Skins’ suc­cess hinges on top draft choices

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - SPORTS 2 - Paul Woody pwoody@TimesDis­ (804) 649-6444 @World_of_Woody

High-priced free agents and vet­er­ans ac­quired in off­sea­son trades are not the way to build a con­sis­tent win­ner in the NFL.

First- and sec­ond-round draft choices must pro­duce. Play­ers taken in the mid­dle rounds have to de­velop. And ev­ery team needs some luck in find­ing real play­ers in the late rounds — that guy in New Eng­land, what’s his name, Brady? Yeah, that’s it. Tom Brady. Quar­ter­back, maybe the best quar­ter­back ever, was a sixth-round se­lec­tion — and with sev­eral col­lege free agents quickly show­ing they’re NFL-ready.

The past two years have been dif­fi­cult for the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins’ firstround draft choices. Wide re­ceiver Josh Doct­son, taken with the 22nd over­all pick in the first round, was on the ros­ter for much of his rookie sea­son. But he was in just two games and caught just two passes.

Doct­son suf­fered an Achilles ten­don in­jury dur­ing the Red­skins’ off­sea­son work­outs in 2016 and never re­cov­ered.

It was the sec­ond half of his sec­ond sea­son be­fore he showed signs he could be a le­git­i­mate pro player.

Last year, the Red­skins used their first-round pick, No. 17 over­all, on Jonathan Allen, a de­fen­sive tackle from Alabama.

Allen earned a start­ing job. But five games into the 2017 sea­son, he suf­fered a foot in­jury that re­quired surgery and ended his rookie year.

This spring, the Red­skins used the 13th over­all pick on an­other Alabama player, also a de­fen­sive tackle, Daron Payne. Af­ter a week­end of rookie mini­camp, Payne re­mains up­right and con­fi­dent.

If Wash­ing­ton is to suc­ceed this sea­son, those three play­ers need to be sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tors.

“First-rounders are crit­i­cal as far as build­ing a team,” Red­skins’ coach Jay Gru­den said. “We ex­pect a lot of things from Josh Doct­son, Jonathan Allen com­ing back from an in­jury and Daron, throw­ing him in there with Jonathan will be a plus for both those guys.

“They played to­gether. They know each other. They have a sim­i­lar skill set, and I think they’ll be pro­duc­tive side by side. Keep­ing them healthy, we can’t ever pre­dict that. Knock on wood, we keep all those guys healthy and they will be ma­jor con­trib­u­tors.”

The Red­skins need that, a high-level per­for­mance from quar­ter­back Alex Smith, ac­quired in an off­sea­son trade with Kansas City, and a low in­jury rate among of­fen­sive line­men and run­ning backs to have a suc­cess­ful sea­son.

A lit­tle help from those with­out first-round pedi­grees would help as well.

With one of their sev­enth-round picks this year, the Red­skins took de­fen­sive back Greg Stro­man from Vir­ginia Tech. Stro­man’s real value to the Red­skins, pro­vided he makes the team, could be as a spe­cial teams player. He can re­turn punts and tackle op­pos­ing punt re­turn­ers.

Wide re­ceiver Jami­son Crow­der re­mains the pri­mary punt re­turner, but, Gru­den said, “It’s im­por­tant to have an­other guy do it. Last year, we did a poor job of hav­ing [an­other] guy who can do it. That’s my fault. Hav­ing Trey Quinn and Greg will be a big ben­e­fit. Greg will get an op­por­tu­nity to do that and take some pres­sure off Jami­son.”

Quinn, a wide re­ceiver, also was a sev­enth-round pick, the last player taken in the draft, earn­ing him the ti­tle of Mr. Ir­rel­e­vant and send­ing him to an an­nual cel­e­bra­tion for Mr. Ir­rel­e­vant in New­port Beach, Calif.

The Red­skins had an­other Mr. Ir­rel­e­vant, Matt El­liott, a cen­ter from Michi­gan, in 1992. He played in the NFL for four sea­sons, one with the Red­skins and three with Carolina.

If there’s a com­mon theme among the Red­skins’ draft choices this year, it’s con­fi­dence. None seem to lack it.

“I’m ready to ball,” Payne said.

“I’m a dog,” run­ning back and sec­ond-round se­lec­tion Der­rius Guice said when asked his strengths as a player.

Ap­par­ently, that now is a good thing. “I’m ready to get af­ter it,” Guice said.

Even Quinn ex­pects to make the team. “Ab­so­lutely,” he said. “You should, too.”

It wasn’t clear whether he meant the re­porter ask­ing the ques­tion should ex­pect Quinn to make the team or Quinn meant the re­porter should have the con­fi­dence to make the team.

The former is rea­son­able for a player to say. The lat­ter, we prom­ise you, is im­pos­si­ble.

It also borders on the im­pos­si­ble to be suc­cess­ful in the NFL if your top draft choices aren’t pro­duc­ing.

Gru­den and the Red­skins need plenty of pro­duc­tion from those play­ers this sea­son.


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