The signs are subtle. The Redskins fortified the lines, found complementary role players and replaced troubled free safety Montae Nicholson with well-regarded Sean Davis. And yet despite the additions, the Redskins remain incomplete. They could use cornerback depth, a top tight end and a wide receiver opposite breakout rookie Terry McLaurin, among other needs. Free agency built a bedrock, but now, headed for the draft, Rivera must address those needs and lay groundwork for the long term.
That starts with the No. 2 pick. The magnitude of the selection is amplified this year because the Redskins’ draft resources are thin. Beyond No. 2, they have a third-rounder, two fourths, a fifth and two sevenths. They could amass more draft capital by trading disgruntled left tackle Trent Williams, whose camp has enacted a maximum-pressure campaign to leave Washington, but the Redskins remain reticent to jettison him for below-market value, which they seemed to do with cornerback Quinton Dunbar. The Redskins are apparently holding out for a second-round pick or some combination of picks and/or players.
The conversation about the No. 2 pick, once divisive, coalesced during free agency. Last month, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. was one of the most prominent pundits to urge the Redskins to draft Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa instead of Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. He argued selecting Tagovailoa and letting him battle current starter Dwayne Haskins would, in a quarterback-driven league, give the Redskins the best chance going forward. But then the Redskins traded a fifth-round pick to the Carolina Panthers for quarterback Kyle Allen.
Kiper recalibrated. He thinks acquiring Allen signals the Redskins no longer are likely to take Tagovailoa. The Redskins evaluated the quarterback, rehabbing from hip surgery in November, at the NFL scouting combine. They probably won’t see him throw before the draft because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and Allen’s familiarity with the system of offensive coordinator Scott Turner makes him a natural stopgap if Haskins, the No. 15 pick in last year’s draft, needs time to learn and grow into a new system. Reenter Young.
“It would be something in a perfect situation that you thought would've been possible; take Tua and then see what happens,” Kiper said Wednesday. “But … yeah, in terms of the second pick now, I think Chase Young. You would almost lock it in.”
If the Redskins do not acquire more picks, the third- and two fourth-round selections heighten in importance. They might want to use one on a tackle if the trade of Williams materializes because there’s no heir apparent on the roster and the free agent market is threadbare. The Redskins are unlikely to sign one of the last starting-caliber players available in former Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jason Peters, according to ESPN. But the offensive line class is thin this year and “falls out right away,” NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said, meaning the high-upside ones probably will be gone by the third round. The solution again might be Donald Penn. The veteran capably replaced Williams last season, and though he will turn 37 next month, he’s reportedly open to pushing off retirement again for another season.
Instead, the Redskins might prioritize wide receiver or tight end. They understand the value of playmakers and their roster’s lack of them beyond McLaurin. Washington showed its urgency to acquire another game-changer during free agency by reportedly offering more than $100 million to Amari Cooper, this year’s top free agent wide receiver. Cooper reportedly accepted less money to return to the NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys.
It seems logical the Redskins might first target a wide receiver instead of a tight end. This draft class is regarded as thin at tight end, though Dayton’s Adam Trautman and Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam are projected as third-round picks with upside. But this year’s wide receiver class is as deep as any draft expert can remember. Jeremiah graded 27 wideouts as worthy of being picked in the first three rounds, which is a huge figure considering an average of 31 wide receivers are selected during a seven-round draft.
What hurts the Redskins is how the market for those prospects developed during free agency. The draft’s depth depressed the value of free agent wide receivers and seemed to inflate the soon-to-be rookies. Baylor’s Denzel Mims was once considered a prime candidate for the Redskins early in the third round, but he shined at the scouting combine and is now regarded as an early second-round pick. Southern California’s Michael Pittman Jr., South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards and Liberty’s Antonio Gandy-Golden remain in the Redskins’ projected range.
The cornerback class is almost as deep, Kiper and Jeremiah said. It seems unlikely the Redskins would rank that position as a greater need than pass-catchers, but it could be a target for later rounds. The team has a stable of young cornerbacks it likes, including Fabian Moreau and last year’s draft steal, Jimmy Moreland, and might be comfortable filling around them.
Although the Redskins’ strategy headed into the draft is unclear, it’s crucial for Rivera to hit on his picks. This roster has holes, and if the new coach wants to win right away, he can make up for a quiet free agency with a splash in the draft.