By Jason Reid and Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 27, 2008
The Washington Redskins succeeded in trading their first-round pick in yesterday's NFL draft -- sending the No. 21 overall pick to the Atlanta Falcons -- and then made a surprising move for a team that acknowledged it has needs in many areas, focusing exclusively on their receiving corps in drafting wide receivers Devin Thomas of Michigan State and Malcolm Kelly of Oklahoma and pass-catching tight end Fred Davis of Southern California with their top three picks.
Washington sent its picks in the first, third and fifth rounds (Nos. 21, 84 and 154 overall) to Atlanta to achieve its goal of trading down in the draft, receiving the Nos. 34 and 48 picks in the second round and a fourth-round pick, the 103rd overall. With the first pick they got from Atlanta, the Redskins selected Thomas (6 feet 2, 215 pounds).
After taking Thomas, the Redskins chose Davis at No. 48. Washington tight end Chris Cooley went to the Pro Bowl after last season, but the team is transitioning to new coach Jim Zorn's version of the West Coast offense and is expected to use multiple tight ends in formations.
And with the second-round pick they held before the trade, the 51st overall, the Redskins chose Kelly (6-4, 218).
Having failed to package their top pick for the veteran wide receiver they were seeking (Washington was rebuffed in attempts to acquire Chad Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals and Anquan Boldin of the Arizona Cardinals), the Redskins moved to add picks in the second round, believing many players remaining on the board could help them address their needs, primarily along the offensive and defensive lines, at wide receiver and safety. But owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, were determined to draft big wide receivers to provide bigger targets for developing quarterback Jason Campbell. "Our number one goal was to get a big receiver who can run," wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said.
Even Zorn, a former quarterback and an offensive-minded coach, conceded he could not have fathomed a first day of the draft such as this, bringing in three players whose primary attribute is pass-catching. "I wouldn't have predicted this scenario," Zorn said after the Redskins completed the first day of the two-day process.
Cerrato, who acknowledged the Redskins have needs at numerous positions, attributed the unusual draft to simply following Washington's draft board and selecting the best available player, regardless of already having two highly paid starting wide receivers -- Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El.
"We were not going to jump down a round or two rounds to go get a need," Cerrato said. "We were going to take the best players. So, saying that, Fred Davis was the best player on our board at the time we took him. And after Fred went and a couple of guys went, Malcolm Kelly was the only guy with a first-round grade. He stuck out like a sore thumb. It was an obvious choice for us."
It would seem that getting all of these players, along with holdovers such as Cooley, on the field at the same time would be nearly impossible. But Zorn said he was pleased to amass so much personnel at wide receiver and tight end, with injuries to those positions common in the West Coast offense.
"The flexibility of personnel groups in the West Coast offense is critical," Zorn said.
Kelly, like Thomas, is a tall receiver, but he lacks Thomas's speed. Zorn and Cerrato said that Kelly's slow 40-yard dash time is superseded by his "explosiveness" off the line of scrimmage. Some teams were worried about Kelly's attitude and knees as well, but Cerrato said he is close friends with one of the strength coaches at Oklahoma and received favorable reports. "Everybody down there speaks very highly of him," Cerrato said.
Hixon said adding size to the receiving corps was imperative. "I'm very ecstatic," Hixon said. "It's like Christmas for me."
Thomas, 21, was projected to go higher in many mock drafts, but appears to be in a good situation with Washington. He will be among the biggest wide receivers on the team, and there is an opening at the position behind Moss and Randle El -- who each are 5-10. With the addition of Thomas, Davis and Kelly, Cerrato said Washington's pursuit of veteran receivers via trade was over (the Redskins made another offer to the Bengals for Johnson on Friday, according to sources, but were rebuffed again).
"I feel I'm a bigger receiver," Thomas said in a conference call with reporters. "When it comes to going for jump balls and shielding defenders from the ball, I definitely can do that.
"I know it's a West Coast style that Coach Zorn s bringing in. I know they've got [good] personnel right now and I'm just trying to add to it."
As a senior at USC, Davis, 22, had a personal-best 62 receptions for 881 yards (a 14.2-yard average) and eight touchdowns. The Redskins also had a first-round grade on Davis, who won the Mackey Award as college football's top tight end last season.
Davis said he has studied Cooley, and he envisions working well with Cooley as Washington uses formations featuring multiple tight ends. "I watch him a lot, that's one of my favorite tight ends to watch, number 47," Davis said.
"They have a West Coast offense," Davis said. "I'm sure there's a lot of things they're going to do with Cooley, they'll move him around, and he does everything for them. I'm sure they'll have a place for me to be on the team, too."
Kelly, 21, slid down several draft boards because of his disappointing performances in the 40-yard dash (he posted times as high as 4.69 seconds in recent workouts) and questions about his maturity. But Kelly is second on the Sooners' all-time list with 2,285 yards receiving and fifth with 144 receptions. With 21 career touchdown receptions, Kelly is tied for seventh in Big 12 Conference history.
After having his character questioned by NFL teams, Kelly acknowledged he has a lot to prove.
"Oh, yeah, I definitely have something to prove," he said. "A lot of teams go by, a team who don't select you, but I'm just grateful being with the Redskins. I'll just help them. We'll go out as a team every weekend and show everybody."
The Redskins and Falcons began talking trade early in the week, with Washington eying the Falcons' pair of second-round picks. The Redskins explored options with other teams as well, but Atlanta called Washington's war room during the 16th pick to attempt to move up, and when the Redskins were on the clock to make the 21st pick the deal was consummated, with Atlanta moving up to draft USC tackle Sam Baker, a player many teams had valued lower.
Cerrato hoped to amass as many second- and third-round picks as possible, believing that's where the best value could be found.
Thomas, who is also a gifted kick returner, was considered the top receiver available by many clubs, but no wide receivers were selected in the first round. With so much similar talent available at that position, the Redskins figured they could trade down and still get a wide receiver they wanted.
The team spent the days before the draft working out wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Kelly -- not anticipating Thomas to be available. The other player they evaluated on Thursday, Clemson defensive end Phillip Merling, whose recent sports hernia surgery was a concern for the Redskins, sources said, ended up selected 32nd overall by Miami, leaving Washington to choose any receiver it desired.
"If we could get those two picks from Atlanta we thought that would be an outstanding deal for us," Cerrato said. "Basically, the same guys we were considering at 21 were the guys who were there at 34, minus Phillip Merling."