Vinny Cerrato, Official Risk-Taker of the Washington Redskins

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Vinny Cerrato, Official Risk-Taker of the Washington Redskins

A mentor once told me if you are going to make a career mistake, make it a big one. He didn't mean that in the Gov. Blagojevich sense.

Let your reach exceed your grasp. Make bold moves. Maybe you get a big miss, but you might get a big hit.

I've thought about that a lot while assessing Vinny Cerrato's moves to build the 2008 Washington Redskins' roster.

It turns out that Washington's executive VP made three big reaches to address glaring needs at wide receiver and defensive pass rush.

In hindsight, we see that rookie receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, and defensive end Erasmus James, were over-reaches for a team in need of an immediate payoff.

The Redskins brought in a parade of free-agent wide receivers over the past four seasons to help a pass-challenged offense. David Patten, Billy McMullen, Burl Toler, Anthony Mix, Mike Espy, Derrick Blaylock, Jimmy Farris, and Todd Pinkston are on a long list of players who tried and died to become NFL-caliber starters.

None worked out, although I thought the Redskins could have made better use of Reche Caldwell and Keenan McCardell in 2007.

Antwaan Randle El was pressed into service as a the No 2 wideout. His 50+ receptions in 2007 and '08 are better than his stats with the Pittsburgh Steelers. But a team's second receiver should be good for over 60 catches, seven touchdowns, and  800 yards or so.

Trades didn't work. Brandon Lloyd was a poor deal, whose San Francisco stats did not match those of Rod Gardner, the man he was brought in to replace.

Santana Moss doesn't count. Moss was swapped for a disgruntled Laveranues Coles. That makes the deal a wash, not an upgrade.

With that background and a sense there were no available worthwhile free-agent receivers, Vinny Cerrato rolled the dice on the draft for big receivers who would be a better fit for the West Coast offense.

Early in his career, Cerrato had a hand in drafting Terrell Owens for the San Francisco 49ers. Owens, 6'3", 213, is the prototype WCO receiver. No doubt, Cerrato hoped to duplicate that success. 

It turns out that he knowingly took risks on both Thomas and Kelly.

Cerrato has been in football long enough to know the risk he was taking with Thomas. As a one-year starter at a big time college program, Devin Thomas needed development time to grow as a NFL receiver.

Any player who bursts on the scene in one year as Thomas did should have a big red flag tattooed on their forehead. They haven't passed the test of time, either at the NCAA level, or early in their NFL career. There are no short-cuts in this.

I suspect Cerrato saw 2009 as the payoff year for Devin Thomas.

Malcolm Kelly is another story.

Kelly set receiving records as a true freshman at Oklahoma's big-time program, coached by the highly respected Bob Stoops. He was a successful three-year starter who was compared to Larry Fitzgerald as a pro prospect.

Malcolm Kelly had "can't miss first round draft pick" written all over him, until his Pro Day workout for NFL scouts on Oklahoma's campus. 

Recovering from the knee injury that kept him from participating in the NFL Combine, Kelly turned in slow times for a wide receiver. "Not my fault" said Kelly who pointed fingers at Oklahoma's trainers and coaching staff. He would apologize for the outburst, but the damage was done.

A Michael David Smith story in the New York Times suggested how that hurt Kelly.

"In NFL circles, Stoops is one of the most respected college coaches, and if Kelly thinks a verbal back-and-forth with Stoops two weeks before the draft is the way to endear himself to NFL teams, he’s in for an unpleasant surprise on draft day. Kelly likely dropped out of the first round on Wednesday, and not because of his 40 time."

It comes out that some of Washington's medical staff had serious reservations about Kelly's knee, to the point that they suspected a two or three-year playing career for him, according to a story in the Washington Post.

Head coach Jim Zorn publicly chastised Kelly and Thomas for reporting to training camp unprepared. Zorn's offense would be hampered all season because of the inability of one of those guys to emerge.

Knee problems were the question mark about DE Erasmus James, who missed the 2007 season because of his injuries.

In need of a pass rush, the Redskins took a chance on James, offering the Vikings a conditional seventh round pick in the 2009 draft. The Vikings were about to waive him, for good reason as it turns out. 

James never contributed to the Redskins.

Seen as a low-odds project at the time, it now feels like that seventh-round pick was too high a price to pay for Mr. James. Rookie safety Chris Horton was a 2008 seventh round pick who made an instant impact for the Redskins.

James was quietly waived in December.

You'd figure that one of your three risky picks would pay off. Had that happened, Vinny Cerrato wouldn't face fan calls for his ouster.

These were not spectacular misses. Of the five wide-outs drafted after the Redskins took Kelly, only Harry Douglas (Atlanta) made a bigger impact, but not by much (23 catches, 320 yards, 1 TD). 

Thomas, Kelly, or both could grow into their role next season like every other rookie going into their first year.
 
Cerrato should gamble on a big reach again in 2009, without abandoning the draft. Only not so many reaches this time.

With four draft picks, Washington needs proven commodities for three of those picks. That should mean three year starters from BCS eligible schools.

Just don't count on much from them for the 2009 season. Malcolm Kelly proved that.

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