5 Safety Prospects Who Can Start Right Away for the Washington Redskins
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While the Washington Redskins made the playoffs in 2012, there is no question that there are still some major issues the team needs to work out. At the forefront is the state of the safety position, a unit that failed the burgundy and gold on more than one occasion last season.
With all due respect to Madieu Williams and Reed Doughty, fans simply do not want to see another year of backup-quality play from the two deepest guys on the field. Injuries to Brandon Meriweather and a suspension to Tanard Jackson were massive bumps in the road, but the fact that the Redskins had no legitimate plans to assuage their unavailability shows that there needs to be a change.
Unfortunately, finding safeties on the open market is very tough. Safeties have to fit a system, so grabbing a mediocre free agent to fill in is probably not going to work. Luckily, there is plenty of talent in the draft, and plenty of players that the pick-starved Redskins have a realistic shot of grabbing.
These prospects may turn out or they may not; the important thing is that Washington's front office finally shows the fanbase that the defensive backfield is a priority. It's been a difficult climb since the death of Sean Taylor, and the Redskins have to realize that a return to the hard-hitting, fear-inducing days of old is a necessity if they plan on building a potential Super Bowl contender.
Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
Tony Jefferson is a playmaker with rare physicality that can step in immediately and make an impact in the secondary.
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If you had to describe Tony Jefferson in two words, they would be "old school." Nothing about the Oklahoma product screams "superstar," but he still has an immense amount of talent and makes up for his lack of size with superb instincts and pristine mechanics.
Jefferson won't make a plays that astound you, but he'll prevent the opponent from making big plays. He has excellent coverage skills and might be the best tackling safety in the draft. He's a very safe late-round pick, and one that Bruce Allen and company are certainly considering.
The most interesting thing about Jefferson is his ability to play cornerback as well. For a team like the Redskins that has depth issues all across the defensive backfield, Jefferson's versatility could prove invaluable.
Richard Crawford is a great punt returner but let's be honest—you don't feel comfortable with him potentially having to fill in as a starting corner. Jefferson could be the key to rendering the depth issue moot, especially if he's not ready to start immediately. The Redskins should feel fortunate if Jefferson is available.
Robert Lester, Alabama
He's not as polished as his predecessor, Mark Barron, but Robert Lester could make big things happen in Washington.
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Robert Lester has everything you look for in a safety. He has a solid 6'1", 212-pound frame, excellent closing speed and has playmaking ability to rival any defensive back in this year's class. The Redskins could definitely have a chance to draft the Alabama star, and they shouldn't pass it up.
There are definitely weaknesses in his game, though, the most concerning of which is his tendency to give up on mechanics when he's in a difficult position. Unfortunately, that's not something that can be changed easily. But for his few deficiencies, Lester is about as exciting a prospect as there is in the draft. He's a ball hawk and can go up and get interceptions better than many of the safeties in the NFL.
Additionally, he played at a high level in the SEC—and no matter what you think about the SEC, it's undeniable that the league churns out defensive talent year in and year out. He had four interceptions in 2012 and offenses often just decided not to throw his way.
Lester is one the top safety prospects in the draft and could go anywhere from the late-second round to the late-first round. The Redskins would be lucky to nab him, and he could have far-reaching impacts. His overall ability is unmatched by anyone on the roster and he could immediately step in and start.
D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina
D.J. Swearinger has all the physical tools to dominate at the next level. How he is able to adjust to the NFL remains a concern.
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D.J. Swearinger is a raw prospect who could develop into something seriously special. He came into his own in his junior and senior seasons at South Carolina, showing range and closing ability and contributing 159 total tackles. The second half of his senior year was particularly impressive, becoming a ball-hawking terror after a slow start to the season.
As far as safe late-round picks go, the Redskins can't go wrong with Swearinger. He's physical player with instinct and athletic ability; the only reason he's not higher on draft boards is because he's not as polished as the more NFL-ready prospects in the draft.
One concern is his ability to play a starring role, as he had a lot of help across the board at South Carolina due to the fact that the Gamecocks were absolutely loaded defensively during his tenure. Can he really handle the load of defending against a pass-happy NFL team? It remains to be seen, but the reality is that the tools are all there. Swearinger routinely made big plays when it counted for Steve Spurrier's squad, and could bring a playmaking culture to the Redskins defense that could go a long way toward deciding whether or not the unit can improve as a whole.
Swearinger was known as a particularly passionate player for the Gamecocks, and he could light a fire under the decidedly un-physical Washington defense.
T.J. McDonald, USC
T.J. McDonald is rising up draft boards, and the Redskins should absolutely grab him if he falls to the second round.
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It was once a foregone conclusion that the Redskins would have a chance to draft a guy like T.J. McDonald, but the tides have turned. McDonald had a solid combine performance and really developed into a star player at USC, showing all-around ability that NFL scouts drool over. There are very few weaknesses in his game and he could make an immediate impact on Washington's roster.
The only concern with McDonald is his speed, which is not elite. But the positives outweigh the negatives in almost every regard with this talented, physical player. He can deliver crushing hits and can make plays with the best of them. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether or not he'll be taken late in the first round or early in the second.
One advantage McDonald has that the Redskins probably crave is that he is as NFL-ready as any safety prospect in this draft. He has a prototypical build for a safety and is very versatile. He doesn't over-commit and he's a very smart player. If he is drafted in Washington, he should be on the field in game one. For Redskins fans, that's music to the ears. McDonald could be a best-case scenario prospect for the talent-starved defensive backfield in D.C.
Eric Reid, LSU
Eric Reid has a tendency to be over-agressive, and that may cause him to fall in the draft. The Redskins should be happy if he lands in their lap.
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Drafting Eric Reid would qualify as an absolute steal for the Redskins. The prospect out of LSU is one of the premier safeties in the draft and has rare abilities. His one weakness, though, is the reason why he may fall: He's not disciplined enough.
Of course, the Redskins will endure that and pick him up without hesitation if he is available. Reid is a physical player who can deliver massive hits, he's a playmaker, has solid speed and tops it all off with spectacular instincts. If anything, his tendency to lose his mechanics and positioning is an indication of how confident he is in his abilities.
One of the best things about Reid is his athleticism, and his ability to play 60 minutes with toughness and intensity. Not only does he possess elite ability, but also he makes sure he uses every ounce of it during the game. For the Redskins, nothing could be better. Washington lacks any kind of player in the defensive backfield who can serve as a viable option for an entire game week after week. Combine that with Reid's durability (he played in 33 of 34 games at one point) and the Redskins could draft a really special player.
Reid will probably go before the Redskins have a chance to pick him, but that's not a guarantee. With talent all over the place in this year's draft, it's perfectly reasonable to think teams would find other players more viable. Should that be the case, the Redskins could wind up drafting a player who could anchor their defense for years to come.