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MTK 03-23-2006 09:45 PM

Walters: Redskins Off-Season Plan – Phase III
[CENTER][CENTER][B][U]Redskins Off-Season Plan – Phase III[/U][/B][/CENTER][/CENTER]
Having jettisoned some dead weight and then spackled most of the holes in the roster with a handful of key veteran additions, it is now time to focus in on April’s NFL draft. Despite choosing not to adhere to the Plan set forth in this space in recent weeks, Joe Gibbs nonetheless masterfully navigated the free agent waters and augmented the franchise with emerging talent. Just a few simple conversations here and a sizable debit or two to Daniel Snyder’s bank account there, and Gibbs transformed the weakest spot on the roster – wide receiver – into an area of great depth and skill. Tight end and safety were addressed as well, as was the need of a defensive lineman who could consistently pressure the quarterback.

Although Washington has numerous free agency success stories from the last few years, it would be difficult to find a team with a less impressive recent history in the NFL Draft than the one sported by the Redskins. With only five players selected this millennium currently starting on either side of the ball (Chris Samuels, Derrick Dockery, Sean Taylor, Chris Cooley, and Carlos Rogers), and only nine original Redskin draftees on the entire roster, adding some original Redskin draftees to the roster would be a welcomed change of events.

With no first round selection as a result of the trade with the Denver Broncos that netted Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell, the highest selection Washington owns is the 53rd overall selection, which is the 21st choice in the second round of the draft. Since free agency has been such a rousing success, there aren’t many gaping holes left to fill, so the lack of a first rounder won’t be quite as punitive as it could have otherwise been. This draft also has tremendous depth at most of the remaining areas of need on the Washington roster which further diminishes the negative effects of not selecting in the opening round.

Each year the draft brings about heated debate and conjecture, some of which is centered on two differing philosophies of how the selection of players should be handled. There are those who subscribe to the theory – Arizona’s Dennis Green is one – that a team should always select the best player available, regardless of their position on the field and the current composition of a team’s roster at that position. Teams that do this, continuing to use the Cardinals as an example, end up with a plethora of talent at one position, and a scarcity at others, as evidenced by Arizona having two of the top three receivers in the NFL in 2005 while simultaneously having the league’s worst rushing attack.

This is precisely why a team should always draft the best player available at a position of need on their team in the early rounds of the draft, not simply the best player on the board. Picking the best player on the board makes more sense later on in the second day when simply finding value at any position is acceptable, but not on the first day. This is further supported by the highly subjective nature of defining the “best” player at any time during the draft. Is Matt Leinart better than D’Brickashaw Ferguson? He wouldn’t be to a team like New Orleans who has a franchise quarterback but needs help along the line. It is also nearly impossible to compare two positions that often have very different criteria for success, whereas it is much easier to compare two players who play the same position.

Let me preface the remainder of the column by saying that predicting who will and won’t be available at a certain point is highly speculative, and while great pains have been taken to forecast a reasonable draft order, mistakes are inevitable. The worth of one player will skyrocket one week, and then sputter the next. The draft is an inexact science, so consider the rights reserved with regard to my approximations as to who might be on the board when each Redskins turn comes. It would be easy to say that I think that Washington should take Mario Williams with their first pick in the second round, but he has as much of a chance of still being on the board at that point as Leonard Little does of getting a job as a school bus driver, so the focus will be on players who will realistically be available once Washington’s number comes up.

In its current composition, the roster is in need of depth at a handful of positions, most notably cornerback. While this will be addressed in the coming days via free agency, injuries and the toll a full season takes on players necessitates having a reliable fourth corner on the roster. This is to say nothing of the limited time that Shawn Springs has left at the elite level at which he is currently playing and that an heir apparent is needed. These reasons, among others, illustrate that corner is where Washington should look with its first selection come late April, and Tennessee’s Jason Allen is a very logical place to start.

