By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 26, 2007
As Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs and owner Daniel Snyder ticked off their criteria for what is expected of the player they will take with the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft, it was apparent that several players fit their general description.
Gibbs and Snyder mentioned character as a primary consideration, and spoke about the need for the player to be an elite contributor to the Redskins for years to come, though not necessarily as a rookie.
In a news conference Tuesday, Gibbs and Snyder raved about unidentified prospects that they have interviewed and dined with, saying how mature, impressive and humorous they were. They referred to Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye only when they were asked specific questions about him, and even then kept their remarks brief. But much of what they said is typical of comments about the 6-foot-2, 306-pound 19-year-old, whose stock has risen rapidly since the NFL scouting combine in February.
Okoye is considered a close second to Louisiana State safety LaRon Landry by many within Redskins Park, but sources said the club would be comfortable taking either player Saturday and has told each of them that Washington would draft him unless the team trades the sixth pick. Teams commonly say as much to multiple players this time of year.
In the end, the Redskins will, at best, end up with only one of the players. While Okoye would address a more obvious need -- defensive line remains an area of concern -- team officials have also stressed that they will not pick based on a particular need and are seeking the best player available.
Debate will continue among the scouts, coaches and management team as Saturday approaches, and players could still be shifted higher or lower on Washington's draft board. Should the Redskins opt for Okoye, executives from other clubs said they believe the pick will pan out, while numerous teams also have Landry rated as the top defensive player available.
"I think for them, that's the best pick at six," said the director of college scouting for an NFL franchise who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of draft evaluations. "Okoye is the best of the bunch [of defensive linemen in the draft]. He has all the things you look for. I think he's going to be a very good player in this league for a long time."
A personnel chief from another NFL club said: "Our guys have Okoye rated the best defensive lineman in this draft and one of the top kids on the board. I know Atlanta [with the eighth pick] loves him, too, and he's impressed a lot of people with his production and the type of kid he is."
Snyder has attended the on-campus workouts for several top players, and said Tuesday that he flew to Louisville in recent weeks to watch Okoye (Snyder was also on the sidelines for wide receiver Calvin Johnson's workout at Georgia Tech). Sources said that Okoye has received positive feedback from the Redskins since the combine and that he impressed team officials during several meetings and at a dinner at Redskins Park last week.
The Redskins consider how players conduct themselves off the field very seriously, Snyder said, even before the NFL's recent crackdown on such issues. "We were ahead of that curve," Snyder said Tuesday. Redskins officials say getting a feel for the kind of person a player is while he visits the team's headquarters -- how he answers questions, his body language, his attitude -- are important, and that Okoye has been impressive. The team talked to him at the combine, had a private workout with him a few days before his pro day workout at Louisville, scouted that workout and hosted him among 14 defensive players at Redskins Park, sources said.
"We have probably had dinner with 20, 25 of the [projected] first-round picks," Snyder said. "And you try to cover as much ground as you can in a limited amount of time. You try to make the rounds as best you can. You try to get to know them. You try to have a meal with them and to understand their backgrounds and what they're all about as a person."
Okoye's family came to this country from Nigeria when he was 12, and he was placed in ninth grade because of his intelligence test results. He had virtually no exposure to football at the time, but took to it quickly and graduated from college -- he entered Louisville when he was 16 -- with a degree in psychology in 3 1/2 years.
"We all rate that as a plus," Gibbs said.
Okoye must improve his technique and consistency -- a common trait among his peers in this draft class -- and develop his pass-rushing skills, scouts say, but his ability to move explosively as well as take up space would make him a great fit for the Redskins.
Washington has enough veterans and youngsters at tackle to allow Okoye time to come along. Should they pass on him, Atlanta, whose new head coach, Bobby Petrino, coached Okoye at Louisville, likely would pounce. The Falcons also are watching Landry closely -- he worked out privately for Petrino in Louisiana this week, sources said, the only private workout he has conducted besides the trip Redskins officials made to LSU last week.
Some believe the Falcons may be willing to move up to the sixth spot to get Landry or Okoye, and the Redskins remain interested in trading up or down.