Taking Stock of Washington Redskins' 2018 NFL Draft Picks

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2017

Taking Stock of Washington Redskins' 2018 NFL Draft Picks

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    Adding talent at inside linebacker, safety, wide receiver and quarterback must be the priorities for the Washington Redskins in the 2018 NFL draft.

    As things stand, the Burgundy and Gold will be armed with at least seven picks to make this happen. The draft order has the 5-7 Redskins slated to pick 12th overall in the first round, meaning the franchise should get a Day 1 starter for an obvious area of need.

    When it comes to fixing the weak spots on the roster, Washington can look at a pair of standout inside linebackers from the SEC. Two interior defensive linemen could help fortify a front trampled all over by the Dallas Cowboys and former Redskins running back Alfred Morris in Week 13.

    Speaking of the running game, the lengthy injury history of one noted ball-carrier could land the Redskins a workhorse in the second round. It would be smart for Washington to select another back even after the emergence of rookie Samaje Perine this season.

    Find out what the Redskins can and should do with their draft picks next April.

The Picks

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    The order of Washington's picks is based on the order relayed by Walter Football:

    1. Pick 12
    2. Pick 11
    3. Pick 10
    4. Pick 9
    5. Pick 13
    6. Pick 12
    7. Pick 11

    As Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk noted, the draft order is partly determined by the remaining schedule strength. This order will fluctuate week-to-week depending on Washington's results over the last four games.

    A cursory look at the sequence shows how the Burgundy and Gold are well-placed to find immediate help in the first three rounds as they sit on the fringes of the top-10 picks at each stage.

    These picks must be used to address the glaring holes on the roster. Yet there is also enough room for the Redskins to be flexible and use their mid- and late-round picks to select players for the future.

    A project at quarterback would be a useful reward from the ninth pick in the fourth round, for instance.

Positions of Need

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    The most obvious positions of need on the roster are wide receiver, safety and quarterback.

    Wideout is an area in need of a major infusion of talent as Terrelle Pryor Sr. has proved a flop since arriving as a free agent last offseason.

    His struggles have meant the Redskins have been unable to adequately replace DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. The result has been a passing game lacking a credible big-play threat, as well as a dependable pair of hands to keep the chains moving.

    It's not all been bleak for Washington's receivers, though. Jamison Crowder remains lethal from the slot, while Ryan Grant has offered sure hands and deceptive vertical speed. There has been nothing deceptive about Josh Doctson's talent for stretching coverage.

    Even so, this is a group missing some star power and a true all-rounder ready to become a legitimate No. 1 target next season.

    Safety has been a similarly unconvincing mix of unproven players and disappointing veterans. Montae Nicholson has battled injuries during his rookie season, while free-agent arrival D.J. Swearinger has lacked credible support around him.

    What the Redskins have lacked most is some genuine range and dynamic athleticism at either safety berth. A defense well-stocked along the front seven, at least when everybody's healthy, needs a bona fide playmaker on the back end.

    Of course, the desire to get better at receiver and safety will quickly become afterthoughts if the Redskins enter the draft needing a quarterback. The situation rests on what decision is made regarding Kirk Cousins this offseason.

    Washington's options are to give Cousins a third franchise tag in a row or offer him a new deal, one likely to make him the NFL's highest-paid player, per Master Tesfatison of the Washington Post. Or else, the Redskins can simply let him walk and test the market in free agency.

7 of the Best Options for Round 1

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    Roquan Smiith, ILB, Georgia

    Taking a linebacker with crazy sideline-to-sideline speed, legitimate coverage chops and a flair for the big play would represent a coup for the Redskins with the 12th pick.

    Roquan Smith embodies all these traits, qualities he would bring to bear for a Washington front seven already led expertly by seasoned middle linebacker Zach Brown. Smith would stay on the field for all three downs and lend flexibility to both the base and sub-package schemes.

    Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer believes the Redskins should take Smith, who he describes as someone with a "chance to be a great NFL player."

              

    Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama

    Rashaan Evans is another dynamic and flexible inside linebacker the Redskins should consider in Round 1. He has more meat on his bones than Smith and is in the mold of the traditional downhill thumper.

    Drafting Evans would give Washington a true enforcer along the front seven. He would be the intimidating partner Brown has lacked while Mason Foster, Will Compton and Martrell Spaight have battled injuries and inconsistency in 2017.

              

    Vita Vea, NT, Washington State

    The Redskins spent the offseason investing heavily to build a bully along the defensive front. Yet Washington's D still found itself pushed around by the Dallas Cowboys' O-line, the one front supposed to be countered by the decisions to draft Jonathan Allen in the first round last year and sign Terrell McClain and Stacy McGee in free agency.

    McClain and Allen weren't on the field last week, but the Redskins still learned they need a space-eater in the middle, with WalterFootball tabbing Vita Vea as the best choice:

    "The Redskins looked completely helpless trying to stop Alfred Morris in a must-win game the week after Thanksgiving. They need to bolster their defensive front, and Vita Vea, who is having a monstrous campaign, would be the perfect solution."

    Vea tips the scales at 6'5" and 340 pounds, offering the kind of size the Redskins have missed for too long to anchor their 3-4 front.

