Jay Gruden will have several scouts in attendance at the Senior Bowl.
The Senior Bowl offers a final chance for Jay Gruden’s scouts to assess players in a game situation before the NFL draft.
Washington needs a strong draft to build the foundation for Gruden’s tenure in charge of the team. In the absence of a first-round pick, he could take the Mike Shanahan route and trade down for value.
However, the feeling persists that he should take advantage of Washington picking second in each round and get the best players possible. He currently has both building blocks and areas of real need, so adding a couple of starters this year would be invaluable.
The following pages pick out some guys currently in Mobile who could look good in burgundy and gold this year.
Cyril Richardson would add some real aggression to the Washington offensive line.
Washington’s offensive line looked decidedly lightweight last year and struggled to cope with the pressure consistently sent their way.
As a result, Robert Griffin III was hurried on his dropbacks and had less time to release the ball. This resulted in a lot of passes oversailing or landing at the feet of his intended targets as Griffin rushed throws off his back foot, also contributing to the increased interception total we saw in 2013.
If Griffin is to regain his 2012 form, he needs better protection.
Enter Cyril Richardson, who was Griffin’s left tackle at Baylor before moving inside to guard. At 6’5” and 340 pounds, Richardson offers the size to hold off the largest of defenders, as well as retaining surprising quickness with his feet.
Aside from allowing Griffin that extra half-second to plant his feet and throw, Richardson has proved to be an absolute beast in support of Baylor’s run game. That could offer huge benefits for Alfred Morris, who proved himself to be the best running back in his draft class by thriving in the toughest of circumstances.
Richardson isn’t likely to last past the second round, the question remains whether Gruden wishes to spend his first pick on a guard. As an offensively-minded coach, however, he will understand the paramount importance of protecting his quarterback.
Cody Hoffman would be a constant threat, despite a relatively down year.
Cody Hoffman isn’t going to be one of the glamour receivers in this year’s draft. He missed the first game of the season with a hamstring injury, drew a one-game suspension for violating team rules and suffered a distinct drop in production as the Cougars switched quarterbacks and operated a run-first offense.
Nevertheless, at 6’4” and 210 pounds, he has all the tools to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. He could offer real value for Washington if they got the chance to take him in the middle rounds.
With Leonard Hankerson’s future unknown after an ACL and LCL tear and Aldrick Robinson still maddeningly inconsistent, there is a need for some reliable hands catching passes this year.
Hoffman is never the fastest guy on the field, but what you will see in Mobile is a physically imposing receiver with a big reach and excellent route running, capable of producing some huge plays.
A good showing at the Senior Bowl could see him shoot up draft boards, however.
Should that happen, Washington’s defensive needs could take precedence over another receiver with some growing to do. Keep an eye on Hoffman, though, as the above drawbacks could cause many teams to pass on him before the third round.
Kyle Fuller put in a huge performance against Alabama, which forced teams to take notice.
Although he has pulled out of the Senior Bowl because of injury, Fuller deserves a mention on this list. Battling a sports hernia throughout his senior year (which required surgery in November), he still gave his all to the Hokies’ cause and was named to the All-American second team by the Walter Camp Foundation.
With Josh Wilson a free agent this offseason, there is a need to add some depth in the secondary, which vastly underperformed in 2013.
Fuller would offer some reliability in the open field, demonstrating a diligence in his tackling that has been distinctly absent in Washington over the past year. He can occasionally go for the highlight-reel play instead of concentrating on the tackle, but that’s not something seen very often. He’s a physical defender who wraps up his man and does his job well.
As the latest in a long line of Fullers at Blacksburg, playing football is a natural process for him, as demonstrated by the fluid way he transitions out of his backpedal and into diagnosing the play.
Equally at home in man or zone coverage, as well as playing the run, Fuller’s aggressiveness limits the number of big plays surrendered, and that is something that could ensure he sees the field in his rookie year.
His lack of elite speed can cause him to lose receivers once they gain a step, but he does everything at the line of scrimmage to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Concerns over his injury history are valid and could cause him to fall beyond the second round, but his natural talent and dedication to his craft make him an attractive proposition. Coming from Virginia Tech, he also has good experience on special teams, something that Washington is simply screaming out for.
Chris Borland would be a good pickup at inside linebacker.
London Fletcher's retirement has opened up a hole at inside linebacker, and Chris Borland would go some way toward filling that void.
Of course, in addition to this, Washington needs to lock up impending free agent Perry Riley to add some experience to the group. Keenan Robinson will again return to the team, but with two pectoral tears in two years, he's not exactly shown he can be relied upon.
Borland has played both outside and inside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, but he made the switch to inside in a 3-4 last year and still delivered a 100-tackle season for the Badgers, in fact posting more tackles than his previous year. When he spoke to Mike Jones at The Washington Post, he attributed his success to a very simple concept:
...I put in a lot of film work. It was a big change in what you were doing with the scheme, physically. … Just playing more laterally in a 3-4.
We used to be a gap defense where you go downhill and fit. This past season, it was read and react and take a few lateral steps, which I had never done in my life. It was a good chance to learn that and grow, and I think that will help me.
Borland is correct in that sense: Strong, versatile players who are willing to put in work in the film room are the ones that last in the NFL.
He has great instincts, vision and an excellent spin move. Shayne Skov may be getting most of the attention for his ability to kill a play, but the quickness with which Borland can get to the ball-carrier and bring him down is impressive.
He is another player who will add reliable and sure tackling to the roster in D.C., showing both aggression and patience when plugging the hole. He's short at 5'11”, which could put some NFL scouts off, but if he fell to the top of the third round, then Gruden and his scouts should pull the trigger.