Washington Redskins: Updated Draft Big Board After First Wave of Free Agency
The Washington Redskins' big board for the 2017 NFL draft doesn't need to alter much, despite the fine work the team produced during the first wave of free agency.
Washington smartly used the initial phase of the veteran market to answer some obvious needs. Specifically, the Redskins plugged holes along the defensive line, at safety and wide receiver.
Even so, the Burgundy and Gold should still have prominent draft prospects at those positions high on the board for next month. Better still, Washington is primed to use the draft to upgrade its talent at the positions ignored during free agency.
Those positions include running back, where this year's draft class is loaded with would-be rookies who could instantly become Washington's workhorse of choice.
The Redskins would also be smart to add a quarterback and provide some insurance against franchise tag bearer Kirk Cousins quitting the team in 2018, per USA Today. In the meantime, the 28-year-old could use a few more capable offensive linemen to keep him clean in the pocket, with a new center an obvious priority.
Defensively, a thumping inside linebacker and a dynamic edge-rusher are still missing from a unit undergoing yet another overhaul under a new coordinator.
Read on to find out which prospects belong on Washington's big board after the first wave of free agency.
Top 100 Big Board
Washington's big board should be top heavy in defensive talent, since this year's draft crop is strongest on that side of the ball. Fortunately for the Redskins, there are several prospects from programs noted for defensive excellence who should be in their reach with the 17th overall pick.
Among them, up to six players from Alabama's standout defense will all merit a long look. So, too, will a linchpin of the Stanford front seven who could solve Washington's inconsistencies rushing the passer.
Here's the big board:
|5||Dalvin Cook||RB||Florida State|
|9||Corey Davis||WR||Western Michigan|
|12||Malik McDowell||DT||Michigan State|
|22||Malik Hooker||FS||Ohio State|
|30||Zay Jones||WR||East Carolina|
|34||Raekwon McMillan||ILB||Ohio State|
|37||Marlon Mack||RB||South Florida|
|39||Curtis Samuel||WR||Ohio State|
|41||Jordan Willis||DE||Kansas State|
|43||Vincent Taylor||DT||Oklahoma State|
|44||Noah Brown||WR||Ohio State|
|46||Chris Godwin||WR||Penn State|
|47||Jeremy McNichols||RB||Boise State|
|48||Isaiah Ford||WR||Virginia Tech|
|51||Jarron Jones||DT||Notre Dame|
|56||Pat Elflein||C||Ohio State|
|58||DeMarcus Walker||OLB||Florida State|
|61||Evan Engram||TE||Ole Miss|
|63||Anthony Walker Jr.||ILB||Northwestern|
|71||Donnel Pumphrey||RB||San Diego State|
|73||Trey Hendrickson||DE||Florida Atlantic|
|78||Nico Siragusa||G||San Diego State|
|80||Justin Evans||SS||Texas A&M|
|82||Gabe Marks||WR||Washington State|
|84||Xavier Woods||S||Louisiana Tech|
|86||Justin Senior||T||Mississippi State|
|88||John Johnson||FS||Boston College|
|89||Garrett Sickels||OLB||Penn State|
|90||Jerod Evans||QB||Virginia Tech|
|94||Travis Rudolph||WR||Florida State|
|96||Ryan Switzer||WR||North Carolina|
|99||Richie Brown||ILB||Mississippi State|
Balance is the key to any offense, so the Redskins have to find a prospect who can key a credible rushing attack in 2017. It shouldn't be too difficult to find one in a class brimming with dynamic talents.
The class is topped by three likely day-one starters:
Leonard Fournette, LSU
The chances of Fournette still being on the board when the Redskins pick at 17 are slim. However, if the LSU workhorse does last that long, team president Bruce Allen can't make the mistake of passing him up.
When considering Fournette's running style, think Marshawn Lynch with genuine game-breaking speed. This is a back with a low centre of gravity who will run over defenders and reach the second level of pro defenses in an instant.
Drafting Fournette would net Washington an immediate bell-cow back.
Dalvin Cook, Florida State
There's no denying Dalvin Cook's potential to turn heads once he enters the big league. He's a tough and dynamic runner who is also a capable receiver out of the backfield.
