By Jason Reid and Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 26, 2009
The Washington Redskins moved to bolster their ineffective pass rush yesterday -- and averted a potential showdown with quarterback Jason Campbell -- in selecting Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo with their first pick of the NFL draft.
Washington used the 13th overall selection, its only first-day pick during the two-day process, to choose a player expected to excel in the hybrid role of a strong-side linebacker on running downs and a quarterback-rushing defensive end in passing situations. Orakpo was the highest-rated defensive player on the Redskins' draft board, and he will be expected to make an immediate impact for a defense that had only 24 sacks last season -- tying for 28th in the 32-team league.
"I'm pretty confident," said Orakpo, who attended the draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, during a conference call with reporters. "I set high expectations for myself each and every time I step out on the field."
The Redskins' decision to focus on defense with their top pick could have helped to smooth things with Campbell, who, NFL sources said, would have requested a trade if the team selected Southern California quarterback Mark Sanchez. Washington explored trading up in the draft for a chance to acquire the charismatic Sanchez, who impressed many teams, including the Redskins, with his commanding presence, but that proved difficult because of its shortage of picks in this draft, league sources said. The Redskins had five total picks, none in the second or fourth rounds.
Sanchez went to the New York Jets, who completed a trade with the Cleveland Browns to move up from No. 17 to five. So despite owner Daniel M. Snyder's ongoing efforts to replace Campbell this offseason, the four-year veteran remained atop the team's depth chart after the first day of a draft in which the Redskins stayed put at No. 13 and got one of the potential difference-makers they had targeted for weeks.
Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, said he "was shocked" Orakpo, 22, was still available with the 13th pick. "I was shocked that he fell."
With some of the other teams that scouted Orakpo heavily -- such as the Browns and Denver Broncos -- either trading away their first pick or using it to select an offensive player, other league executives were not as surprised Orakpo was still on the board when the Redskins were on the clock. Some wonder whether he will project to be an impact player, citing concerns about his knee injuries and ability to defend the run.
"When I got hurt with these knee injuries, it was just an unfortunate situation," Orakpo said. "But what I do best is, I try my best to get back and be a hundred percent and don't even worry about it. I'm a hundred percent right now. I'm healthy. I'm ready to go for the start of the season."
There were "three or four guys" still on the board at 13, Coach Jim Zorn said, that intrigued the Redskins, but Orakpo was an easy pick from the bunch. Cerrato said once Sanchez was gone he had spent an hour trying to trade up to ensure he could get Orakpo, including calling Denver, which picked one selection ahead of the Redskins at No. 12. Orakpo graded as a top-five selection on Washington's draft board, Cerrato said, and the team wasted little of its 10-minute allotment in selecting him. The Redskins were ready with a jersey with Orakpo's name on the back for him to hold at the podium.
Listed at 6 feet 4 and 260 pounds, Orakpo won many awards during his senior season at Texas in 2008, including the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to the nation's top defensive player. A consensus all-American, Orakpo was considered among the hardest-working players in the Longhorns' program, and he excelled in physical testing at the NFL combine in February.
He produced 31 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press, which is considered an impressive total, and his 39 1/2 -inch vertical jump was the second-highest total among defensive linemen. Orakpo also completed the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds and received high marks for his ability to accelerate in running drills.
Rushing the passer is Orakpo's strength because of "the fire and the intensity I bring, as far as getting after the quarterback, [and] doing whatever it takes," he said. "I don't really have a favorite move or anything. I just go and try to do the best I can at putting pressure."
"Right now, we have him slated as a defensive end," Zorn said. "He'll eventually -- if we fire zone [blitz] or something -- he'll be in the secondary at some point. But right now, he's coming in as what we think is a pretty good pass rusher."
When asked about the Redskins' pursuit of Sanchez, Cerrato acknowledged the team "made a couple of calls, but it was too expensive" to move up. In addition to receiving the Jets' first-round pick to move up, Cleveland also received a second-round pick (No. 52 overall), quarterback Brett Ratliff, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and safety Abram Elam.
Sanchez, who started only 16 games in college, is not considered ready to perform at a high level in the NFL, many league talent evaluators believe, but the Redskins were highly interested in him. They called several teams in the top 10 about trading up, according to league sources, and Zorn attributed part of New York's ability to complete the deal to the familiarity Browns Coach Eric Mangini, who was fired by the Jets at the end of last season, has with New York's roster.
"In these situations," Zorn said, "the phone calls we had, it wasn't the right situation for us to do anything."
The Redskins traded their second-round pick (No. 44 overall) to the Miami Dolphins last year for defensive end Jason Taylor, who was released in March. Snyder was adamant about not dealing Washington's first-round pick in next year's draft to move up for Sanchez. That limited the ability to compete with New York's offer.
Although Snyder pushed to acquire former Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, who was recently traded to the Chicago Bears, and he also was the driving force behind the team's pursuit of Sanchez, Campbell still is the Redskins' top quarterback. "Jason was always going to be the starter," Cerrato said.