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How to rebuild the Redskins: 10 analysts tell us how they would do it

Ron Rivera will look to upgrade the Washington Redskins' roster through free agency and the NFL draft. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Ron Rivera’s big-picture plan to rebuild the Washington Redskins starts with small steps. In two early tests — free agency next week and the NFL draft in late April — he will make his first major personnel acquisitions and demonstrate how the organization’s new, coach-centric model will function.

What helps Rivera and the team’s staff, led by new vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith, is that the rebuild is not a complete makeover. This team has assets, such as the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft, and good young players, such as a few on a talent-laden defensive line and standout wide receiver Terry McLaurin.

But significant questions remain. Is Dwayne Haskins the Redskins’ franchise quarterback? How do they fix the offensive line? Who can they add to the receiving corps and secondary?

To answer those questions, as well as provide further insight, 10 NFL analysts weighed in on what Rivera should consider to rebuild the Redskins.

Get the No. 2 pick right

To most analysts, this means one thing: Draft Chase Young. Daniel Jeremiah, an NFL Network draft analyst, called the Ohio State edge rusher a “generational talent,” and many believe he has the potential to be a game-changer for the Redskins’ defense. Young’s arrival would give Washington four recent first-round picks along the defensive line, echoing the model the San Francisco 49ers rode to this past season’s Super Bowl.

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Other analysts believe the Redskins should pass on Young and trade back to amass more picks. Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders argued that, while Young is great, the Redskins are more than one pass rusher away from contention and should address more needs. This argument could apply to almost any team — studies show how difficult it is for NFL teams to project college prospects to the pros — but it’s especially true for the Redskins this year because they lack a second-round draft pick following last year’s trade to select edge rusher Montez Sweat.

“They need as many bites at the apple as they can get,” Schatz said.

While it should come as no surprise the Redskins are saying publicly that they are keeping all of their options open — including trading the No. 2 pick or drafting Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — Jeremiah argues that Young is a clear choice as a premier player at the sport’s second-most-important position. He concluded he wouldn’t trade back for less than a king’s ransom, and even then, he wouldn’t go further than the quarterback-hungry teams near the top of the draft: the Miami Dolphins (No. 5 pick), Los Angeles Chargers (No. 6) or Carolina Panthers (No. 7).

Many people at the recent NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis seemed to believe the Redskins would draft Young. One NFC front-office executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he would be “surprised” if they did anything else.

“The quarterback stuff is just a smokescreen to see if anyone will overpay to move up [in a trade],” he said.

But what if it isn’t?

Determine the franchise quarterback

This might be the most important task for Rivera this offseason. He has two choices: Stick with Haskins, last year’s first-round pick who struggled at times as a rookie but showed flashes toward the end of the season, or start fresh by drafting a quarterback with the No. 2 pick.

The likeliest quarterback candidate for that selection is Tagovailoa, the former Alabama star who is recovering from a serious hip injury suffered in November. The Redskins should draft him, according to one analytical study and one draft analyst. Their argument isn’t against Young but instead about the potential of Tagovailoa, who entered last season as the consensus top prospect.

“[Haskins] can be a solid starter,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. “I just think … Tua’s going to wind up being a better quarterback, and it’s the most important position in this game, and it makes up for more sins than any other position. If you have an opportunity to upgrade that position, how do you not?”

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The numbers support this strategy. Timo Riske, a data scientist for Pro Football Focus, built predictive models to simulate outcomes for each possible Redskins approach, and he found that drafting Tagovailoa has a higher probability of returning more value than drafting Young or any other prospect to pair with Haskins. The reason, Riske argues, is that teams often overvalue the impact of a non-quarterback. The Los Angeles Rams had perhaps the league’s best non-quarterback in defensive tackle Aaron Donald, but they did not accomplish much until Coach Sean McVay unlocked quarterback Jared Goff.

The point underscores the issue at the heart of this Redskins offseason: Rivera must emerge with a franchise quarterback, either by determining it’s Haskins or selecting Tagovailoa — even if the latter means passing up Young.

Sign a veteran quarterback

After settling on the quarterback of the future, the Redskins should sign a veteran for the present. ESPN NFL analyst Mike Tannenbaum, a former executive with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, said Washington would be wise to take advantage of a free agent market that has a richer-than-usual slate of established quarterbacks. Musical chairs around the league could leave Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston or Teddy Bridgewater without a job, and the Redskins could find themselves in position to land a quarterback capable of pushing for the starting job and providing a veteran presence.