The physical tools are there, but so is the baggage and lots of it. In his profile of Cook, Lance Zierlein of NFL.com quoted an unnamed NFC executive discussing the runner's problems on and off the field:
Fumbles and arrests are a bad combination. He's got a lot of ability but he's got on the field problems with ball security and multiple arrests off of it. You have to decide if he will be responsible with more money and more time on his hands. If you have any doubts, just wait around for another running back because there will be plenty this year.
Those issues are added to a feeble showing at the combine. However, Cook's college coach, Jimbo Fisher, told Safid Deen of the Orlando Sentinel how onlookers should focus more on the player's college performances than anything he did in Indianapolis.
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
In terms of a complete, pro-ready skill set, Christian McCaffrey exceeds most backs in this rookie class. The Stanford man is stout enough to run inside and elusive enough to work the edges.
Just as important, McCaffrey can be an invaluable resource in the passing game. He's a sure-handed receiver who understands route concepts and beating coverage.
McCaffrey will never be spectacular, but he'll be steady and productive for the team willing to build a ground scheme around his versatility.
Best of the Rest
This is a loaded class and there are many other potential starters likely to still be on the board after the first round. Among the sleeper picks, Toledo's Kareem Hunt is a dynamic power back, while Jeremy McNichols has the versatility to stay on the field for three downs.
The Redskins would be risking a lot if they ignored inside linebacker during the draft. It's a gamble they don't have to take since this class is rich in quality middle 'backers.
Here are five heavy hitters Washington should consider from their board:
Jarrad Davis, Florida
Davis is a true all-rounder at the position. He combines brute force as a downhill enforcer, able to wallop backs in the running game and destroy protection schemes on the blitz.
However, the extra dimension to Davis' game is his ability to play in space and win in coverage. He has a flair for matching up with receivers over the middle. He's got naturally keen instincts as a zone defender and the speed to trail targets in single matchups.
Davis wouldn't be the monster in the middle the Redskins need, but he would be a player defensive coordinator Greg Manusky could use on all three downs.
Reuben Foster, Alabama
Provided he has shed the stink of being sent home from the combine after arguing with a hospital worker, Reuben Foster has to be considered first-round worthy for Washington.
Those who do concentrate on Foster's ability on the field will see arguably the most complete linebacker in the draft. In fact, ESPN analyst Todd McShay believes the 22-year-old is the best player in this class.
The plaudits are deserved since Foster is a game-wrecker who owns the middle. He bosses the A-gaps as a force against the run and has no wasted motion on the blitz.
Foster would surely transform Washington's soft-as-mush run defense.
Kendell Beckwith, LSU
When considering Kendell Beckwith, you should think of a less flexible version of Foster. Like the Crimson Tide standout, Beckwith is a mean sledgehammer tackler on run downs.
His bulky frame and seek-and-destroy mentality are ideal for dominating in the guard-center-guard box. Of course, the Redskins wouldn't want to see Beckwith isolated in space too often.
This is no sub-package linebacker, but Beckwith could have real value in an NFC East owned by the Dallas Cowboys, their monster O-line and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
Zach Cunningham may be the most underrated option for Washington to consider in the second half of Round 1. The former Commodores sensation is a true linebacker, able to lock up tight ends and running backs in coverage.
He also boasts the range and sideline-to-sideline speed to tackle anything that moves. In short, Cunningham is a natural catch-all defender who is scheme-flexible enough to thrive on both base downs and in sub-package situations.
Washington has veterans and lunch-pale types at outside linebacker, but it doesn't mean the team should pass on the chance to upgrade its talent at the position in this draft.
Ryan Kerrigan is still a disruptive force on the edge, but Trent Murphy will start the season suspended. The Redskins' problems are compounded by Preston Smith's struggles in his second season, while the franchise has yet to see Junior Galette play a down of meaningful action.
Those issues mean Washington's board should have these names in a prominent position:
Haason Reddick, Temple
Reddick is no conversion project who would need to transition from playing with his hand down to standing up. Instead, he is a true 3-4 outside linebacker who will wreck offenses off the edge in the pros.
