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Grading the Redskins' 2015 draft

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Grading the Redskins' 2015 draft

Since we don’t know how the careers of the players picked by the Redskins yesterday will turn out we have to dig in a little more to come up with a grade for Scot McCloughan’s first draft with the team. Here’s my assessment, feel free to leave yours in the comments.

Strategy—B

McCloughan’s quest to increase his stockpile of draft picks from seven to at least 10 did not get off to a good start during the first round. They were on the clock with Leonard Williams, thought by some to be the best player in the draft, on the board. It seemed like they would have been able to move back a few spots, pick up a mid-round pick, and still get Brandon Scherff, the top player on their board. At the very least they could have waited for the clock to run down closer to 0:00 to exhaust all possibilities rather than turning in the card with about three minutes left on the clock.

Since they ended up keeping the fifth overall pick, you can also debate the wisdom of spending that on a player who is going to play right tackle or guard. A team can generally find players who can do a good job filling those low-impact positions later in the draft.

I’ll ding the grade a little bit for value but we really don’t know at this point. If Scherff turns out to be a very good right tackle who holds the job for the next eight years or so or a Pro Bowl-caliber guard, the value for the pick will be there. If his career turns out to be something less and if Williams lights things up with the Jets, the pick may go down as a mistake.

McCloughan got the deal that he was looking for during the third round on Friday. He traded back with the Seahawks, going all the way from the 69th overall pick to the 95th. Seattle shipped picks they had in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds in exchange for moving up. The deal was close to even on the traditional Jimmy Johnson draft trade chart and a steal for the Redskins on the Football Perspective chart, which uses the Approximate Value of players selected in those draft slots to value the picks.

After making a solid deal, however, it looks like they reached with the pick they got from Seattle. Running back Matt Jones may well have been available later in the draft, perhaps much later. Perhaps they could have taken massive guard Daryl Williams of Oklahoma or 6-2 safety James Sample with that third-round pick and then they could have grabbed Jones later on Saturday.

McCloughan pulled off one more deal before it was over, sending fifth-round pick they got in the Seahawks trade to the Saints, who gave up their sixth rounders in this draft and in the 2016 draft. Assuming they didn’t lose anyone they really wanted to have between that fifth-round pick and their first pick in the sixth, this is a decent if not highly significant deal.

Talent/Fit—A-

Most of the “needs” boxes were checked with the exception of a few. Although Jones can pass block and may have been underutilized as a pass catcher out of the backfield at Florida, he isn’t the model third-down back. They entered the draft without a succession plan at free safety behind Dashon Goldson, who turns 31 early in the season and they left it still lacking one. While we are waiting to see if Jordan Reed can stay healthy for a season, some tight end depth may have been helpful.

However, it is important to note that this was not a good draft at the safety and tight end positions. It’s better to bypass the position altogether than it is to take a player who isn’t a fit just to check off the box.

What was clear is that McCloughan went into the draft looking for a specific type of player—big and mean—and he found a bunch of them. In particular the top three picks, Scherff, edge defender Preston Smith, and Jones, are all large and they play with an edge.

The draft picks weren’t all behemoths. Notably they took 5-8 wide receiver Jamison Crowder and 5-10 safety Kysheon Jarrett. But those two players were taken with special teams in mind. Crowder is likely to return punts Week 1 and could bring back kickoffs as well and Jarrett will be expected to jump right in on coverage teams. The two could contribute little from scrimmage and still be very valuable additions.

Given the struggles that the Washington special teams have had over the last couple of years, the attention paid to them represented a solid positive.

Overall—B+

This was a very professional draft by McCloughan, who did what he was hired to do. They went in with a solid plan and, for the most part, they executed it.

The keys to this draft in the long run are Scherff, as noted above, Smith, and the later-round picks. They will be relying on Smith to do a lot of different things on defense. If he does them well, he could be a steal, the edge player that many expected them to take at the top of the draft. If he struggles, the pass rush will likely continue to be mediocre and a secondary that is still shaky will be exposed.

And as with any draft, it’s important to get contributions from the later rounds. If Jarrett and Evan Spencer become special teams aces, if Arie Kouandjio can be a solid backup and spot starter, and if someone picked on Saturday emerges as a solid starter, the draft could be a solid success.

One other factor that could make this draft better is subsequent drafts. Assuming that McCloughan is around for many more drafts to come, the Redskins will stick to the same draft principles. McCloughan has his philosophy that it’s a big man’s game and while smaller players won’t be excluded completely, the move to get bigger, tougher, and meaner won’t be tossed aside for the next draft. The quest for big guys won’t be a short-term fad; they won’t be looking for fast, athletic types in a year or two. Consistency is a key to building a team; the Redskins are likely to have that now, for a change.

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

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