Often mistakenly tagged with the dreaded “tweener” label, Allen is more correctly described as a versatile defensive back with the ability to play both corner and free safety, a characteristic that is prized by a staff that places great importance on being able to play multiple positions. Allen has also been labeled an injury concern after suffering a hip injury against Georgia as a senior in 2005. These questions were perhaps put to rest by his outstanding individual performances at the combine, but there naturally will still be those who keep an eyebrow in permanent Gov. Tim Kaine (D-VA) position where serious injuries are concerned.

At nearly 6’ 1” and 210 lbs., Allen possesses excellent size for a corner. Although average for a safety, his strength and athleticism more than make up for any perceived deficit in stature. It is this ability and experience at safety that further enhances his worth to the Redskins, given the possibility that the free safety spot could be vacated if Sean Taylor is convicted in a Miami court this spring. Allen is also a high-character guy, a trait which has carried quite a bit of weight on a Joe Gibbs team.

Should Allen be off the board, there should still be a handful of strong prospects at corner from which the Redskins could choose. Florida State’s Antonio Cromartie as well as Jonathan Joseph from South Carolina are both solid prospects with all the physical tools to be a first round pick, but are projected as second round selections due to a lack of experience and unpolished technique. New Redskins defensive backs coach Jerry Gray will certainly correct the latter of the two concerns for either of the two, and the former could be alleviated slowly if and when a veteran is brought in to occupy the nickel role.

Since a corner – assuming a free agent is brought in to play corner in nickel packages – would technically only see action in specific packages, a decent argument could be made that a second round selection could be used on a player more likely to see significant playing time. While I would argue cornerback is still the area of greatest need whether a veteran is added or not, this line of reasoning is not without its merits.

The release of self-proclaimed martyr LaVar Arrington has left a question mark at the will linebacker, despite his scarce playing time over the past two seasons. Fortunately for the Redskins, 2005 middle linebacker Lemar Marshall occupied the weak side in 2004 before making the switch to replace Gregg Williams creation Antonio Pierce. This versatility gives Washington the option of selecting the best middle or weak side backer, thus increasing their pool of possible candidates.

Though he played well in the middle – better, I would argue, than his predecessor – Marshall may still better suited for the weak side. This is one reason why if Abdul Hodge of Iowa is on the board when the Redskins select, he would be a solid choice. Hodge was highly productive at the college level and has the type of intangibles that are prized in Gregg Williams’ scheme, and the type of physical gifts that are sought after league-wide. Marshall’s ability to play the middle would also serve as a safety net of sorts should Hodge suffer the struggles that are associated with being a rookie in a very complex defensive scheme.

Depth along the offensive line is the final area of concern left on the roster. Joe Gibbs’ penchant for veteran reserves virtually ensures that free agency will bring about the primary solution to the lack of blocking depth. It is for this reason that the second rounder shouldn’t be used on the o-line, despite its need for talent.

With no third round selection as a result of the Brandon Lloyd trade, the Redskins next selection isn’t until the fourth round. Here where real value can be found along the offensive front. Louisville’s Jason Spitz is a powerful guard/center prospect that may very well fall to the Redskins in the opening round of the second day. It is his versatility that makes him so attractive to Washington, which has dressed only two reserve linemen at times in the past. His aggressive demeanor would fit the personality of his position coach almost as well as his flexibility would suit the line.

With five selections in the final three rounds of the draft, the Redskins are in an enviable position in that they don’t really need to strike gold or depend on any of the five to contribute significantly. A third tight end, a player whose stock has fallen due to a recent injury, or even a kicker to push incumbent John Hall are among some of the options. Finding someone who could actually make the roster with one or two of the picks would make the final three rounds successful for the Redskins.

For the first time in a long time, Washington should head into the draft without significant questions to answer. The ultimate success of the draft hinges upon how well the Redskins do with their second round pick, which does add undue pressure to what should actually be a relatively loose war room. No matter the direction taken with that pick, as long as he contributes, the 2006 NFL Draft will have been a success for the Washington Redskins.

Check back next week for your weekly Redskins football fix. Hail to the Redskins!

Questions and comments can be sent to Trevor Walters at [EMAIL="skins.can@comcast.net"]skins.can@comcast.net[/EMAIL]

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