Reviewing the Washington Redskins' 5 Biggest Scouting Combine Takeaways
How much emphasis do teams place on the NFL combine? That’s an essential question that gets asked every year. For the Washington Redskins in 2013, it’s not going to carry the same importance as last year, when they were searching for a quarterback.
Mike Shanahan has been in the business too long to be swept away by media hype in the wake of a strong 40-yard dash, or a couple of extra reps on the bench press.
These aren’t things that will sway his decision to draft a player—instead, he will be sitting on hours of film study and recommendations from his coaching staff, along with personal interviews with players at the combine, pro days and individual visits.
Nevertheless, with the draft deep at the Redskins’ positions of need, the combine still carries some weight, and there were some results that could cause a number of players to rise up the board when the draft rolls around.
Here are five things that emerged as a result of this year’s combine.
A.J. Smith Hire
Most people would expect teams to go in looking at players—instead, the Redskins used the combine to hammer out an agreement with A.J. Smith, bringing him in as an adviser to the front office.
Smith, along with Norv Turner, was fired by the San Diego Chargers after the 2012 season. His son, Kyle Smith, works for the Redskins as a scout, and The Washington Post reported that the elder Smith and Redskins GM Bruce Allen also have a history.
From 1982-83, Allen was the general manager of the Chicago Blitz in the USFL, while Smith was one of the scouts there.
It’s difficult to foresee how this will affect the Redskins’ draft plans. Both Allen and Shanahan have done a good job in the draft since their arrival, and the term “adviser” suggests that Smith’s position isn’t one of huge influence, but his scouting abilities are good.
His relationships with players isn’t anything to be proud of, and his title “Lord of No Rings” speaks for itself. However, he drafted Antonio Cromartie, Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson and Michael Turner, so we know he can spot talent.
All in all, it’s a good hire for the Redskins that brings another good talent evaluator to the front office.
John Cyprien’s Hamstring Strain
For many people, John Cyprien was the perfect safety to take in the second round and slot in as a starter. In 2012, he showed the ability to make plays in both the running and passing game, along with an instinctive ability to read the play and make the right decision.
While it was a disappointment that he strained a hamstring, which kept him out of some drills, he looked good during coverage exercises and remains a top prospect. In many ways, this will benefit Washington. He could do with getting less attention so that he falls to the Redskins in the second round.
He’ll get another chance to showcase his skills at his pro day, which the more cynical among you would argue was his intention all along. He won’t hurt his draft stock at all by not participating in drills, and the pro day is a more comfortable environment for him to improve it.
The Redskins are lucky that the lack of a first-round pick won’t hurt them too much this year. Their positional needs have coincided with a good class that boasts a number of potential starters. Cyprien is just one of them.
The Tyrann Mathieu backlash has been in full swing since he was dismissed from LSU, and it lasted right up until the combine. It was inevitable that any strong performances would reignite the discussion about him as an early-round pick.
This brings us back to the Redskins again. The team needs corners, so a playmaker like Mathieu seems like a good fit—the poise and fluidity he displayed in positional drills is going to help his draft stock a great deal.
However, there are still too many questions about his ability to succeed in the NFL to mark him worthy of an early pick, especially to a team lacking in such luxuries.
His small frame means he’ll get pushed around by bigger receivers, and his poor showing on the bench press lends real doubt as to what he’s been doing on his year off. Even when he was playing football, his skills in man coverage were not good, despite his impact in other areas.
With no football, he should have been going to the gym as much as possible, knowing that his performance in the combine drills could make or break his career in the league. He knew exactly what the drills were going to be, but chose not to improve.
He’s an incredibly gifted athlete and his natural talent will buy him into a lot of hearts, but it’s his dedication that’s the real question mark. Shanahan likes high-character players, and Mathieu just doesn’t seem that way right now.
Second Round Questions
There’s a lot of talk about who the Redskins will take with their second-round pick, and there are obviously a number of worthy candidates. However, it’s also very likely that Shanahan will choose to trade down in the second and pick up extra players in the third and fourth rounds.
Look at the history of his drafts. In his three years, he has selected Jarvis Jenkins in the second round, but that’s it. Admittedly, he didn’t have a lot of picks in the 2010 draft when he arrived, but he made a quick grab for Donovan McNabb and shipped his second-round pick for that year, as well as 2011’s fourth-rounder.
Robert Griffin III was an unqualified success in 2012, so you can’t call that trade anything but a good idea. His injury was incredibly disappointing, but Griffin’s work ethic is immense and he’ll do whatever it takes to get himself back on the field.
The worrying thing about Shanahan is that he seems to put a lot of faith in late-round picks being able to compete for starting jobs. He’s done a great job for the Redskins in almost all areas, but the continual trading down is frustrating.
The draft is a time that brings about the classic line, “best player available.” Shanahan did this with Kirk Cousins and was immediately blasted, so it’s a no-win situation a lot of the time. However, it’s unfeasible to expect the lower-round players to be able to win starting jobs. Just because you have more picks, it doesn’t mean you have a better team.
Back in November, Redskins blog HogsHaven.com broke down Shanahan’s draft dealings and it wasn’t pretty. Over 50 percent of Shanahan’s picks were in the sixth and seventh rounds, which is fine for the first year of a rebuild, but he should be getting to the point where he’s drafting to win.
The 2012 draft was an example of this, and the reason I mentioned that Shanahan and Allen had done a good job drafting since their arrival. The 2012 trend needs to continue, which means not trading away the top picks to get value in the lower rounds.
The combine showed that 2013 is a great class for safeties and cornerbacks, so it could be argued that there is room for a trade to take place. However, it’s essential that the Redskins get starters at these positions, which means they need their best picks.
Zaviar Gooden improved his draft stock with a strong combine showing, and with London Fletcher’s future still up in the air, he could be a good fit for the Redskins.
Gooden ran the 40 in 4.47 seconds, which was fastest among all linebackers, and completed 27 reps on the bench press. For someone who was regarded as undersized, this is a big plus against Gooden’s name.
Watching tape on Gooden, what’s immediately obvious is that he loves the game. He has a high motor, and at Pflugerville High School he spent time at safety, which gives him an advantage in coverage. He’s shown that he is quick and strong—he also survived college without any major injuries.
His tackling is sound without being intimidating, which could still lead some scouts to believe that he needs to add size, but the combine will have done a lot to get him on the radar of teams who had previously counted him out.
B/R columnist Shae Cronin has been running an excellent series on draft prospects for the Redskins, which included a piece on Gooden. Now that his stock is on the rise, it’s worth re-reading that piece with the additional knowledge gained from the combine.
Drafting a linebacker is a real unknown at this point, but it could be one of the surprise picks of Shanahan’s draft this year. Gooden has shown that he deserves to be in the conversation.
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