Making life miserable for quarterbacks is something he did a lot during his final season at Temple, according to Pro Football Focus: "Led all 3-4 OLBs (third among all FBS edge players) in pass-rush productivity from the left side (31 total pressures on 127 rushes with eight sacks)."
Reddick's game isn't defined by pass rush alone, though. He is also comfortable as a coverage defender in shallow zones. Quality coverage chops and keen recognition skills are essential traits for outside linebackers in a true 3-4 like the one Manusky will call.
Reddick probably won't be a regular double-digit sack artist at the NFL level, but he could be a strong-side all-rounder like Ahmad Brooks of the San Francisco 49ers.
Tim Williams, Alabama
Off-field issues could destroy Williams' draft status in the first round. During the combine, the Tide edge-rusher confirmed he had failed more than one drug test during his time in Mobile, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com.
On the field, Williams has left little doubt about his flair for winning off the edge. He's a naturally versatile rush end with the cross-scheme skills to help any defense show offenses multiple fronts.
If the Redskins are convinced Williams' off-field concerns are behind him, they could use his fall to snag a hybrid edge defender Manusky can build his new-look front around.
Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
Like Reddick, UCLA's Takkarist McKinley is a natural born 3-4 outside linebacker. The ex-Bruins star compares favorably to Kansas City Chiefs edge game-wrecker Tamba Hali, per Lance Zierlein of the league's official website.
What McKinley would bring to Washington is the size to set the edge against the run. He also possesses the speed to power rush combo to be a nightmare for NFL offensive tackles.
However, there are naturally health concerns about a prospect who has undergone shoulder surgery and expects to miss "four to six months," per ESPN's Jeff Legwold.
DeMarcus Walker, Florida State
Unlike the prospects listed so far, DeMarcus Walker is definitely more of a conversion project at the next level. He's got the size and base strength of a defensive end, but the move skills and takeoff speed of a standup linebacker.
Walker is a pass-rushing terror whenever he is given a running start off the edge. He used his innate aptitude for pressuring the passer to lead the nation with 16 sacks in 2016, according to Cfbstats.com.
The Redskins have had mixed results converting rush ends to linebacker roles in recent seasons, with Murphy and Smith both inconsistent at times. However, Walker looks like a natural fit to thrive from day one as a pro-style rush linebacker.
Peter Kalambayi, Stanford
If there is a late-round prospect the Redskins should consider taking a chance on it's Stanford's Peter Kalambayi. Despite middling production in 2016, when he logged a mere 3.5 sacks for the Cardinal, per Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com, he is a true 3-4 defender.
He knows how to set a hard edge against the run, while the raw skills of a functional pass-rusher are there. Kalambayi would work as a useful rotational option on the outside as a rookie in D.C.
Washington's defense has to get more production out of a pass rush that felt the collars of opposing quarterbacks just 38 times last season. It will mean finally finding a legitimate bluechip presence on the edge.
There are plenty of candidates who could fill this vital role:
Solomon Thomas, Stanford
Thomas is one of the more difficult players to define in this draft. He has the obvious physical dimensions of a traditional defensive end, but he plays more as a fluid and standup edge-rusher.
The obvious question then becomes where will he fit best in the pros? There are different schools of thought, and Greg Gabriel of CBS Chicago said: "At the NFL level, I see him as a 4-3 defensive end."
Of course, Thomas may not be on the board by the time the Redskins pick at 17. Yet those in Washington hoping the former Stanford ace will still be available can take a crumb of comfort from Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com: "NFL teams aren't as high on Thomas as the media though. In speaking with sources from seven different teams, six of them thought that Thomas is more of a mid- to-late first-round pick."
If Thomas does slide, he'll be awfully difficult to pass up for a team still needing to refine its options on the edges.
Taco Charlton, Michigan
Landing Taco Charlton would give the Redskins a pressure specialist with true crossover potential. The ex-Michigan star could bookend both a 3-4 base and a four-man front.
In Washington, Charlton would instantly become the key piece of Manusky's front seven. Depending on how he lined up, the Redskins could switch seamlessly between 3-4 and 4-3 looks.
