The Washington Redskins were a physically tough team at their best last season with a defense led by a bullying line and a run-first offense that leaned on the powerful Adrian Peterson. At its worst, the roster was injury-prone with an obvious lack of playmakers — and speed.
The organization did not address that issue in free agency, but it can on April 25, when the NFL draft begins. The offense lost its quickest receiver when Jamison Crowder signed with the New York Jets and the defense got slower when linebacker Zach Brown was cut. Three-time Pro Bowler Landon Collins was signed to an $84 million deal, but he’s better known for his aggressive play near the line of scrimmage than being a speedy safety. Both the receivers and secondary could use an influx of velocity.
In the third part in our series of draft debates, we take a look at two of the fastest prospects in the draft in Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown and LSU cornerback Greedy Williams.
The case for Brown
Brown was the marquee receiver in the No. 7 pass offense in the nation in 2018 and formed a dangerous duo with Heisman winner Kyler Murray. His 1,318 receiving yards ranked No. 8 in the country and No. 3 in the Big 12 and his 75 receptions ranked fourth in the conference. Nicknamed Hollywood, Brown was one of the fastest and most dangerous players in college football with 17 touchdown catches in two seasons, but surgery on his left foot for a Lisfranc injury has hurt his draft stock. He couldn’t participate in the combine or Oklahoma’s pro day, so scouts will rely on tape. It is phenomenal, but there will be concern about a January foot surgery on a player whose game is based on speed. That fact might be even more meaningful to the Redskins, who saw Paul Richardson, Crowder and Trey Quinn miss large chunks of time in 2018 due to injuries. The Redskins’ most recent first-round receiver, Josh Doctson, missed most of his rookie season with an injury and has dealt with nagging issues since.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever evaluated a faster, more explosive player at that position than Marquise Brown,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “Reminds me a lot of DeSean Jackson. That’s the type of player he could be.”
The biggest knock on Brown is his size: 5-foot-9, 166 pounds, small for a No. 1 receiver. The all-American seems to be a perfect fit for the slot, but the No. 15 pick would be high for the position. Brown was adamant at the combine that his size isn’t a detriment and said, “I’ll play inside, outside, wherever you need me . . . My speed, my technique, my attention to detail. It allows me to play the game the way any other receiver would do it.”
The skepticism, however, remains.
“One hundred sixty-six pounds and then have the surgery, he would have been a first, now he’s borderline,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “I liked Marquise Brown all year. When he was 100 percent, if there was no injury, he’d be one of the best 20-25 players in this draft. But you add the factor of the injury into it, that pushes him down just a bit.”
The case for Williams
Williams is widely considered the top cornerback in this draft, but there is a glaring weakness. While his 4.37 40-yard dash was the seventh-fastest mark at the combine, the tape shows an aversion for physicality. Williams said at the combine that’s a priority to improve.
“You can’t be missing tackles in the open field or around the line of scrimmage,” Kiper said. “Again, tackling, not just running backs, but receivers and tight ends, that’s going to be the issue. … [The] 4.3 speed and he’s shown that he has ball skills. He’s shown he can be an Aqib Talib in coverage at times, but he wasn’t on a consistent basis. Even in coverage.
“That’s the kind of player you would [compare] him to, would be Aqib Talib. But Talib will tackle and Talib had a ton of career interceptions. He was a more consistent complete, dominant cover corner. A more of a big-play guy on a consistent basis. The consensus of people I’ve spoken to is he goes 15-20, 15-30, in that area.”
Williams had eight interceptions in two seasons at LSU, but just two in 2018. The six interceptions in 2017 led the SEC. He brings size to the position at 6-2, 185 pounds and leaves school after his redshirt sophomore season.
The Redskins went with a youth movement at cornerback in 2018 and were burned as injuries left rookies Greg Stroman and Danny Johnson logging significant snaps in big moments. The team added depth with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in free agency, but now may be the time to plan for life without Josh Norman, who will be a 33-year-old free agent in 2021 and could be a cap casualty before then.
Brown has typically been the higher-rated player, but the injury history plus the somewhat sour taste from Doctson remains.,The Redskins, however, are desperate for offensive playmakers. Quinn, the current starter in the slot, has.a ton of potential but was a seventh-round pick in 2018.
NFL Network analyst and former Redskins general manager Charlie Casserly would take Brown over Williams, but said No. 15 could be a bit high for either.
“Marquise Brown is better than Greedy Williams at what he does,” Casserly said. “He’s a slot receiver. He’s a better Jamison Crowder. Williams, I’m not sure about how good he is. He’s an inconsistent player. You go with (Brown) . . . Certainly, the medical can affect everything.”
McShay agreed with Casserly.
“[Brown is] just a better player,” McShay said. “There is some risk there because of the durability . . . but if your medical team has cleared him, I think he’s one of the 15 best players in this draft . . . It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a player with the combination of quickness and speed that he has. Yes, he’s 166 pounds. Yes, he’s got the injuries. But you need someone dynamic on the offensive side [after being] 29th in scoring.
“Corner is clearly a need . . . but he’s a buffet tackler who picks and chooses when he wants to get involved and his play can be a little bit up and down at times.”