With no disrespect to other college teams, Washington Redskins Coach Jay Gruden sees something unique when he watches Alabama’s brand of defense. Players attack with tenacity, yet they attack with discipline, staying in their lanes and competing as fiercely in the waning minutes as they do the first quarter.
That, as much as anything, explains why the Redskins went back to Alabama’s top-ranked defense for their second-round pick in the NFL draft Friday, choosing outside linebacker Ryan Anderson 49th overall in hopes of bolstering a pass rush that repeatedly failed them last season.
“I’m not [an NFL] combine warrior; I’m not a workout warrior,” Anderson told reporters during a conference call shortly after his selection. “I’m a football player. At the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to. It boils down to, ‘See ball, get ball. And striking the man in front of you.’ That’s what I bring to the table.”
Then, having shored up their defensive line by picking Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen in Thursday’s first round (17th overall), the Redskins beefed up their secondary in the third round by choosing UCLA cornerback Fabian Moreau, a converted running back who boasts first-round talent in the defensive backfield.
It was the first time since 2009 that the Redskins have devoted their top three picks in a draft to defense. And the emphasis was for good reason. Washington’s defense ranked 28th in the NFL last season. On all-important third downs, it ranked dead last, allowing conversions 47 percent of the time.
Gruden said he couldn’t be happier about the Redskins’ haul over the first three rounds.
The 6-2, 253-pound Anderson had an impressive senior season for the Crimson Tide, finishing with 61 tackles, a team-high 19 tackles for a loss, nine sacks and 10 quarterback hurries. While Anderson lacks the height, length and speed of a prototypical NFL pass rusher, he proved himself a disruptive force in the top ranks of the college game, tallying four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and three pass breakups.
The selection of Moreau drew raves from NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock, who hailed him as a first-round talent and starting-caliber pro. But Moreau slipped to the third round because of a torn pectoral muscle suffered on his pro day March 22 and is undergoing rehab. Gruden said he hoped he’d be ready to play in September, while Moreau said he’s eyeing training camp, which gets underway in Richmond in late July, for his return to action.
“This is a dream come true,” Moreau told reporters. “This is everything, man. I’m just ready to contribute, ready to win and ready to be a Redskin.”
Opinion about how Anderson’s skills will translate to the NFL varies.
Some draft analysts cast him as a first-round talent, despite the fact that he didn’t have the high profile of Alabama defensive teammates Reuben Foster, Marlon Humphrey and Allen. According to his draft profile on NFL.com, distilled from various scouting reports, he was projected as a third- or fourth-round pick.
But Redskins scouts were sold on the playmaking skills they saw on tape. And that’s what Anderson touted when asked what he would bring to the team.
A native of Daphne, Ala., Anderson helped Daphne High win an Alabama state championship in his 14.5-sack junior year. He is a second cousin of Cincinnati Bengal defensive end Wallace Gilberry.
During his brief interview session at the NFL combine in February, Anderson said he wasn’t concerned about lacking the high profile of some other linebackers in the draft, given the caliber of players around him.
“I never worry about that,” Anderson said. “Those are traits of a selfish player. I had all those great guys around me; they made my job easy. I love playing with ’em.”
Asked about the caliber and character of Alabama’s defense, Anderson characterized himself and his teammates as humble and levelheaded. “They know how good they are, and they know how good we are as a unit.”
The Redskins got rave reviews for their first-round pick, Allen, an Ashburn native who Mayock ranked the second-best player in the draft. Many others cast Allen as a top-five prospect. But he tumbled to the Redskins, at 17th, because of his history of shoulder injuries. Although Allen was medically cleared and insists he has never felt better, some teams are skeptical about the longevity of his career.
It was the first time the Redskins had used a first-round pick on a defensive player since 2011, when they chose Purdue linebacker Ryan Kerrigan 16th overall.
Along with free agents Terrell McClain, 28, and Stacy McGee, 27, Allen and Anderson signify a major overhaul of the Redskins’ front seven.
Friday’s second round got underway with a flurry of talent worthy of first-round selections flying off the board in succession. Many of those prospects, at least on paper, would have filled needs of the Redskins: among them, Washington safety Budda Baker, Western Kentucky guard Forrest Lamp, Ohio State running back Curtis Samuel and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.
Barring any trades, the Redskins will have seven picks remaining when the draft concludes Saturday at noon, with rounds four through seven.