The NFL offseason begins in earnest this week as team officials, coaches, their staff members and roughly 300 of the country’s top college players gather in Indianapolis for the annual NFL Scouting Combine.
Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen hope this year’s draft yields similar results to that of last year. After trading away picks in 2010 and unsuccessfully going with a largely veteran team, the Redskins shifted their focus to building with youth in 2011. They moved down from the 10th overall pick in the draft to 16th, stockpiling picks and making 12 selections to upgrade the roster’s overall depth.
But needs remain, and Shanahan and the team’s front office are looking to lay additional groundwork this week for another strong draft.
“We’re working on that, and that’s why I’m so excited about our team,” said Shanahan, who still seeks his first winning season in Washington. “You have a free agency like we had last year, and a draft like we did, and you have depth. If you don’t have depth, then you’d better be pretty lucky. I feel very good about the depth we got, but you’ve got to do it more than one year, and you’ve got to do it the right way.”
The Redskins hold eight picks in April’s draft, and their needs include a big-play wide receiver, a right tackle and possibly a left guard, and help both at cornerback and safety. But no weakness is as glaring as quarterback, where last season Rex Grossman and John Beck combined for 24 interceptions, two fumbles and only 18 touchdowns.
The top two quarterbacks in the draft, Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, are expected to go first and second overall, and Washington holds the sixth pick. There’s debate among draft analysts over whether any of the second-tier quarterbacks such as Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden and Arizona’s Nick Foles are worthy of a first-round pick.
At the combine, draft prospects are measured in such things as the 40-yard dash, leaping ability and how much weight they can bench press.
“What the combine should be is a cross-check of what you’ve seen on tape,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “This whole thing’s a process, and I don’t think anybody’s answering all the questions at the Senior Bowl or the combine or the pro days. It’s all part of the process.”
The evaluation of all the players at the combine carries high importance because in addition to multiple needs, the Redskins have multiple options in the draft.
They can try to trade up to second overall to land Griffin, or they could stand pat at No. 6 and use that on a player such as Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon or LSU defensive back Morris Claiborne and then use the second-rounder on a quarterback. They also could try to trade back to add to their collection of draft picks and position themselves to meet multiple needs.
“You always want a franchise quarterback, but you’ve always got to look at the supporting cast, too” Shanahan said. “Why was Cincinnati [who drafted and started rookie quarterback Andy Dalton last season] successful? They had a running game, good tight end, receiver, good defense. . . . When [Tom] Brady came in [as a rookie], he wins the Super Bowl and had three offensive touchdowns. But they had a great defense. Or when Roethlisberger came in, and he wins the Super Bowl with a 22.6 rating. They had the No. 1 defense and they won the Super Bowl. . . . Alex Smith has been getting killed for years, and now all of a sudden, he’s the answer. Why? [San Francisco has] had a lot of quality draft picks and has put a lot of talent around him. . . . So you always have to look at the supporting cast.”