The week leading up to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama every year is the perfect time for NFL scouts and draft analysts to feast their eyes on some of the nation's top prospects. Participating in practices and drills organized by NFL coaches and staff, we all get to observe future professionals in a new element and under the bright lights.
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan and his staff were fortunate enough to coach the South team last year and made the very most of it (what's up, Alfred Morris). This season, however, the coaching has changed hands, and the Redskins have conducted their scouting from the sidelines with a majority of other teams.
Members of the Redskins organization that have been in attendance (h/t Washington Post) so far this week have been general manager Bruce Allen, director of player personnel Scott Campbell, vice president of football administration Eric Schaffer and other member's of the scouting department.
Below is a collection of scouting notes with information from the first three days of the event that I believe pertains to the Redskins and their draft strategy come April:
With a shallow secondary that was well deserving of the 'suspect' label last season--especially in the early goings--the Redskins will almost certainly look to address both the cornerback and safety positions in this draft.
They should look no further for cornerback help than the North squad's Desmond Trufant (Washington) and Jordan Poyer (Oregon State), both of whom have been described as very impressive throughout the first two days of practice.
In addition to Trufant's footwork, Redskins coaches could fall in love with Poyer's range and ability to change direction. He has a closing burst that can bait quarterbacks, and he demonstrated good awareness throughout his final season in college.
Another defensive back to keep an eye on is Leon McFadden (San Diego State) on the South roster. He weighed in at 5'9", 193 pounds, but has racked up three interceptions in two days at practice. His instincts are impressive, as he's able to time passes perfectly and jump routes. Originally joining the Aztecs as a wide receiver, McFadden switched to defense full-time during fall camp in 2009. Despite being somewhat new to the position, he obviously possesses good hands, and his ability to jump passing lanes are a result of understanding the moves and feel of a wideout.
I received a few comments on last week's draft articles regarding former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, who is in Mobile and talking with scouts this week. In my opinion, as much as the Redskins could use playmakers on defense, I don't think Mathieu is worth the possible headache in Washington.
I hate to use size as a deterrent, because there's plenty of small guys that defy the odds, but I think it's a real issue with Mathieu. As much as I like his instincts and ball skills, his small frame isn't going to change, and there's obvious off-the-field risk with him.
One of the biggest standouts of the week so far has been safety Jonathan Cyprien of Florida International.
I didn't know much about Cyprien before this week, but I've caught up on some tape and he's a lot of fun to watch. And because "fun to watch" doesn't always translate to good football, I'll also note that he's extremely talented as a player.
At 6'0", 209 pounds, Cyprien is a physical safety that appears to have a natural feel for the game. He has great instincts and his aggressiveness is usually a gift rather than a curse. He does take a few bad angles, here and there, but it's not often and it's accepted at this stage of a young player's career.
I personally love the balance of Cyprien's game in that he is comfortable coming down into the box and sticking his nose in against the run, yet he's very effective in dropping back to play outfield. He can take guys off the line and out of the backfield in coverage and he's a form tackler in open space.
With the Redskins searching in the safety department, and with the likelihood of Florida safety Matt Elam being off the board by the time the team makes their first pick at No. 51 overall, looking into a less-heralded guy like Cyprien may be a wise move.
Another safety to keep an eye on is the 6'2", 211-pound TJ McDonald out of USC.
You'll first notice that his physical presence and his natural athleticism won't trail far behind. McDonald is a hard hitter with a good feel from his position, and he is also a possibility by the time the Redskins pick in the second round.
Two linebackers that Redskins fan should keep an eye on are Rutgers Kahseem Greene and Zaviar Gooden out of Missouri. With London Fletcher quickly approaching the age of 40 and still undecided about coming back next season, the team needs to focus on addressing the linebacker position.
Greene is slightly undersized at 6'0" and 236 pounds, but he is very athletic and intelligent. His lack of aggressiveness against the run is a bit disappointing, yet his ability to drop back into coverage serves as a real asset. His size can sometimes keep him out of plays when struggling to shed blockers, and his ability to read and quickly react will need to improve at the next level.
All in all, Greene is a good football player and a guy that can start in the NFL. He's also likely to be available through the fourth round. If the Redskins want to address the position and covet a backer that can move and cover, Greene is an option.
Gooden is also an athletic linebacker, but unlike Greene, he's built like a stone at 6'1" and 233 pounds.
Before enrolling at Missouri, Gooden was a standout safety (rated No. 32 in the nation by Rivals) and running back prospect coming out of high school in Texas. After serving as part of the scout team in 2008, Gooden switched to linebacker in the summer of 2009 and saw action in that same season.
There's not a whole lot to dislike when it comes to Gooden's game. He's a fierce tackler, and he was a captain for the Tigers last season. He understands coverage and doesn't look lost when he drops back. He is also willing to put his nose in on every play.
I'd keep an eye on Gooden as the draft draws near. The Redskins seem to like this young man.
Now let's look at the other side of the ball.
And not to sound like Chip Kelly, but having speed on offense is great.
Although the Redskins did things last offseason to help improve that aspect of their team, they could still use more help. Two guys I was looking forward to hearing about this week were quarterback-turned-wideout Denard Robinson (Michigan) and running back Kenjon Barner (Oregon).
We all knew Robinson's move from passer to pass-catcher wasn't going to be easy, and his early struggles have been noted throughout the first two days of practice. He appears uncomfortable and he did drop a few balls on Tuesday. His route running—arguably the hardest part of a receiver's transition—has also been a big developmental question mark.
As for Barner, he looked better. He's a guy that's willing to get in and run between the tackles, even though he doesn't necessarily have the size to do it. What I like, however, is the potential of Barner with the ball in space. He's quick and explosive and he can change direction without compromising his speed. He is an open-field nightmare.
Somewhat of another surprise so far this week has been wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (Texas). At 5'9", 177 pounds, Goodwin initially comes off as too small, but teams won't shy away from him once they recognize what they're getting.
Goodwin may not be able to effectively get off jams at the line of scrimmage, but he has real potential at the slot position at the next level. His speed is absolutely crazy, and putting a guy like Goodwin in the arsenal for Robert Griffin III could work very well in Washington.
Chris Harper out of Kansas State stands 6'0", 228 pounds and has a lot of things to like in terms of his skill set. He may not be anywhere close possessing the speed of Goodwin or other receivers in this draft, but Harper has good bulk and he's great at snatching the ball with his hands. I'm not entirely sure how the Redskins coaching staff chalks up their current wide receiving corps, but a defensive backs grinder like Harper could benefit a lot of teams in the NFL.
The Redskins also have work to do along the offensive line this offseason.
So far this week, other than first-round tackles like Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) and Lane Johnson (Oklahoma), the Redskins likely got a more realistic look at Justin Pugh (Syracuse).
Pugh weighed in at just under 6'5" and 297 pounds, but with relatively shorter arms (31.5") for a man at his position. Even so, Pugh has the athleticism to fit a zone blocking scheme, and he looks to be best fit at right tackle—a spot on the Redskins roster that needs an upgrade.
Pugh is quick with his feet and he works his short arms to the best of his ability by keeping them tight to his body in order to gain the most leverage and power.
As nice as it would be to land a guy like Fisher or Johnson, a right tackle prospect like Pugh is much more logical.
Look for more notes from the Senior Bowl following the game on Saturday and follow me on Twitter for information regarding the Redskins and April's NFL Draft.