-back, Reed draws comparisons to New England’s Aaron Hernandez.
Reed said Washington drafting him came as a surprise because he had no contact with the team leading up to the draft. However, he sees himself as an ideal fit in Washington’s offense.
“It’s incredible. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation,” Reed said. “I’m blessed.”
Said Shanahan: “We weren’t necessarily looking for a tight end, but when [Reed] was there, we couldn’t pass him up.”
The coach said Washington had Reed rated as one of the top receiving tight ends in the draftt and although he expects health from Davis, and improvement from Paulsen and Paul, he believes Reed can bring an added dimension that will cause problems for defenses.
“We took a look at Reed and he’s got a great ability to make people miss. When he’s got the ball in his hands, he can do things with the ball that is very athletic, something that a lot of tight ends can’t do,” Shanahan said. “He brings a lot of things to our football team that we didn’t have, that we don’t have, and now we get a chance to see what he can do.”
Earlier on Friday, the Redskins restructured Wilson’s contract to create more flexibility beneath the salary cap.
Set to count $5.3 million against the cap in 2013, Wilson’s salary was lowered from $3.9 million to $2 million. Under his new deal, he will receive a signing bonus of $1.3 million.
He now counts $3.4 million against the cap.
Prior to restructuring Wilson’s deal, the Redskins had only $30,000 in cap space -- not enough to sign the rookies acquired via this week’s draft.