7 2014 NFL Draft Picks That Could Be Opening-Game Starters for the Redskins
While teams can often look to their first-round picks to be immediate starters, the Washington Redskins won't be afforded this luxury.
Without a pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Skins will have to rummage through the later rounds to find such players.
But courtesy of a solid haul in free agency, Washington isn't as desperate for rookie starters as its 3-13 record last season would indicate.
Although the Redskins could use an upgrade at right guard, right tackle, cornerback and safety, inside linebacker is the lone position that doesn't have a certifiable starter at the moment.
In a mediocre NFC East, a solid return from this year's draft class could make Washington the latest team to go from worst to first.
With that said, here are seven rookies that could open the season as starters for the Redskins.
Bradley Roby, CB
Praised by Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com for his ability to mirror and shadow opposing receivers, Bradley Roby is an upgrade over sophomore cornerback David Amerson.
At his best in zone coverage, Roby excels when he can read the quarterback's eyes and drive on the football.
Capable of covering slot receivers, Roby's ability to play on the inside would allow Washington to bump Tracy Porter to its dime package.
An excellent athlete with elite ball skills, Roby fits well with Amerson and DeAngelo Hall in the team's nickel defense.
In a division with mistake-prone quarterbacks like Tony Romo and Eli Manning, this tandem of ball-hawking cornerbacks could play a pivotal role in the Skins' ascent from the NFC East cellar.
Ed Reynolds, S
Marred by coverage lapses and missed tackles, Washington got little production from its safeties last season.
While the signing of Ryan Clark upgrades this problem spot for the Skins, CBS Sports' Rob Rang highlighted another safety capable of stepping into the starting lineup in Ed Reynolds:
Reynolds possesses the lanky build scouts are looking for at the position. Physical and instinctive. Demonstrates good agility and acceleration to handle covering athletic tight ends out of the slot as well as supply deep help over the top. Understands his role as the last line of defense and generally takes excellent angles in pursuit. Force in run defense. Savvy defender and reliable open-field tackler.
An owner of seven interceptions and three touchdowns in his career at Stanford, Reynolds has the ball skills to aid a Washington defense that was 11th in the NFC in takeaways last season.
Provided that he avoids the injury bug that derailed him in college, a torn ACL in 2011, Reynolds could challenge incumbent Brandon Meriweather for the starting job.
Stephon Tuitt, DL
Contrary to Stephen Bowen's comments to ESPN 980's Chris Russell, the Redskins don't have "the most dominant D-line in the NFL."
Washington's defensive linemen tallied a combined five sacks in 2013.
While the addition of Jason Hatcher and his 11 sacks in 2013 is a step in the right direction, the Skins would be wise to import some high-end talent via the draft.
Enter Stephon Tuitt.
A man-child in his collegiate career at Notre Dame, Tuitt tallied 21.5 sacks as a defensive end in the Fighting Irish's 3-4 defense.
But questions about his conditioning and motor have made Tuitt a bubble first-rounder, according to Rang.
With all of the physical tools and monetary motivation to shed this rep, Tuitt could crack the Skins starting lineup as a rookie.
Kelcy Quarles, DL
Cast in the shadow of Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles was a productive player in his own right at South Carolina.
Quarles registered 9.5 sacks in 2013, second in the nation among defensive tackles.
The question is, though, was Quarles' performance a result of the attention offenses paid Clowney?
As Rang notes, "many of Quarles' biggest plays in 2013 came while opponents dedicated extra blockers to stopping teammate Jadeveon Clowney."
With the pass-rushing tandem of Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo already in tow, in addition to Hatcher, this has to be a moot point for the Skins.
Quarles won't be asked to spearhead the defense in Washington. As offenses game-plan for his high-profile teammates, Quarles should again be afforded the opportunity to engage in one-on-one battles with offensive linemen.
Compared by Rang to Lamarr Houston, who just nabbed a $35 million contract, Quarles could warrant a starting gig as a rookie.
Cyril Richardson, OL
Prior to the combine, via Mike Jones of The Washington Post, Jay Gruden acknowledged that the physicality and the size of his offensive linemen was an issue.
The unit, while thriving in its zone-blocking running game, was overpowered too many times in pass protection—particularly inside.
While he addressed this issue in free agency with the signing of Shawn Lauvao, the drafting of Cyril Richardson would nearly complete—Tyler Polumbus still has to go—Gruden's makeover of the offensive line.
A former teammate of Robert Griffin III at Baylor, Richardson is the type of road-grading mauler Washington has lacked the past couple of seasons.
Versatile enough to play tackle, Richardson also possesses the quickness needed in the Skins zone-blocking scheme.
Slotted to go in the third or fourth round by Nawrocki, questions about Richardson's effort and conditioning are hurting his draft stock.
Coming off a forgettable 2013 season, the aging and overpaid Chris Chester is a poor training camp away from being the shown door.
If selected, that would put Richardson in a battle with Josh LeRibeus and recently signed Mike McGlynn to start at right guard.
With McGlynn playing an integral role in the beating that Andrew Luck took in Indianapolis last year—yet the Redskins still signed him, a clear indictment of LeRibeus and their other guards—Richardson should be the favorite to start.
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT
Although he didn't completely match the hype that preceded his junior season at Alabama, Cyrus Kouandjio did enough to warrant going in the first round of 2014 NFL draft.
An athletic specimen, Kouandjio held his own against the top pass-rushers the SEC had to offer, like Clowney and Dee Ford.
But as it stands, Kouandjio, a player compared to Tyron Smith and D.J. Fluker—both former first-round picks—is projected as a bubble first-rounder by CBS Sports.
A player who hadn't missed a start in his final two seasons, Kouandjio's waning draft stock can be attributed to a knee injury he suffered in 2011.
During the NFL combine, NFL.com's Ian Rappaport reported that Kouandjio had failed multiple teams' physicals because of an arthritic knee.
With Dr. James Andrews giving a conflicting report, via CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, in regards to Kouandjio's knee, Washington could net a healthy and motivated tackle to pair with Trent Williams as a result of this.
While the transition to right tackle could lead to some growing pains for Kouandjio, he'd have little trouble snatching the starting reigns from Polumbus.
Chris Borland, LB
Projected to go in the third round by Nawrocki, Borland lacks the size that teams covet at linebacker.
Nonetheless, courtesy of his sound tackling and excellent diagnostic skills, Borland proved to be one of the nation's best linebackers in his collegiate career at Wisconsin.
Consistently among the top tacklers in the Big Ten, Borland earned second-team AP All-American honors in 2013.
After amassing 50 tackles for loss and 14 forced fumbles in his career, it's clear that Borland has a knack for making big plays.
Although his upside is limited, couple Borland's keen sense for finding the football with Washington's lack of a certifiable starter next to Perry Riley, and you have a player who could start as a rookie.