Fix the offensive line

While former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann sees a litany of problems the team must address, offensive line stands out to him as the most pressing fix. The team is unresolved at left guard (Ereck Flowers is a free agent) and left tackle (Trent Williams is disgruntled and seeking a trade).

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Williams is the biggest question mark. He is an undeniable talent, one of the NFL’s best left tackles. But as Theismann pointed out, the Redskins might be hesitant to give the 31-year-old the big-money extension he is demanding because injuries and other issues have prevented him from playing a full season since 2013. The Redskins are now allowing Williams to explore his own trade market. If the Redskins do not reunite with Williams, they could trade back from the No. 2 pick and use their first selection on a tackle, perhaps Louisville’s Mekhi Becton or Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, or target one early in the third round.

Schatz, of Football Outsiders, said if the Redskins do need to turn to free agency to fill one of the line spots, he suggested they pursue solid starters, not premium players. He pointed to guard as an example. New England’s Joe Thuney probably will earn top dollar this offseason, but the numbers indicate Detroit’s ­Graham Glasgow would be a good value addition. At left tackle, the Redskins could find value from the likes of Andrew Whitworth or Jason Peters.

Acquire playmakers (especially at tight end)

Beyond McLaurin, last year’s breakout third-round pick, the Redskins have no consistent receiving threats. The team also released injury-prone tight end Jordan Reed and deep threat Paul Richardson Jr. this offseason.

Luckily for the Redskins, Jeremiah called this the deepest wide receiver draft he has ever seen. He graded 27 wideouts as worthy of a pick in the first three rounds, which is a huge number given that an average of 31 wide receivers are selected over an entire, seven-round draft. Baylor’s Denzel Mims and Texas’s Collin Johnson are two high-upside options projected to go in the third round.

Multiple analysts, however, said they thought tight end was a bigger need than wide receiver for Washington. Tannenbaum said a model such as Rivera’s last one in Carolina — where tight end Greg Olsen served as a security blanket for young quarterback Cam Newton — would serve the Redskins well. Free agent options could include the Atlanta Falcons’ Austin Hooper.

However they do it, the analysts agreed, the Redskins must acquire better offensive weapons.

“They need to make some things easier for a young quarterback,” the NFC executive said. “That means protecting him. That means having some guys who can make plays for him if he just gets the ball out of his hand quickly.”

Stockpile cornerbacks

The Redskins are thin at cornerback, a position at which teams can never have enough players, multiple analysts said. The top cornerback on their roster, Quinton Dunbar, remains in an uncertain position after demanding a trade this offseason. But if the Redskins add a cornerback or two, as well as maybe a free safety and outside linebacker, those around the league see hope for improvement behind new coordinator Jack Del Rio and the switch to a 4-3 scheme.

“They really underperformed on defense last year,” a veteran AFC personnel executive said. “There’s good front-seven talent there. If they can hold up on the back end [in the secondary], they’ll be competitive on that side of the ball.”

One higher-profile cornerback the Redskins could target is free agent James Bradberry, who played under Rivera in Carolina.

Establish an identity — and find the right players for it

Former Redskins player Logan Paulsen remembered how, early in his career, McVay, then a Redskins assistant coach, told him that only about five players on each NFL roster could excel on any team in the league; everyone else is a role player.

One of the reasons the Redskins have struggled over the past few years, Paulsen said, is that they didn’t have a clear identity. They didn’t acquire role players with a vision. When coaches pulled in different directions, the parts didn’t add up.

“I’m not saying one identity is better than the other — passing the ball, running the ball, whatever,” Paulsen said. “I’m just saying establishing a clear offensive and defensive identity allows you to be more effective.”

One agent who regularly deals with the Redskins believes the team now has direction.

“They’re going to be disciplined, and they’re going to have a plan,” he said. “Right or wrong, they’ll stick to their plan. You won’t see them being all over the board like you’ve seen at times in the past. They might not turn it around right away, but at least you’ll see them building toward something in a way that makes sense.”

Les Carpenter and Mark Maske in Indianapolis and Scott Allen in Washington contributed to this report.

Read more:

Redskins allow Trent Williams to pursue a trade on his own

Ryan Kerrigan is in the Redskins’ plans for 2020, Ron Rivera says

Chase Young says he’s the best player in this year’s NFL draft