The Washington Redskins need a safety in this year’s draft. Some people are saying they actually need two safeties. Whether that’s true or not is up for discussion, but free safety should be addressed with the 51st overall pick. The player selected should be South Carolina’s D.J. Swearinger.
The first thing you notice about Swearinger is that he can hit. Sometimes a bit too much. He’s an extremely physical player in the mold of Steve Atwater or Brian Dawkins, which can sometimes draw him unnecessary personal fouls.
However, he’s definitely not a dirty player, and this also makes him a game-changer, capable of swinging momentum back to his team with a big hit that knocks the ball loose.
It’s not just hits, though, and Swearinger is far from a one-dimensional guy. He understands his assignments and always follows them, never sacrificing his position in search of a highlight-reel hit. He reads the run very well and takes good angles, playing through the ball-carrier and exploding into the running lane.
The Redskins have lacked a real enforcer in the secondary since Sean Taylor, and Swearinger has the ability to take on that role. He also has the added bonus of being a versatile pick, having played at both safety positions all over the field at South Carolina, as well as a small stint as spot corner.
This sort of versatility is something that Jim Haslett can make good use of, matching Swearinger up against tight ends or big receivers, as well as using him as a blitzer off the edge. Swearinger is the sort of player who fits the description “playing angry,” and that’s something the Redskins could use at the safety position.
The Washington cornerbacks would benefit from his dedication to his assignments, and if Brandon Meriweather can stay healthy and continue the performance we saw in one half against the Eagles, the secondary suddenly looks a lot better.
Swearinger can be a Pro Bowler, there’s no doubt about it.
If Mike Shanahan opts to bring him in, Raheem Morris would make an excellent mentor. Morris is a fiercely competitive coach, and we saw last year that he would encourage his backs with trash talk—via The Washington Post—and develop an “offense vs. defense” camp that brought the defensive players together as a unit.
We also saw that Morris demands versatility from his players, so he would be pleased to have a player like Swearinger to coach. The former Gamecock would thrive in this atmosphere, and all reports of his time at South Carolina mention that he was a vocal presence in the locker room, instantly taking on a leadership role within the team.
This article isn’t suggesting Swearinger is the complete package, however. There are a few reasons why he’s likely to still be around when the Redskins take their first pick.
There are doubts surrounding his range, and whether he can make plays when asked to cover deep routes as the single high safety. He doesn’t have elite speed, which leaves him vulnerable after getting beat, and the all in nature of his tackling could make him miss against wily NFL running backs.
However, while he’s not the quickest safety in the draft, he accelerates well out of his backpedal with a smooth movement of the hips, enabling him to stay with receivers and get in a position to make the tackle. There’s no doubt that the Redskins’ secondary would be improved with Swearinger on the field.
He has the commitment and the ability. Despite this year’s draft being stacked with defensive talent, there’s only a handful of safeties who would be comfortable as Week 1 starters. Along with Kenny Vaccaro, Jonathan Cyprien, Matt Elam and Eric Reid, Swearinger is one of those.
As well as being an area of great need, he’s also likely to be the best player available when the Redskins make their selection with the 51st overall pick.
In addition to this—just for the superstitious, you understand— his Gamecocks jersey number was No. 36, which is the same number Sean Taylor wore his rookie year.