2012 NFL Draft: 5 Defensive Studs Washington Redskins Must Target
2011, despite being yet another down year for the burgundy and gold, saw first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan emerge as one of the premier young linebackers in the NFL. Kerrigan, alongside wide out Leonard Hankerson, running back Roy Helu, Jr. and defensive tackle Chris Neild rounded out a rookie class that was more successful across the board than most in recent memory.
With that said, Mike Shanahan is entering year three in Washington and needs to orchestrate a huge turnaround before the fanbase in DC concedes to all-out mutiny.
While the quarterback search is dictating most of the headlines in Washington, defense is still in need of young, talented rookies to help fill out a roster loaded with veterans and free agents.
Here's my take on five defensive players the Redskins would do well to go after in the 2012 NFL draft.
Julian Miller, Defensive End (West Virginia)
Julian Miller may not be the most towering, pile-pushing presence in college football, but the 6'4", 270-pound senior from Ohio has been nothing if not consistent during his time as a Mountaineer.
Trust me, he was good enough to leave Morgantown beloved and forever remembered.
Miller, while in Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 odd stack, jumped around from position to position along the defensive line. However, in his final two years, he and the much-hyped Bruce Irvin formed the best pass rushing tandem in the Big East.
Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker are big, lumbering ends that rely on sheer power. Miller, though a bit undersized, would bring a speedier element to the end position. Of course, adding weight at the pro level is always an option, and many times, a necessity. Miller certainly has the frame to do just that.
Julian Miller is a hard working, athletic d-end prospect that could be a steal in the later rounds, much like his friend and former teammate, Chris Neild.
Alfonzo Dennard, Cornerback (Nebraska)
If you're one of the people currently throwing things at the screen because I don't have Morris Claiborne listed, bear with me.
Claiborne will be gone within the first three picks, and if we're trading up to get anybody, it's going to be Robert Griffin III.
Alfonzo Dennard, however, is the second great corner prospect to come out of Nebraska in the last two years. After starting his senior season off recovering from a leg injury, Dennard returned to turn in a nearly lights-out senior year.
Dennard is a bit undersized but strong and loves to play physical. He's proven he can press in man coverage or drop back in zone and refrains from overplaying or putting himself out of position.
Refraining from letting yourself get burned is a good way to elevate your draft stock.
Getting burned was sort of the M.O. for the Redskins secondary this season, and with DeAngelo Hall and Kevin Barnes currently holding down the starting spots, it's not hard to imagine someone like Dennard arriving at camp and competing immediately for the starting job.
Audie Cole, Inside Linebacker (North Carolina State)
Unfortunately, London Fletcher does not have long before he vacates his middle-linebacker spot. It's a fact that might not sit well with people, but alas, the clock beats everyone eventually.
With that in mind, the Redskins are in need of a young middle-linebacker to help anchor the defense and round out what is already shaping up to be a young, explosive linebacking corps that features Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
Audie Cole was a big, forceful presence in the tackle box during his time in Raleigh. He has good height at 6'4", but he'll need to bulk up a little in order to fill out his frame and be able to bang around with the big boys at the NFL level.
As I said before, putting on pounds isn't hard to do in the NFL.
Fletcher made his living off of constantly seeking out the ball and being physical at the point of contact. Cole can do these things, as he proved in recording 98 tackles in 2011, including 9.5 for a loss.
Audie Cole could make a great addition to a Redskins defensive unit looking to take a linebacker in the mid-rounds.
Baccari Rambo, Safety (Georgia)
The SEC is essentially a hard-hitting defensive back factory. Thus, we have Baccari Rambo.
This ball-hawking safety had one of the best years of anyone at his position in 2011, with seven interceptions and 52 tackles.
With LaRon Landry's future in DC so uncertain and Reed Doughty performing at such a low level, the Redskins secondary is in need of a boost at the safety position. Baccari Rambo could provide the necessary spark the Redskins need.
Rambo is speedy, but also brings a healthy dose of physicality to the safety spot. He is good at covering ground and seems to possess solid instincts. In other words, Rambo can play a well-rounded brand of football, the kind of ubiquitous deep presence that Landry never managed to become.
Rambo would be a solid second-round choice and should be able to bring an immediate impact to the Redskins secondary.
Markelle Martin: Free Safety (Oklahoma State)
While Baccari Rambo possesses a more diverse skill-set and could probably move to strong safety with relative ease, Markelle Martin is a genuine free safety.
Martin roams and loves to play the deep ball. While he doesn't possess break-neck speed, he can still cover ground and plays the ball well.
Martin wasn't a stat sheet superstar at Oklahoma State. His 65 tackles and nine passes broken up aren't leading the NCAA in any way. But Martin plays with a poise and a presence that suggests he's much better than he appears on paper.
This is the kind of player that the Redskins could build into a great free safety. If he's content with letting Rambo wield the hit-stick in the secondary and focus solely on guarding the deep ball, Martin could be a great grab for the Redskins in the early to mid-rounds.