Predicting the exact outcome of the NFL draft is far from a science. Even trying to pin down the first 32 picks is a long shot at best, which makes trying to lock down all seven rounds — even for one team — something of a fool’s errand. But examining the logic behind those player-team projections can be quite instructive.
NFL teams will often run their own mock exercises to see how their draft boards could look under different scenarios. So, following up on our previous seven-round mock draft for the Washington Redskins with an alternative seven-round scenario can help us better conceive what Washington may do if the draft zigs when everyone thought it would zag.
In our first version, I projected Christian McCaffrey as Washington’s first-round pick. This time I’ve decided to address the defense and one of the team’s top needs. As before, I used the Fanspeak On The Clock draft simulator to help me out. Here are the results:
First round, 17th overall: Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
While Washington added defensive lineman Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee in free agency, it also lost last season’s top defensive linemen from last year in Chris Baker and Ricky Jean Francois. Though head coach Jay Gruden has expressed belief in the potential of young lineman Anthony Lanier, Washington still needs an influx of younger talent along its defensive line. The top defensive lineman in this draft class — Jonathan Allen and Solomon Thomas — are expected to go in the top 10, leaving Washington without too many to choose from at No. 17.
Draft analysts are split on McDowell. There are reports of laziness and off-the-field issues, and that he took plays off and seemed uninterested at times, especially during the Spartans’ seven-game losing streak. But many analysts also see a great deal of potential. McDowell has the natural traits of a top defensive lineman: great athleticism and length, which he uses in defending both the run and to rush the pass. If the team is comfortable with him and believes he can mature, then he offers top-10 talent at the 17th pick.
Second round, 49th overall: Tim Williams, OLB, Alabama
Like McDowell, Williams is a talented player with a few red flags. A quick-twitch pass-rusher with a strong burst off the line of scrimmage, Williams combines that with an ability to flex and bend around the edge, making him a legitimate threat with a speed rush. He backs that edge-rush up with a solid group of secondary moves that enable him to go both outside and inside to counter tackles setting up too far outside the pocket.
But his downside is more concerning than McDowell’s. Williams was arrested during the season for carrying a gun without a permit. And there are concerns about his versatility. He’s a strong pass-rusher, but some doubt he’ll ever become a three-down player. Again, Washington would have to investigate those concerns, but he does offer them a speed rusher off the edge, which they lack.
Third round, 81st overall: Marcus Williams, FS, Utah
Williams is one of my favorite safeties in a draft class full of safety talent. Williams is at his best playing as the single deep safety in cover-one or the deep middle third of cover-three. Malik Hooker is the best free safety in this class because he has truly elite range, which Williams doesn’t have. But Williams has good range and instincts, understanding route combinations and knowing where the offense is looking to attack.
Williams is also a better run defender than Hooker, a solid tackler and isn’t afraid to charge down to the line of scrimmage and get involved against the run. The elite range and ball skills that Hooker possess makes him the better prospect, but Williams is the next best pure free safety in this class. He could go in the second round, but this is a deep class of safeties. Williams comes with a defined role from Day 1, but it’s a role at which he is very good.
Fourth round, 114th overall: Pat Elflein, C, Ohio State
One of the few bright spots in an otherwise weak class of offensive lineman, Elflein could be drafted higher. He’s listed as a center, which is probably his best position, but can play any of the three interior spots. While the Redskins’ line appears to be set, they lack depth at guard and center. Elflein is a powerful lineman with a strong base from which to work. A former wrestler, Elflein understands hand usage and how to counter different moves from defenders. He is a good depth option for Washington.
Fourth round, 124th overall: Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M
Washington already has tall and long wide receivers — Josh Doctson, Terrelle Pryor — and it’s a clear team preference, so I’m giving them another one. Reynolds is listed at 6-foot-3, 194 pounds. While he doesn’t have stand-out speed — he ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the combine — he’s a terrific deep threat. Reynolds has outstanding ball skills, and that doesn’t just mean he can catch the ball. He tracks the ball down the field as well as any receiver in the draft and can reach another gear when he needs to make up ground on an overthrown pass. His height gives him the ability to work over the top of smaller corners, high-pointing the ball and making contested catches that defenders can’t reach. He’ll need to improve his route-running, particularly in the intermediate parts of the field, but he could come in and challenge for snaps early in his career.
Fifth round, 154th overall: Eddie Vanderdoes, NT, UCLA
The need for a run-stuffing nose tackle in Washington has been obvious for quite some time. New defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has a good track record of developing mid-to-late round draft picks into starting nose tackles. In Vanderdoes, Tomsula would have a new project. Vanderdoes was once highly regarded, but he missed most of the 2015 season after a torn anterior cruciate ligament and didn’t show the same explosiveness last season. If he can get back to pre-injury form, he’ll be a great value here in the fifth. But even if he can’t, he’s still a big-bodied nose tackle that understands run fits and can take on double teams to clog up running lanes.
Sixth round, 201st overall: Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
Dobbs’s skills fit within Gruden’s system. He has a quick release and can throw within a timing-based short game, something at which Kirk Cousins excels. He’s smart and is able to work through progressions quickly, knowing when to check the ball down under pressure. Those traits should make him an attractive option as a developmental quarterback. He does have issues with footwork and wouldn’t be ready to start right away, but he could push Nate Sudfeld for the third quarterback spot.
Sixth round, 209th overall: Channing Stribling, CB, Michigan
Stribling is a tall, long corner that fits the modern mold at the position. He’s almost purely a press-corner who could fit in a man or cover-three press scheme. There are questions about his long speed and ability to recover once beaten. He’s not particularly quick and only ran a 4.60 40 at the combine. That might scare teams into casting him as purely a cover-three press corner who can press at the line of scrimmage before bailing out into a deep third zone. But in the late rounds, he offers some traits worth developing.
Seventh round, 220th overall: Lorenzo Jerome, SS, St. Francis
Jerome is a small-school, undersized prospect who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He lacks size and elite athleticism, but he makes up for it with a never-ending motor and great instincts. He has a strong understanding for defensive schemes and his fit within them. Jerome knows exactly which shoulder of which blocker to attack against the run and he displays strong zone coverage awareness in underneath zones. His lack of size and elite athleticism pushes him down in a deep safety class, but he should provide solid competition in training camp and contribute on special teams.
Seventh round, 235th overall: Nate Hairston, CB, Temple
Hairston is very much a work in progress. He only has one year under his belt as a full-time starter at cornerback, but he does offer good size and a strong frame. He’s a fluid athlete who can flip his hips and change direction quickly. He spent most of his time in zone coverages at Temple and will need time to develop. Despite being a raw prospect, his upside makes him worth a late pick.