Dawuane Smoot, Illinois
From two players who win with dynamic athleticism to a pass-rusher who succeeds on hustle and brawn. Smoot is another would-be conversion project in the NFL, but one who could be counted on to consistently disrupt blocking schemes.
As Lance Zierlein of the league's official website pointed out, Smoot has potential as a force on the outside in a 3-4. Smoot wouldn't necessarily project as a day-one starter, but he would become a productive situational rusher as a rookie in Washington.
Jordan Willis, Kansas State
Willis stands out as a potential steal in the later rounds due to the level of competition he faced at Kansas State. The quality of the opposition aside, though, he proved he can be a game-wrecker over right tackle.
Willis recorded 11.5 sacks in just 13 games during 2016, per Cfbstats.com, proof he is a dominant rusher who can take over games. Yet his penchant for rushing from the left side would put him in direct competition with Kerrigan, Washington's one true standout pass-rusher.
However, Manusky could get creative and use this naturally explosive 258-pounder all over formations in sub-package situations.
Kirk Cousins may have accepted the tag for a second year in a row, but the ongoing lack of a long-term deal has to be a concern. The state of the Burgundy and Gold will look bleak in 2018 if the team's best player under center is plying his trade elsewhere.
Safeguarding against such a scenario is a tough needle to thread in a draft short on talented and pro-ready passers. However, these four quarterbacks should be in the Redskins' thinking at the end of next month:
Davis Webb, California
Arguably the most pro-style passer in this class, Webb has the core tools to quickly adjust to the playbook of Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. In terms of accuracy and ball distribution, he is a great fit for a pocket-based scheme.
The pre-draft buzz is building about a QB who thrived during his final year at Cal. MMQB's Emily Kaplan noted how Webb is rising up boards: "Six weeks before the draft, Webb is a legitimate second-round candidate, and it's feasible that, come the last weekend in April, he will be billed as someone's quarterback of the future."
When you consider the implications of losing Cousins for this franchise, dropping a second-round pick on his natural successor begins to make sense.
Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
Webb's skill as a passer is already suited to the NFL, but Joshua Dobbs is more of a raw talent whose athletic tools could still intrigue teams. There are things to like about Dobbs from the pocket, specifically his quick release.
However, his best attribute may be the ability to push the ball long and burn defenses vertically, according to Lance Zierlein of the league's official site: "Eye-catching deep pass accuracy (47.7 completion percentage) with 14 touchdowns on throws 21-plus yards."
The vertical element of Washington's passing game doesn't look as strong without DeSean Jackson around to take the top off coverage. Yet signing Terrelle Pryor Sr. in free agency means Gruden will still be able to keep the deep ball a key part of this offense.
It means Dobbs could make sense as a backup with underrated upside.
Brad Kaaya, Miami
Kaaya doesn't have the refined passing technique of Webb, but the former Hurricanes signal-caller has already mastered the art of reading defenses and aligning personnel pre-snap.
His arm strength could use some work, but his natural accuracy is still encouraging. This is a quarterback who looks like a natural fit for a high-percentage passing game predicated on short throws and maximizing yards after the catch.
Kaaya can be developed immediately with the potential to make a quick transition in the right scheme.
Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech
Evans made the most of what he had at Virginia Tech. What he had was a simplified and wide open offense designed to bring out the best of his skills as a dual-threat QB.
Admittedly, having Isaiah Ford to aim for often made Evans' life easier, but he also merits praise for his obvious arm strength and knack for the big play. Regarding his fit in Washington, Evans would be an unusual fit for Gruden, a coach who preaches a pocket-based offense over one built on read-option principles.
Safety always seems to be a problem in Washington and this offseason is no different. Moving Su'a Cravens to safety full-time and signing veteran retread D.J. Swearinger won't be enough to fix the problem.
A real remedy will come from drafting a true ball hawk with the potential to fortify these troubling spots for the next decade.
Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Peppers has been one of the more popular first-round picks for the Redskins among writers of mock drafts this offseason.
NFL.com draft analyst Chad Reuter has the flexible Michigan defensive back headed to Washington at 17: "Now that Peppers showed he's perfectly capable of handling deep-half responsibility, the Redskins will grab him."
