Agonizing over how to use a high draft pick is an annual occurrence for most NFL teams, but the Washington Redskins find themselves in a somewhat unusual position among the franchises selecting in the first half of this year’s first round.
The Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins have a new coach, who should be in lockstep with the front office. The San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills all have coaches who have been in the position for two seasons or fewer. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Doug Marrone and the Atlanta Falcons’ Dan Quinn have been with their teams for more than two seasons, but while they have reason to feel some pressure, each led his team on a significant playoff run recently.
Redskins Coach Jay Gruden doesn’t have the same type of security as the 14 coaches whose teams have selections in front of his. He needs to win now, having earned just one playoff appearance in his five seasons in Washington, and the team has needs at edge rusher, wide receiver, left guard and in the secondary. But when the team goes on the clock during the draft’s first round April 25, it will have to consider selecting a quarterback of the future.
That leaves Washington in a no man’s land of sorts, with the coaching staff needing immediate help at several positions and the organization needing to plan for a future that may not include quarterback Alex Smith, whose devastating leg injury has put his career in jeopardy.
“The best decisions are made by organizations that have the long view and the organization first,” Fox analyst Charles Davis said. “What’s best for the organization, as opposed to what’s best for this coach right now? . . . If you’ve got a decision to make about your coach, you don’t draft for your coach. You draft for your organization.”
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. and Sports Illustrated had the Redskins taking Florida State edge rusher Brian Burns in their latest mock drafts, but the team’s hole at quarterback is a wild card. Davis sped through the first 14 picks in his most recent mock draft before getting stuck on whom to project at No. 15.
“It’s all about the quarterback,” Kiper said. “[Missouri’s] Drew Lock I had going at 13. I thought [No. 15] was a little high for Daniel Jones from Duke. It’ll be interesting to see if the Redskins trade up for [Ohio State’s] Dwayne Haskins. They always like, [owner Daniel Snyder] does, those splash moves. We’ll see if that’ll happen.”
Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, Haskins, Lock and Jones are considered the top quarterbacks. The Redskins would likely need to move up for Haskins or Murray, who is widely expected to go No. 1 to the Cardinals. If Arizona were to take Murray, it could look to trade last year’s first-round pick, Josh Rosen, who could be of interest to the Redskins.
West Virginia’s Will Grier, North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley and Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson are among the next tier of passers and should be available in the second or third round.
Gruden acknowledged it would be tough to draft a first-round quarterback and not play him, but he added there is an urgency to win immediately.
“Anytime you’re a starting quarterback, you’re expected to win,” Gruden said. “There is no developmental process here. This is not Triple A baseball [and] we’re trying to develop a pitcher here. We’re trying to win a game right now. If we draft a quarterback in the first, second, third or seventh rounds and he’s going to start Day 1, we expect great things from him.
“Players will expect great things from him. Ryan Kerrigan is not expecting us to come out and let’s build for the future. We’ve got to win now. Josh Norman, same way. Landon Collins did not come here to be good in 2034. They came here to be good and compete to win a Super Bowl this year. Whoever that player is, that . . . quarterback, there will be high expectations from us. That’s the way it’s going to be.”
The draft is loaded with edge rushers, and Burns might be the best available with the No. 15 pick. Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat has seen his stock rise after outstanding workouts at the Senior Bowl and NFL scouting combine, and he will likely be off the board by then, along with top prospects Nick Bosa of Ohio State and Josh Allen of Kentucky.
Florida’s Jachai Polite or Michigan’s Chase Winovich could be second-round edge rusher options, but the decision could come down to how much faith the Redskins have in Ryan Anderson. The 2017 second-round pick is the heir apparent to Preston Smith, who left the team for a $54 million deal with the Packers, but Anderson has just two sacks in two seasons.
Wide receiver is another position that could be in play for Washington with the 15th pick. Josh Doctson has been inconsistent since being selected in the first round in 2016, and yet he led all Redskins wide receivers with 44 catches last season — good for just 79th in the NFL. Slot receiver Jamison Crowder joined the Jets in free agency. The team has high hopes for Trey Quinn, the final pick in last year’s draft, but he was injured for most of last season.
Among the top options at wideout are Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf, who is considered more of a big-play deep threat than an all-around receiver, and Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown, who is coming off foot surgery and might not be ready for training camp.
The Redskins have patched holes at some of their other positions of need, adding three-time Pro Bowl safety Collins on an $84 million contract and former Giants first-rounder Ereck Flowers to the offensive line, as well as trading for quarterback Case Keenum to compete with Colt McCoy. None of those signings preclude the Redskins from also drafting a rookie, but if nothing else, they might allow the team to avoid reaching for a player based on positional need at No. 15 — something Gruden and the Redskins can’t afford to do in advance of a do-or-die season.
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