As he assessed the to-do list from his first draft as coach of the Washington Redskins — and declared it a success — Jay Gruden made two things clear: depth and competition will serve as themes leading up to the 2014 season. And, the mission of improving the special teams units also carried great importance as Washington searched for talent.
Gruden believes that each of the eight players selected in the past two days will help strengthen the ranks both in the short and long term. Redskins brass also ensured that the majority of the players selected have the capability of contributing on the special teams units that ranked among the worst in the league in 2013.
After taking three players — pass rusher Trent Murphy, offensive tackle Morgan Moses and guard Spencer Long — on Friday night who could work their way onto the field at some point this season, Washington continued its work Saturday. The Redskins selected Clemson cornerback Bashaud Breeland in the fourth round (102nd overall), Tulane wide receiver Ryan Grant (fifth round, 142nd), Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk (sixth, 186th), Indiana tight end Ted Bolser (seventh, 217th) and Arkansas kicker Zach Hocker (seventh, 228th).
“From a talent standpoint, I don’t think anyone can question that we have significantly upgraded our team,” Gruden said. “Obviously, all the draft picks that we picked, coming into camp, we feel like they can compete — not only for their position but also on special teams, which is something we felt like we needed to address.”
It’s too early to say if any of the eight draft picks will have an immediate impact.
The Redskins believe that in Breeland, they may have a potential steal.
The 5-foot-11, 197-pounder entered the draft projected by most analysts to go in either rounds two or three.
Breeland opted to leave Clemson after his junior year despite the possibility of going higher in the draft next year. (Gruden said members of his staff projected the defensive back as a first-rounder in 2015.) But he left because of the need to support his 11-month-old daughter. Breeland also said he had confidence in his game, and that he still views himself as one of the better cornerbacks in the draft.
“My physicality, my ball skills and my versatility,” Breeland said when asked what separates him from other corners. “I can play multiple positions. I’m not just a corner.”
Gruden said Clemson’s coaches confirmed this, and speculated that the defensive back also has the skill set to develop into a safety.
Gruden said Grant also projected higher on Washington’s board than where the Redskins took him.
The receiver doesn’t boast impressive size (6 feet, 199 pounds) or blazing speed (4.62 in the 40-yard dash). But he is coming off two prolific seasons at Tulane, recording 77 catches for 1,039 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013 and 76 catches for 1,149 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.
“My game, I’m consistent with it, man,” Grant said. “I’m a great route runner, I’ve got great hands, quick in and out of my breaks and when the ball is in the air, I’m going to go out and contest the [cornerback] to get the ball.”
Washington already has Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts, Aldrick Robinson, Leonard Hankerson and David Gettis in the mix at wide receiver. But only Hankerson and Gettis stand taller than 6 feet, and Hankerson is coming off of surgery to repair a torn ACL.
“I’m going to get behind those guys and watch those guys and follow them, and I’m just going to follow them and play my role,” Grant said.
Asked what player intrigued him the most, Gruden named Seastrunk, who played with Robert Griffin III at Baylor.
The 5-foot-9, 201-pound Seastrunk (whose first name is pronounced Lake) could fill the Redskins’ need for a change-of-pace back behind Pro Bowl rusher Alfred Morris. He clocked a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, and last season averaged 7.4 yards per carry while rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns on 158 carries.
A degree of uncertainty hovers over Seastrunk, who will compete with Roy Helu Jr., Evan Royster and Chris Thompson for a job. Ideally, Morris’s backup would have strong receiving skills. But Seastrunk had no receptions in 2013 and only nine for his college career.
“The only weird thing about him is he didn’t catch many balls at Baylor. But, they just don’t throw to their backs,” Gruden said. “We feel like he can catch balls well enough. . . . This guy, if there’s kind of a reach about him, it’s kind of projecting him as the third-down back to catch the ball. But what we’re envisioning him early is not so much the third-down back, but a guy that can spell Alfred, obviously, and hit the home run because he’s got the breakaway speed. Hopefully, in time, he can develop into a pass blocker/receiver.”
The selection of Hocker likely raised some eyebrows considering second-year kicker Kai Forbath last season proved reliable on field goals. But Gruden said he would like for Forbath to perform better on kickoffs, and that Hocker, who boasts impressive leg strength, will compete with the veteran throughout the offseason and preseason.
Entering the draft, inside linebacker and safety also ranked among Washington’s long-term needs. But team officials elected not to draft any players at those positions. Gruden explained that after seeing last season’s leading tackler Perry Riley and 2012 fourth-round pick inside linebacker Keenan Robinson and free agent additions Adam Hayward, Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan in last week’s three-day minicamp, he and his assistants felt good about the quality of that position. Gruden also said that the veteran tandem of safeties Brandon Meriweather and Ryan Clark, plus the healthy return of 2013 fourth-round pick Phillip Thomas, also proved encouraging and enabled the Redskins to rule out safety as an immediate need.
Gruden did say that while defensive line went unaddressed in the draft, the free agent moves (signing of Jason Hatcher and re-signing of Chris Baker) help a great deal, and that Washington could add undrafted free agents along the defensive line.