When the NFL draft begins on April 30 in Chicago, the Redskins will have likely already made their first wave of roster upgrades through free agency. With seven wins over the last two seasons, there’s a lot of upgrading to be done. The Redskins’ needs include defensive linemen, safety, cornerback, linebacker, right tackle and both offensive guard positions.
Washington has 17 free agents heading into the offseason, including two offensive linemen. Restricted free agent Tom Compton will likely return after replacing unrestricted free agent Tyler Polumbus as the team’s starting right tackle for the final nine games. Polumbus, who has appeared in 98 games in six seasons, could return as a reserve, or look for a fresh start elsewhere. Neither player appears to be a long-term solution.
San Francisco 49ers left guard Mike Iupati and Green Bay Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga are expected to be the top free agents at their positions. Signing one or both would instantly improve the offensive line, but both players are expected to command top dollar. Should the Redskins choose to address their offensive line in the draft, there are several quality prospects available and analyst Mike Mayock says the Redskins should make drafting an offensive lineman a top priority.
“The places I have been, we’ve had success with big men up front, both sides of the ball,” new Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan said during his introductory press conference in January.
After running for a career-low 1,074 yards last season, Alfred Morris hopes to experience a career resurgence in 2015 with the hiring of Bill Callahan as the team’s new offensive line coach. Callahan’s addition could signal a greater emphasis on a power running game, which would suit Morris’s skill set.
Callahan spent the past three seasons with the Cowboys, who boasted the NFL’s leading rusher in DeMarco Murray and featured an offensive line built around three of their last four first-round picks.
“If all of a sudden we’ve got two, three, maybe four guys that are rated similar [at the 5th overall spot], try to back out a couple spots [and] pick up another two, pick up another four and still get a dang good football player at seven or eight,” McCloughan told 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier in January. “I’m willing to move back. There’s no doubt about it.”
The Redskins haven’t had much success in the draft in recent years, but they’ve historically fared well when drafting offensive linemen in the first two rounds. Finding key contributors along the O-line beyond the second round, however, has proven difficult.
Since the merger, the Redskins have selected eight offensive linemen in the first two rounds and six of those provided significant contributions to the team.
Chris Samuels (first round, No. 3 overall, 2000), Trent Williams (first round, No. 4 overall, 2010), Mark May (first round, No. 20 overall, 1981), Tre Johnson (second round, No. 31 overall overall, 1994), Jon Jansen (second round, No. 37 overall, 1999) and Cory Raymer (second round, No. 37 overall, 1995) played in 631 games and started 590 in 49 combined seasons. Samuels, Williams, May and Johnson earned a total of 11 Pro Bowl bids.
The other two offensive linemen Washington took in the first two rounds — Andre Johnson (first round, No. 30 overall, 1996) and Wally Kleine (second round, No. 48 overall, 1987) — did not play a down for the Redskins.
Only two of the 42 offensive linemen drafted by the Redskins after the second round since 1980 have been selected to a Pro Bowl — Russ Grimm (Third round, 1981) and Mark Schlereth (10th round, 1989).
Among the O-line talent the Redskins found beyond the second round is guard Raleigh McKenzie, an 11th-round pick in 1985 who started 113 games in 10 seasons. Tackle Ed Simmons, a sixth-round pick in 1987, started 104 games in 11 seasons with Washington. Darryl Grant was drafted as an offensive guard in 1981, but switched to defensive tackle during his rookie season.
A look at the Redskins’ history of selecting offensive linemen in the draft would seem to indicate that grabbing O-line talent in the first two rounds is a good investment.