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Need to Know: Three dark horse draft picks for the Redskins at No. 5

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Need to Know: Three dark horse draft picks for the Redskins at No. 5

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, February 23, 15 days before the Washington Redskins and the rest of the NFL start free agency.

Question of the day

I’m back from the combine but I’m still going to post the question of the day for a few more days before throwing it back out to the readers. Sticking with the draft questions: 

Who are the dark horses for the Redskins top pick?

Yesterday I wrote about the three players I think are most likely to be the Redskins’ pick if they keep the fifth pick in the draft. They were, in ascending order of likelihood, DL Danny Shelton of Washington, WR Kevin White of West Virginia, and edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. of Florida.

That certainly isn’t the definitive list; we still have over two months until draft day and plenty can happen as the Redskins and the other 21 teams refine their draft boards. Here are three more who seem to be less likely right now but who could jump into the picture between now and April 30

DL Leonard Williams, USC—This pick is unlikely because he probably won’t be there when the Redskins pick. But let’s say that the two quarterbacks, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, go 1-2 with the Bucs taking one and Titans the other or trading the pick to a team that takes the other. The Jaguars want an edge rusher and take Fowler, the local guy. And the Raiders want a weapon for Derek Carr so they take White. The Redskins gladly take Williams, the athletic, disruptive defensive end. Again, not a likely scenario but it’s hard to rule anything out in the draft over two months in advance.

Edge rusher Shane Ray, Missouri—If Fowler is gone, the Redskins could look to Ray to add to their anemic pass rush. At 6-3, 245 he isn’t quite as big as you’d like a 3-4 outside linebacker to be and we know that Scot McCloughan likes big players. But he has an incredibly quick first step and if he can add 10 or 15 pounds over the next couple of years without losing that quickness he could make life miserable for Redskins opponents.

S Landon Collins, Alabama—I go back and forth on Collins as a possibility at No. 5. Right now he is an in the box safety who likely would play more like a linebacker in nickel situations. A player like that may not have enough value to warrant such a high pick. And at 6-0, 228 he isn’t the Kam Chancellor-sized safety that McCloughan might prefer. But if McCloughan believes that Collins can be taught to be better in coverage, if he is a player who will stay late in the film room learning his craft, the Redskins dire need at the position (need is part of the grade that determines “best available player”), he could pull the trigger on him.

Timeline

—It’s been 57 days since the Redskins played a game. It will be about 202 days until they play another one.

Days until: NFL free agency starts 15; Redskins offseason workouts start 56; 2015 NFL Draft 66

If you have any questions about what's going on at Redskins Park, hit me up in the comments. And I'm always on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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In case you missed it

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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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