Washington Redskins Draft Countdown: Making the Case for Cornerback Antone Exum

Matthew BrownCorrespondent IApril 20, 2014

Virginia Tech defensive back Antone Exum runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy

The biggest weakness for the Washington Redskins right now is their defense, the secondary in particular. They signed veteran Ryan Clark to fill the void at free safety, which allows Brandon Meriweather to return to his natural position at strong safety.

Neither Clark nor Meriweather is the solution at his position, but Virginia Tech's Antone Exum may very well be.

Exum is listed as a cornerback because that's where he made his biggest impact for the Hokies. He started his college career as a free safety and actually appeared in more games as a free safety than a cornerback.

He stands six feet tall and weighed in at 213 pounds at the combine according to NFL.com, giving him excellent size to fit any role in the defensive backfield he may occupy.

He's got the size and strength to stand up to physical receivers, is excellent in press coverage, has great field speed, can play any position in the secondary and has experience on special teams.

Over four seasons, he forced five fumbles, grabbed six interceptions and even tallied eight tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

So what's not to like about the former Hokie?

Well, he tore his ACL in January 2013 and appeared in just two games during his senior season before a sprained ankle put him on the sidelines for good.

Two injuries—one major, one minor—in such a short period of time, the former occurring during a pickup basketball game, puts a bit of a red flag on Exum's durability.

Bad news for Exum's draft stock is good news for Washington's draft position.

Dec 28, 2012; Orlando, FL, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies cornerback Antone Exum (1) returns an interception thrown by Rutgers Scarlet Knights quarterback Gary Nova (not pictured) during the fourth quarter of the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl at the Citrus Bowl.

The Redskins have needs along the offensive line and at inside linebacker that may take precedence over their secondary, at least early in the draft. Exum's injury history may knock him out of the first two rounds and into the middle rounds.

A talented, physically gifted player with the ability to play multiple positions such as Exum would be an incredible asset to add to a needy secondary with too many questions.

Clark will be 35 in October, Meriweather has been inconsistent during his time in Washington, Bacarri Rambo looked out of place at free safety and Phillip Thomas missed his rookie season after suffering a Lisfranc tear during the preseason.

Exum, surgically repaired ACL and all, gives the Redskins a player who can provide depth at both safety positions and provide relief as a nickel corner.

Many of Exum's issues are with his technique, and with proper coaching, he could smooth out into an excellent long-term starter.

The appeal of drafting Exum is that, though he could provide a boost on special teams and work into some playing time during his rookie season, it isn't immediately necessary for him to be a starter.

As a middle-round draft pick, it is expected that he will need time to polish his skills, learn the scheme and get acclimated to the NFL. After a year spent studying, getting coached up and working special teams as necessary, Exum would be in line to fight for a starting role come 2015.

If there is one reservation, beyond the ACL injury, to be found with drafting Exum, it would be the fact that the Redskins spent two draft picks on safeties last year, and signed Clark and re-signed Meriweather this offseason. It just seems like overkill for two positions on the roster.

Exum is not quite the diamond-in-the-rough prospect many other mid- to late-round draft picks can be. He just finds himself in a situation where he may have to wait to hear his name called and wait again to get on the field in the role he desires.

Either way, if he is on the board when the Redskins pick in the fourth or fifth round, Exum is a no-brainer.