                

    Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

    Vea isn't the only way the Redskins could go if they stick to building a D-line teams will fear. Clemson's Christian Wilkins is another disruptive force along the interior who should be considered.

    Wilkins is lighter and more nimble on his feet than Vea, but he boasts the speed to live in an opponents' backfield. NJ.com's Matt Lombardo noted how the 6'4", 310-pounder "has logged 25.0 tackles for loss over his three collegiate seasons and is exceptional against the run."

    Drafting Wilkins would be a signal the Redskins are switching to a more attacking defense in 2018.

                 

    Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama

    Being a playmaker comes naturally to Minkah Fitzpatrick thanks to his versatility and smarts. He can play both cornerback and safety.

    More than his positions, though, Fitzpatrick boasts a complete set of special skills. He has the range to play as a single-high safety in Cover 1 and Cover 3 looks, but he can also live in the box and wreck offenses on the blitz.

    If you want an intriguing pro comparison for Fitzpatrick, consider this one from another Sports Illustrated article by Breer, who said the Alabama standout "could be a bigger, though less explosive version of Tyrann Mathieu."

    It may be pie in the sky to think Fitzpatrick will last beyond the top 10, but if he does, the Redskins will surely have a hard time looking past him.

               

    James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

    There isn't a better potential No. 1 receiver for the Burgundy and Gold to go after than James Washington. The Oklahoma State star is a physical and sure-handed target at 6'0" and 205 pounds.

    He's also highly productive, according to Chris Trapasso of CBSSports.com: "But the most brilliant offensive mind couldn't simply scheme an average of 64 receptions, 1,296 yards, and nearly 11 touchdowns over a three-year span."

    Adding Washington would give the Redskins the steady pair of hands they have lacked all season at receiver.

                    

    Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

    The man throwing Washington the passes could turn out to be the Redskins' best solution to any possible woes under center. Mason Rudolph would offer a senior's experience, as well as the accuracy, timing and efficiency to make a pocket-based offense work.

    There may be more physically gifted quarterbacks in this draft class, but Rudolph is arguably the most pro-ready. It's why the Redskins should spend a lot of time considering taking him, even if it means trading back in Round 1.

The Case for a Quarterback

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    Drafting a quarterback in the first round often means a franchise is ready to reset itself. It can also mean accepting a season is going to be lost to the goring pains of the youngster throwing the passes.

    For this reason, starting a rookie at quarterback is not an option I would usually recommend. However, this Redskins roster may be better equipped than at any time in recent years to support a first-year signal-caller.

    To begin with, Washington boasts a better defense than the last time the franchise bet big on a draftee quarterback, back in 2012, when the Redskins fell hard for the hype surrounding Robert Griffin III.

    Sure, 2017's defense has crumbled in recent weeks, getting pushed around by the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints and the Cowboys. Yet those struggles have to be taken in the context of a litany of injuries, particularly along a revamped front seven.

    McClain is the best run defender on the line, while Allen was showing shades of dominance as a rookie before landing on injured reserve. To say both have been sorely missed is more than a mild understatement.

    The Redskins have also lacked a productive inside linebacker next to Brown. Having such a player would have maintained the strength of a run defense and pass rush showing significant signs of improvement earlier this season.

    Washington's defensive woes can also be credited to the uneven game-planning of coordinator Greg Manusky, who has rarely shown a willingness to adapt his schemes to opponents' strengths.

    Stepping away from the defense, the emergence of Perine, who has posted triple-digit rushing efforts in two of his last three games, could give the Redskins the balance on offense to support a young quarterback.

    Like the defensive front seven, the Burgundy and Gold boast a formidable O-line when every member of the group is healthy, a rarity this season.

    In other words, the Redskins have the three ingredients necessary for ensuring a first-year QB doesn't have to do it all himself: a steady running game, a solid defense and strong protection up front.

    If the franchise doesn't want to pay up for Cousins, there won't be a better time to insert a rookie under center.

Early Mock Draft

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    1. Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama
    2. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
    3. Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
    4. Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh
    5. Ryan Finley, QB, North Carolina State
    6. Harrison Phillips, NT, Stanford
    7. Te'Von Coney, OLB, Notre Dame

                  

    The Redskins won't be able to resist taking Evans off the board since it will mean putting a playmaking thumper next to Brown, the NFL's leading tackler. Jason La Canfora recently reported Washington is trying to extend Brown's one-year deal, but it will count for naught if there isn't better talent around him in 2018.

    La Canfora also noted how he thinks a third franchise tag is in Cousins' immediate future. Even though keeping the quarterback, one way or another, is probably the Redskins' smartest move to guarantee stability at football's most important position, the franchise should still keep an eye on the future.

    Drafting Ryan Finley would give Washington a pocket passer with the raw skills to defy his draft status once he learns the nuances of the pro game.

    In between, the most notable pick can come in the second round, where the Redskins can land a steal by getting Georgia running back Nick Chubb. His ACL injury in 2015 could see this Bulldogs workhorse fall down the draft order. Think Frank Gore, who took a tumble in 2005 amid concerns about his history of knee problems.

    Injuries to Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson have shown the Redskins they need strong depth in the backfield for 2018. Chubb would offer it while also making a quick start on taking the starting job.

    Prospects can still be added at safety, wide receiver and along the D-line, with free agency also offering riches for Washington at each position.