redskins will be lucky at 13 if qbs are gone

BY BEN STANDIG | FEB. 28, 2018

The Redskins own the 13th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, though not really.

Once the NFL 2018 season officially opens for business on March 14, the Redskins will complete their trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for quarterback Alex Smith. Considering the assets sent in the trade – cornerback Kendall Fuller and a 2018 third-round selection – plus the hefty guaranteed money* coming Smith’s way, Washington is set at quarterback for at least the next 2-3 seasons.

That means they are unlikely to draft a quarterback with their first pick. There is a chance they are enamored with a passing prospect that falls to 13. That situation could lead to trades and other maneuvers, but it’s not the ideal one for the Redskins.

(* Smith arrives with a  year remaining on his current contract. The four-year extension puts the total value at $111 million over five years. Of that total, $71 is reportedly guaranteed, but the Redskins may have outs earlier depending on the contract structure which we’ll see one day.)

From the Redskins’ perspective, let Sam Darnold (USC), Josh Rosen (UCLA), Josh Allen (Wyoming) and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) hear their names called early. That would mean other prospects slip into the teens and the arms of Washington’s front office. The Redskins will get a closer look at the possibilities starting this week at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Yes, it’s possible one of the aforementioned four drop. But considering the teams picking 1-12 and the potential for a team trading up, that seems unlikely. In other words, unless all the QB prospects suddenly lose their cache, the Redskins really own the ninth pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Free agency comes first so Washington’s needs list will change in various ways before the first round kicks off April 26. They could use a running back, especially if the dynamic Saquon Barkley (Penn State) is available. That is not happening at 13th overall.

Guard is an option. Shawn Lauvao is entering free agency and scouts are raving about Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame). Most projections have the powerful blocker landing inside the top 10. Same goes for pass rusher Bradley Chubb (NC State) and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama).

If the four quarterbacks are selected along with the four others mentioned, that leaves four to-be-determined names before 13. There are some years where the draft board just does not work. It’s what forces teams to reach. Have hole. Must fill. Two months before the 2018 NFL Draft, the Redskins are in position to address a need without reaching.

Consider the remaining options listed in no particular order: CB Denzel Ward (Ohio State), ILB Roquan Smith (Georgia), LB Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech), WR Calvin Ridley (Alabama), NT Vita Vea (Washington), DL Da’Ron Payne (Alabama), S Derwin James (Florida State), DE Marcus Davenport (UTSA), ILB Rashaan Evans (Alabama).

Considering the Redskins’ run defense issues over the last 11 games and the constant need for more pass rush, the foursome of Smith, Edmunds, Vea and Payne represents the sweet spot of this larger group. At least one if not three will be available at 13.

Tony Pauline, former NFL scout and publisher of joined The Sports Capitol’s Breaking Burgundy podcast for a lengthy discussion about the 2018 draft class and specific options at 13. The choice between Vea, an athletic 344-pounder with nose tackle potential, and Payne, a run-stuffing force, comes down to one word for Pauline.

“The separation would be about intensity,” said Pauline, who ranks Payne as the No. three overall prospect in the class. Most rankings slot the national championship game defensive star in the teens.

“I think Da’Ron Payne will be among the most underdrafted players come April. He’s more than just a big guy who occupies space,” Pauline said. “He’s an athletic guy. He’s quick. He’s explosive. He does more than just bury his head and bull rush up the field. He plays within his assignments. He remains disciplined. He caught a touchdown pass this year which tells you something about his athleticism. He can occupy the gaps. He can make plays. He just does a lot of things well.”

The Redskins have long needed a nose tackle option in their base 3-4, yet they primarily use 4-man fronts. Payne offers versatility for both.

“I do think he can play nose tackle and play it well if you need a nose tackle,” Pauline said. “He’s got the intensity, the sound technique, the fundamentals. There’s a lot to like about Da’Ron Payne’s game.”

Pauline slotted Vea to the Redskins at 13 in his latest mock draft, joining the trend among mock drafters. Yet the love for the massive two-gap defender is not quite there.

“The problem with Vita Vea is he plays when he wants to,” Pauline said. “He runs hot and cold. I don’t know if he’s going to be a nose tackle because I don’t know if he has the physicality to be a nose tackle. He plays like he’s on roller skates. When he’s on his game he’s incredible. Shows incredible quickness, shows incredible athleticism.”

As for the linebackers, Pauline is intrigued by the “top” of the class thanks to Edmunds’ athleticism and Smith’s production. The Georgia star had 137 tackles – 14.5 for loss – and 6.5 sacks during his junior season. He shined for a national audience during the national championship playoffs to the point where being available at 13 seemed unlikely.

However, if Pauline’s assessment is correct, the Redskins may actually have a chance at Smith without moving up. The Redskins have a potential need with Zach Brown getting closer to entering free agency.

“I think people on the outside are higher on Roquan Smith than people on the inside,’ said Pauline, who notes some teams consider more of an outside linebacker.  “He’s a good player, but NFL teams have their concerns, especially in coverage. How does he matchup against running backs and tight ends. When you watch the film he’s very good in zone. He can’t make plays with his back to the ball.”

Ward, the latest elite cover option out of the Ohio State factory, might be the only corner selected among the top 15. Not long ago, the idea of Washington selecting one at 13 seemed remote. Then they traded Kendall Fuller. Bashaud Breeland seems likely gone in free agency.

At safety, James offers Pro Bowl upside. That level of talent should be appealing for a team still searching for long-term solutions.

The strong route-running Ridley likely becomes the first receiver selected. The Redskins need help, but a steady veteran presence makes more sense opposite Josh Doctson and considering tight end Jordan Reed’s injury history.

No prospect is perfect. The Combine, also known in some circles as the “Underwear Olympics” is all about getting a closer look at the players on and off the field. Some will fall hard for Vea if he tests off the charts at the Combine. Others may follow Pauline’s lead and prefer Payne. The hype train on Smith appears real, but perhaps Pauline’s take is the first sign of a slight cooling.

The larger point is the Redskins have options at areas of need. They will have even more if the four quarterbacks hear their named called somewhere, anywhere among the top dozen selections.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

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