Skins’ success hinges on top draft choices
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.