The run game was a nightmare for the Washington Redskins on both sides of the ball in 2017 as the team ranked last in the NFL in stopping the run and No. 28 in running the ball themselves.
Both of those weaknesses were directly addressed during the NFL draft over the weekend. The team took the top run-stopper in the draft with the No. 13 pick in Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne (6-foot-3, 311 pounds) and went back to the defensive line in the fifth round with Virginia Tech tackle Tim Settle. The 6-3, 329-pound Hokie was a second-team all-ACC selection.
On the other side of the ball, the Redskins traded back in the second round and selected Derrius Guice. The LSU running back slid to being the seventh rusher taken despite many ranking him the No. 2 prospect behind Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, who went No. 2 overall to the Giants. Late character concerns seemed to cause the slide.
The 5-10, 212-pounder led LSU with 1,251 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns despite a lingering knee injury throughout the season. His 104.25 rushing yards per game ranked No. 2 in the SEC. In 2016, Guice ran for an SEC-best 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Coach Jay Gruden plans to use him on first and second downs with Chris Thompson taking over on third-down situations.
“We feel like we’re better,” Gruden said about the run games. “We addressed it. We’ve got to get everybody together here – first steps first. We have to get everybody together, get them in the meeting room, study the game, get the phase two going, then get to our OTAs, get them in shape, and then get them to training camp and see where we’re at.
“But I feel good about the physicality of our football team. You know, adding Derrius Guice in the running game, he’s a powerful, physical runner. Adding obviously Da’Ron Payne to go with Jonathan Allen and the rest of the guys we already have and Tim Settle, we’re going to be more physical up front. So I think I like where we’re headed. Now it’s just a matter of getting everybody on the same page and playing good together.”
The Redskins, on paper, had a strong draft and got good value from their selections based on when they were taken. There’s always a goal of taking the best player available, but Washington certainly took on some immediate needs.
Third-round Louisville offensive tackle Geron Christian (6-5, 298 pounds) adds depth to a line that was ravaged by injuries in 2017, which took life out of the run game. And sixth-round Alabama linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton (6 feet, 228 pounds) was a quality starter on the inside for the Crimson Tide before two knee injuries cut short his last two seasons. There’s potential there if Hamilton can stay healthy.
The Washington front office spoke about filling needs through free agency then being able to take the best players available in the draft regardless of position. Free agency was fairly quiet, but wide receiver Paul Richardson and cornerback Orlando Scandrick were both brought in to start. The most significant weaknesses on the roster, outside of left guard, were plugged in the draft and directly addressed the two biggest shortcomings of 2017 — stopping the run and running the ball.
The team will need to do both much better to improve on a 7-9 record and break a stretch with just one playoff berth in the past five seasons.
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