By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Safety LaRon Landry may be considered the best defensive player available in the NFL draft by many in the Washington Redskins' organization, but that doesn't mean that taking him with the sixth overall pick Saturday is an automatic decision.
Landry's talent and potential are beyond debate, but executives from several other teams say they wonder how well he might mesh with starting safety Sean Taylor and whether addressing needs on the defensive line, which faltered against the run and failed to muster much of a pass rush last season, isn't more urgent. Still, sources said, there is strong internal support at Redskins Park for Landry, a Louisiana State player who had a particularly strong workout for Redskins officials last Monday in Baton Rouge.
"Landry can do a lot of things, and he may be the best kid on the board [on defense], but he's not going to improve their defensive line," said a high-ranking official from an NFC team, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of draft evaluations. "Taking another safety that high is a luxury I am not sure they can afford."
Landry and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye (Louisville) are the most likely choices should the Redskins retain the sixth pick -- the team could still trade up or down. Executives and scouting directors from numerous other NFL teams said privately that they, too, agreed with that assessment of Landry but wondered if he is the best fit for the Redskins.
"There's no doubt Landry is a great prospect," said one NFL scouting director. "We really like him. I can see why you would want to take him that high [safeties traditionally have not been top-10 picks]. He is a great all-around athlete. He can play deep, he can play at the line, he can play halves [of the field], he can play in different systems.
"But with your safeties you want one guy to be a stabilizer -- a steady, heady guy who can make the calls and get everyone lined up and keep everyone together. From what we've seen and what we know, that's not Landry. He's not that cerebral, he can be a little immature. I know for us, say, we wouldn't want to play two Ed Reed types or [Troy] Polamalu types together. You can't have two gamblers back there, two safeties who will get away from the scheme and do their own thing sometimes, and from what we know about Taylor, I would be a little worried those two [Landry and Taylor] playing together. I'm just not sure how well that would work."
Historically, safeties have been selected later in the draft, with the position viewed as not as essential as those with players stationed closer to the line of scrimmage. But with the emergence of more hybrid players such as Taylor -- big enough to play linebacker and fast enough to play in the secondary -- safeties have become more enticing. When the Redskins took Taylor fifth overall in 2004, it was the highest any safety had been selected since 1991, and in 2005 Washington invested the ninth overall pick in another defensive back, corner Carlos Rogers.
But sources said the Redskins view Landry as an elite talent -- a natural strong safety who could play free safety in the NFL. They believe that within their scheme Landry could thrive in coverage and as a blitzing presence and that Landry's versatility would make him a good fit with Taylor. He is much more gifted athletically than any safety currently on the roster -- save for Taylor -- and his presence could help reverse what was a foundering secondary in 2006, some coaches and scouts believe. Landry must learn to adjust better to the ball while in flight, scouts said.
He has been very impressed by the seriousness of Washington's interest in him, according to sources close to the player, but is also drawing strong interest from Minnesota and Atlanta, which hold the seventh and eighth picks, respectively.
One scout who has watched Landry closely believes he will have to become more of a student of the game to work well with Taylor, and that his older brother, Dawan, a safety with Baltimore, could be a positive influence with his more restrained style and more erudite approach. Taylor, whose pairing with Adam Archuleta last season was disastrous, has continued to struggle at times in coverage and repeatedly sacrifices proper positioning in an attempt to land a punishing hit. He has yet to develop into the consistent game-changing force the Redskins need (despite some flashes), and coupling him with a rookie might not help him develop.
If the team opts to pick the best defensive player available, Landry would be rated slightly ahead of Okoye by many in the organization. In that case the Redskins, among the most aggressive teams in pursuing trades and free agents, likely would turn to those methods to bolster the defensive line before the start of training camp.