The Washington Redskins can use the 2013 NFL draft to welcome back Robert Griffin III in style in two simple ways: first, they can add some new playmakers around him; second, they can bolster the pass defense and prevent Griffin from having to win a shootout every week.
The first part of that plan involves adding to an already prolific offense. Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen can boost 2012's fifth-ranked attack with a pair of key selections.
A competent pass-catcher for underneath routes is a must. With Griffin coming back from a serious knee injury, the Redskins would do well to try to keep him in the pocket a little more.
The only way to do that is to give him capable short- and medium-range targets. One player the Redskins should consider for this vital role is Joseph Fauria.
The ex-UCLA tight end is a towering, athletic receiver, perfectly suited to winning over the middle. Last season, Griffin's passing options were often either screens, long-range crossing patterns, or the deep ball.
Giving him a 6'7" target like Fauria to aim for would help Griffin become more proficient in the pocket. The Redskins would be wise to pursue another tight end anyway.
Re-signing Fred Davis was a major plus, but he's had disciplinary and legal issues and is only on a one-year deal. Griffin would certainly be grateful for a weapon like Fauria. He would also likely thank team management if it secured a true third-down running back. This was definitely missing from the offense Griffin directed as a rookie.
Adding a nifty runner would provide a complement for the bulldozing style of Alfred Morris. More importantly, a runner with breakaway speed and receiving skills would be invaluable to Griffin.
A versatile, big-play running back is a key component of the pistol-base read-option schemes the Redskins run. Fortunately, the 2013 draft class features several classic read-option runners.
Utah State's Kerwynn Williams would be an excellent choice. So would former Oregon star Kenjon Barner.
Both are diminutive, quick-twitch backs with good receiving skills. Barner played in a scheme very similar to the Redskins offense at the collegiate level.
However, Helu is coming back from foot surgery in February. He also missed 13 games in 2012. If the Redskins really want to welcome back Griffin, they'll prioritize adding a third-down back.
Williams and Barnes are good late-round options, but making the position a priority might lead the Redskins to Clemson's Andre Ellington.
He's ideally suited to Shanahan's system. This excerpt from NFL.com's draft analyst Josh Norris, details the attributes Ellington offers:
The lean runner is at his best behind a slanting line, reading lanes and planting to head upfield on one cut. Ellington has good long speed and sticks close to his blockers, but don't overlook his ability as a willing pass protector.
The "one cut" part of that quote shows Ellington's potential to fit in Washington's zone-based ground attack. The pass-blocking skills would also be a major boost to Griffin in third-and-long-yardage situations.
The Redskins may have finished fourth in points and fifth in yards in 2012. However, they ranked 24th in third-down conversions, according to TeamRankings.com.
If Griffin is not as mobile after his injury, the Redskins will have trouble avoiding manageable third downs. They must improve Griffin's options in these situations, and Fauria and Ellington could really help.
It would also help Griffin if he isn't under as much pressure to outscore opponents in 2013. Washington's defense improved late in the season, but finished 22nd in points and 28th in yards.
Fixing a pass defense that surrendered 281.9 yards per game is the most obvious need. The approach should be two-fold. Primarily, the Redskins need to bolster their ranks at safety and cornerback. A roving hitter like Georgia's Shawn Williams would be an excellent choice at strong safety.
Further back, the Redskins could opt for a savvy center fielder like former Gators starter Josh Evans. The Redskins need to come out of this draft with a starting safety.
However, that doesn't mean they can ignore their problems at cornerback. Retaining DeAngelo Hall and signing E.J. Biggers were merely stop-gap measures.
This position group needs an influx of playmaking talent. If the Redskins really want to make a splash, they might consider giving misfit Tyrann Mathieu a chance.
He has the mirror and trail skills down the field that no corner currently on the roster possesses. In February, The Washington Post's Mike Jones reported the Redskins met with Mathieu. Drafting Mathieu would likely prompt the tired and uncomfortable mantras about Shanahan only targeting supposed "character guys."
However, it would be up to Shanahan and his staff to keep Mathieu on track and unleash his incredible talent. The coach has had to do it with 2010 fourth overall pick Trent Williams.
Yet Shanahan has persisted with Williams. He might find Mathieu's potential too good to resist, despite his problems with drug use.
Other options the Redskins might consider are Johnthan Banks or Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Improving the talent in the defensive backfield should be matched by an effort to boost the pass rush.
The defense mustered only 32 sacks in 2012. Then unit will welcome back Brian Orakpo, after the pectoral injury that kept him out of 14 games last season.
However, they could still use another prominent pass-rusher on the outside. The need is greater, given Rob Jackson's four-game suspension for use of a banned substance.
Sio Moore or Chase Thomas are natural 3-4 rush ends who would be worth an early pick.
Coordinator Jim Haslett is often under too much pressure to design risky, heavy-blitz schemes. Putting more pressure on quarterbacks with just the front seven would immediately improve the pass defense.
If Haslett's group can keep scores down in 2013, Griffin won't have to take so many risks trying to keep pace.
The best way to welcome back Griffin is for the Redskins to use this draft to find better complements. They must do this on both sides of the ball.
With more playmakers around him on offense, Griffin won't have to use his dual-threat skills to win every game. A stouter defense will mean Griffin won't have to chase leads against every opponent.
If the Redskins get things right this month, Griffin will be able to ease his way back to his rookie-season form. Removing some of the pressure on him to be a game-winner is the ideal way to welcome Griffin back.
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