The 2018 NFL draft is coming up this Thursday, and the Redskins currently have the 13th overall pick in the first round. While 13 may be seen as an unlucky number, the Redskins sitting at this spot can be beneficial in a number of ways.
Over the past few months, there has been much speculation as to who the Skins would take with their first pick. At first, not knowing the status of Kirk Cousins’ future with the team, selecting a quarterback was inevitable. There was plenty of talent available at the position in the first round that could have allowed any franchise quarterback to fall to the Skins at that point. Players like Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, or Baker Mayfield would have given the Skins plenty of options. When the Skins went out and traded for Alex Smith, the focus of the first round changed.
Once it was a given that the Skins wouldn’t be selecting a quarterback in the first round, there were many scenarios based on needs that caused changes to mock drafts over the past few months.
The first scenario had the Redskins selecting Florida State defensive back Derwin James with the 13th pick. With the absence of Kendall Fuller in the secondary, having James come in and fill a veteran unit could be extremely beneficial. James is known for being able to play any position in the secondary. While being used like a Swiss army knife in Florida State’s defense, he finished his redshirt sophomore campaign with 84 tackles, 2 interceptions, 11 passes defended, and a sack.
It wasn’t out of the ordinary to see him lined up in the box wreaking havoc in the trenches, or dropping back into coverage making it difficult for the opposing quarterback to have any legit passing options. Drawing comparisons to the late Sean Taylor, they both possessed a physical style of play at a position not necessarily known for being physical. As good of a player James is, the Skins secondary, even after losing Su’a Cravens to the Broncos, will be in good shape next season without selecting him.
Last year, DJ Swearinger and Montae Nicholson (before injury) showed they can hold down the safety positions. Essentially, James would have been looked at to be the Skins nickel position player, just like Fuller. Fuller played a huge role in this position. While he was able to guard slot receivers and TE’s, he was also able to be physical and add extra support in run defense.
In the end, the Redskins will look to former 3rd round pick Fabian Moreua to fill that position, which allowed the team to shift its dynamic to another position of need. Considering the Redskins had a top-10 pass defense last season in comparison to the worst overall run defense in the league, the Skins first round pick should be utilized at a more specific position of need.
We Need a Linebacker, Right?
Last season before injury, inside linebackers Mason Foster and Zach Brown were the anchors of the Skins defense. It was never a question that Foster wasn’t going to resign at the end of the season. When it came to Brown, his stats proved that he belonged. However, there were always questions about Brown’s overall ability in relation to the money he always wanted. After missing three games and leading the league in tackles up to that point, Brown finished the season ninth overall in that category. It was a no-brainer that the team needed him back, but the price had to be right. After contract discussions that seemed to be moving nowhere, draft boards moved on from the Redskins possibly selecting a defensive back to the team trying to select Georgia’s prolific linebacker Roquan Smith.
There is no doubt about his ability. Smith finished his junior campaign with 137 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, and a forced fumbled. His play-making ability also allowed for him to be the 2017 Butkus award winner, presented to the nation’s top linebacker. In the Skins 3-4 system, Smith would have fit perfectly in the absence of Zach Brown. Both individuals are known for their tackling abilities as well as their ability to make plays sideline to sideline. The Redskins’ needs at linebacker changed once they were able to resign Zach Brown. Drafting a linebacker with the 13th overall pick was less favorable than drafting a defensive back, but selecting either position group will not fit the teams’ specific needs.
It Starts in the Trenches
Currently, the Redskins are in a position where drafting a defensive lineman with their first pick is a must. Last season, injuries to the defensive line really showed how important having a solid rotation of players at the point of attack could prove to be beneficial. Losing Jonathan Allen for the season, as well as Matt Ionnaidis for a few games, lead to teams being able to rush the ball at their will. This was evident against the Cowboys in week 13 when former Redskins running back, Alfred Morris, was able to rush for 127 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.
There are two players in this year’s upcoming draft that the Redskins should definitely take the chances in selecting with their first round pick. The first player is Washington’s Vita Vea. A former high school running back, in 2017, Vea was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and won the Morris Trophy, which is given to the best defensive lineman in the conference. Standing at 6’4, 347 pounds, one can see how much of a force he is capable of being in the trenches. His most impressive traits are not only his knack for knowing where the ball is, plugging gaps, or getting off blocks, but also how his ability to move at his size. His skill-set is apparent on his highlight tape as there are multiple instances where one can see him getting off blocks and running down the line just to make the play.
The second player the Redskins should look into for their defensive line is Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne. Having him next to former Alabama lineman Jonathan Allen can really make for great chemistry. The upside to Payne is his athletic ability. In both postseason games that Alabama played last season, Payne was named the defensive MVP. In the Sugar Bowl against Clemson, he intercepted a pass and the scored an offensive receiving touchdown on the ensuing drive. In the National Championship Game against Georgia, Payne had six tackles. What stood out most though, is the fact his presence was somehow felt on almost every defensive snap he had. Both players have so much upside to them headed into their rookie seasons and any pick between the two for the Redskins would be deemed as valuable.
The luxury of having the 13th pick in this year’s draft is the fact that this class is so quarterback heavy. In most mock drafts, it is predicted that at least three to four quarterbacks will be taken off the board before the Redskins pick. Besides quarterbacks, there are also a couple lock in picks at other positions that will be taken as well. For example, Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, and Quenton Nelson are other players who are projected to be selected in the top ten. This will definitely allow either Vea or Payne to fall to the Skins. If this ideal situation doesn’t work and both players are gone, or the team chooses to go with using their pick for the secondary in James, the Skins can still have the chances to get a solid defensive lineman in the second round. This wouldn’t be a bad option, considering either Virginia Tech’s Tim Settle or Stanford’s Harrison Phillips are still available. However, since the team’s dire needs are at the defensive line position, choosing one of the two best options in the first will really sure up their defensive line early headed into next season, and allow them to address other needs in the second, like a running back.