Like Reuter, Daniel Jeremiah of the league's official site also thinks Peppers would bring a lot to Redskins Park: "Peppers is a unique athlete, with the ability to excel at the nickel position as well as play as a high safety."
Every team wants safeties with interchangeable skills in today's NFL. Peppers' ability to feature at multiple spots in the secondary will surely mean he merits long consideration in the first round.
Budda Baker, Washington
Baker hasn't established the buzz of a Peppers, but he has intangibles to get several teams interested on draft day. The key trait among those attributes is rare vertical speed.
Baker showed off the quality during Washington's pro day, according to Rob Rang of CBS Sports:
The 'biggest' knock on Baker is his lack of ideal size at a shade under 5-foot-10 and just 195 pounds, but there was no denying his fluidity Saturday. He also made several outstanding catches, catching up to passes that seemed out of his reach due to his rare straight-line speed (4.45 at the combine) for his position.
Rang also noted how interested teams feel Baker could spend some time in the slot in nickel packages at the pro level. His elite-level athleticism should put keen parties in mind of Dallas Cowboys defensive back Byron Jones, who can be used to match up with opposing playmakers at various levels of a defense.
A safety like Baker could be an asset for a Redskins defense facing matchup problems against playmakers such as Darren Sproles Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, Zach Ertz and Sterling Shepard in the NFC East.
Marcus Williams, Utah
Potential draft picks at defensive back should be judged primarily on their knack for getting their hands on the ball. It's why Utah's Marcus Williams must be on Washington's radar during the the first two days of this year's draft.
Williams is a true playmaker at the position, one who has established a niche for opportunism. He picked off five passes for the Utes in 2016, as well as forcing a pair of fumbles, per Cfbstats.com.
Williams has the ball-hawking flair to make an instant impact in Washington.
Justin Evans, Texas A&M
Like Williams, Justin Evans is another playmaker with a true nose for the ball. He was in on four interceptions and 87 combined tackles for the Aggies last year, according to Cfbstats.com.
What makes Evans a worthy prospect is how he combines an opportunistic streak with the physicality of a genuine enforcer. He's a formidable hitter who can wreck offenses in a variety of ways as a box safety.
Unlike last year, Washington didn't waste the opportunity free agency presented to bolster its defensive line. The Redskins invested wisely in Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee, and even brought back Ziggy Hood.
Yet those moves shouldn't mean the Burgundy and Gold ignore the position in this draft. After all, this is a class fit to burst with dominant interior forces in the trenches.
Jonathan Allen, Alabama
In less than a week at the start of March, two mock draft procrastinators floated the idea of the Redskins landing Jonathan Allen, the best defensive tackle in this class.
First, Will Brinson of CBS Sports suggested Washington may trade into the second-overall pick by dealing Cousins to the San Francisco 49ers. Then former Redskins general manager Charley Casserly, writing for the league's official website, offered the same idea.
There is no denying Allen would immediately become the focal point of Washington's D-line were he to land in the nation's capital. This is an inside game-wrecker in the mold of former New England Patriots linchpin Richard Seymour.
In other words, Allen is equally comfortable occupying double teams as he is splitting gaps and rushing the passer. He can do these things from every spot along the D-line.
The idea of Allen ending up in Washington without the need to trade Cousins may not seem so outlandish, though. Recently, Lake Lewis Jr. of USA Today's Redskins Wire described why Allen may still tumble down draft boards: "Jonathan Allen, regarded as a top-five talent by most NFL draft experts is being talked about because of a diagnosed arthritic shoulder."
Carlos Watkins, Clemson
If the notion of Allen falling to the Redskins still seems fanciful, consider what value Washington would find by taking a chance on Clemson's Carlos Watkins in rounds two or three. The team would get a true disruptor from inside gaps, one with the scheme flexibility to flourish at more than one position.
Watkins has the frame to be a 5-technique end in Washington's base 3-4. He also offers the bulk to operate over the ball as a 0-technique nose guard.
What is more intriguing is Watkins' initial quickness, a quality that can make him a useful interior pass-rusher at the next level.
Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama
McClain's arrival may have finally solved Washington's lengthy issues at nose tackle. However, the former third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers also has the talent to play on the edge at D-end.
If Manusky wants more bulk in the middle, he'll have to hope the Redskins use an early pick on Alabama mainstay Dalvin Tomlinson. He's the closest thing to a true two-gap nose tackle in this draft class.
Tomlinson is a space-eater and a magnet for double teams. He is the linchpin who takes away an inside running game and creates the one-on-one matchups for others to make the plays.
Malik McDowell, Michigan State
If the Redskins build their defensive front on speed, then Michigan State's Malik McDowell is the D-lineman who should be on top of their radar. At 6'6" and 295 pounds, he has the dimensions of a true 5-technique end.
The only difference is McDowell boasts the quickness and pass-rush repertoire to be a more productive playmaker up front. He would generate a ton of pressure off the edge on early downs, as well as causing havoc through the middle out of nickel sets.
Yet the issue is whether McDowell's 'tweener skills would translate quickly to Manusky's three-man schemes.
Elijah Qualls, Washington
Like Tomlinson, Elijah Qualls is more of a classic behemoth in the middle. Standing 6'1" and weighing 313 pounds, he occupies blockers for fun, but he also possesses the takeoff speed and athletic range to be a consistent presence behind the line of scrimmage.
Qualls has the blend of talents teams usually build 3-4 fronts around. Putting him between McClain and McGee would transform Washington's defensive front from an obvious weakness to a strength opposing teams would fear.
Losing both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in free agency has obviously left Washington's passing game short on weapons. Obviously, the Redskins still possess some useful targets, most notably new arrival Pryor, dynamic slot receiver Jamison Crowder and all-world tight end Jordan Reed.
Yet the supporting cast around Cousins will look a lot stronger if Washington selects one of the gifted receivers from a wideout-heavy class:
Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Cousins' success in recent years has been due in large part to an offense predicated on ensuring yards after the catch. It's something that ought to put Corey Davis high on the Redskins' list since he's the best receiver after the catch in this draft.
Davis is a major threat whenever he gets his hands on the ball. When he does, he usually unleashes the play speed that surprises defensive backs and leads to many big plays.
Putting Davis together with Crowder and Reed would give the Redskins a trio of dynamic chain movers. With Pryor stretching coverage on the outside, Washington's pass attack would retain the variety it had when Garcon and Jackson were on the field.
Juju Smith-Schuster, USC
Juju Smith-Schuster is not as explosive as Davis after the catch, but he is a reception machine who routinely wins underneath and over the middle. His game is about gaining separation at the line of scrimmage and understanding where the soft spots are in zone coverage.
This flanker projects as a big-bodied and quarterback-friendly target at the next level. He would replace the possession skills lost when Garcon left town, even if Smith-Schuster is unlikely to be counted on as a legitimate vertical menace.
Malachi Dupre, LSU
If it's a deep threat the Redskins want, then LSU's Malachi Dupre should be in their thinking over draft weekend. He established a niche as a deep threat during his days in Baton Rouge.
He has the top-end speed and long strides to help replace the vertical prowess Jackson tormented defenses with the last three years. If there's an issue with this target it's a general lack of production, with Dupre making just 84 catches over the last two years, according to Walter Football's Charlie Campbell.
The Redskins already have one raw wideout in second-year man Josh Doctson, who barely played as a rookie. Meanwhile, Pryor has had just one season at the position, so unseasoned Dupre would represent a gamble.
Curtis Samuel, Ohio State
Yards after the catch being at a premium in this offense means Curtis Samuel merits a long look from the Redskins. He's a pass-catching playmaker with crossover potential as both a running back and wide receiver.
When considering Samuel, think Dexter McCluster of the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs hybrid De'Anthony Thomas. Skill-position dynamos with this level of flexibility and athletic flair can be lethal in a creative offense littered with different ways to get the ball in their hands from various formations and alignments.
Smart drafting tailored to answering their remaining needs can combine with the shrewd work done during the first wave of free agency to make the Redskins a genuine playoff contender in this season's NFC.