The lockout is over, the hectic period of free agency is largely complete, and Future Sons has come out of hibernation. The offseason is the time for team-building and team-building is ultimately what we’re concerned with here on our blog. Here are some of my observations on what the Redskins’ front office managed to accomplish since February.
– I came away extremely impressed with Bruce Allen’s and Mike Shanahan’s remarkable ability to evaluate pro player personnel, contract and trade negotiation, and cap management–each very important team-building skills.
– I came away fairly impressed with their ability to execute draft day trades to increase their number of selections.
– I came away disappointed in their ability to evaluate college player personnel and get as much value as possible from those draft selections.
Starting with the draft, their strategy to increase draft selections by moving down was a fundamentally sound method for team building recently proven effective by teams like the Eagles and Packers. However, the problem with our class is the players and position groups we spent our picks on. I felt the FO got fairly poor value from most of our selections and failed to manipulate the draft well, missing lots of opportunities to make best player available (BPA) selections at positions of need.
First of all, I was very disappointed when we didn’t draft Blaine Gabbert. He was my top ranked quarterback, and as such, the top ranked player on my Redskins’ need adjusted big board. The most widespread justification I’ve seen among Redskins fans in response to passing on Gabbert is a sort of reflexive, go for broke trust in Shanahan’s ability to evaluate and choose college quarterbacks: “Shanahan must not think much of Gabbert if he didn’t draft him, Gabbert must not have been a very good prospect.” I don’t believe that for a second because I saw all of Gabbert’s great qualities as a prospect with my own eyes. Beyond that, other quarterback experts and talented draft analysts were plain in their projection that Gabbert was a great prospect/would probably be a successful player (Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock).
I believe the quarterback is the central piece of any team-building effort, so passing on a potential difference making solution at the position for what ended up being a handful of mid to late round skill position selections didn’t seem like adequate return value at the time. Unfortunately, the trade down felt even worse when Christian Ponder, my second favorite quarterback prospect (15th overall on my board), along with other highly ranked prospects like Nick Fairley (2nd), Robert Quinn (4th), and J.J. Watt (10th) all went just before our selection at 16 came.
However, one thing that’s become increasingly clear over the course of the offseason is that the front office did not view QB as the need most of the rest of us did. Mike Shanahan is far more serious about John Beck as his handpicked quarterback than almost all of us could have imagined on draft day. He’s comfortable enough with Beck to entirely pass on the position in both draft and free agency, choosing only to sign Kellen Clemmens and extend Rex Grossman (presumably for the backup roles) and sign camp body undrafted free agents Ben Chappell (Indiana) and Mark Verica (UVA).
Most are skeptical of Shanahan’s plan to start Beck. The skepticism is certainly justified based on Beck’s career history to date. I’m not willing to write Beck off entirely since he definitely has talent and lots of talented, former second round quarterbacks get lost in regime changes through no real fault of their own. Plus father and son Shanahan are both great teachers of the quarterback position with track records of squeezing the most from their quarterbacks. But I do think relying on Beck as our long term solution is a bit of a Hail Mary since the odds of former second round pick quarterbacks who got lost in regime changes finding success with new teams are extremely low. I can’t really come up with a precedent here. Our investment in Beck is minimal, let’s say Beck struggles next season and our team finishes high enough in the draft to be in striking distance of some of these talented potential 2012 first round QBs (Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Landry Jones, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Lindley, Robert Griffin III, etc.). It would then be very tempting to scrap the Beck plan and start over with a first round rookie, in which case we might as well have just drafted a rookie this year since we’d have blown a year of quarterback development in the system.
And no matter how good John Beck ends up being, he’s turning 30 before the season and won’t have the kind of career window a successful rookie draft selection would have had.
Moving on to who we actually drafted, I’ve managed to move from disappointed to ambivalent on the selection of Ryan Kerrigan in the first round. First and foremost, I don’t consider the Kerrigan selection a high draft value selection because he wasn’t the BPA. I thought both Prince Amukamara and Cameron Jordan were much better prospects that filled important positions of need for us, and had hoped for either to be the pick once we went on the clock at 16. However, it’s clear the front office wanted an outside linebacker at that pick. That suggests to me that they value the OLB position as disproportionately more important than the defensive end and cornerback positions for our specific defensive scheme. I don’t necessarily disagree with that line of thinking because I think quality edge rushers are extremely important to most schemes and also extremely difficult to find outside the early rounds of the draft. But, you can say the same about 3-4 DEs and CBs. I question the wisdom in placing OLB so much higher in value above DE and CB that you’ll ignore BPA when each are a need for your team. After all, the New York Jets have proven the past two seasons that you can field a dominating 3-4 defense with elite corners and DL play and ho hum OLBs.
Beyond that there are questions of scheme fit for Kerrigan at OLB. I had Kerrigan ranked low in my top 50 because I thought him to be a 3-4 tweener and poor scheme fit at the time. I’ve warmed up to him a bit since players of his type have recently achieved spectacular NFL success as 3-4 OLBs (Tamba Hali). If you’re a Redskins fan, that’s what you’re hoping Kerrigan becomes. It could certainly happen, but too many question marks surround the Kerrigan selection for my comfort level. I’m not yet convinced we wouldn’t have been better off selecting Cameron Jordan at 16 and then selecting Justin Houston late in the second or early third round.
I was also frustrated by the Jarvis Jenkins selection at 41. Jenkins is a good player and should probably become a long term contributor. But he was a poor value selection and reach according to most draft websites as there were a lot of other candidates for BPA when Jenkins came off the board. Jenkins offers little as a pass rusher, which is the moneymaker skill set for defensive lineman of all types. QB pressures are what get guys big contracts and drafted high. Pure run stoppers tend to slip into the middle and late rounds of the draft because their skill set is more common. The two guys I really wanted at that 41st selection were Rodney Hudson or Stephen Paea. C’est la vie I guess. Unlike Kerrigan, Jenkins is an obvious and natural scheme fit. Plus if he settles in as a long term starting solution at nose tackle with the ability to kick out to DE per situation, then that versatility massively increases his draft value and I’ll feel a lot better about that selection.
I can’t complain too hard about the final ten selections other than that I wish we’d taken fewer offensive skill position players and more offensive linemen. But I loved some of the specific selections. I thought Leonard Hankerson was a huge value selection and am excited aviyt his future here. The Evan Royster and Aldrick Robinson selections in the sixth were terrific value and I hope that each find a way to make the roster. They’re very talented.
I thought Brandyn Thompson, Markus White, and Chris Neild were all very good college players offering quality value in the seventh and I think each of them has a fair chance to make the roster. Maurice Hurt is a bit of an odd choice but he’s got the makings of a velcro lineman and you can’t discount the fact he was able to hold down a starting job for one of the better offensive lines in the country. I wasn’t crazy about the Nebraska selections at the time since I preferred Kendall Hunter and Dion Lewis at running back over Roy Helu and would have definitely taken Jason Pinkston over DeJon Gomes. Helu seems a good fit though and brings something different to the offense with his speed. Gomes potentially fills a need in our nickel and dime packages and has positional versatility. Niles Paul is an interesting prospect because of his size and athleticism but he still has a little too much Devin Thomas in him. He’s going to have to battle to make the roster.
Finally, I was a huge fan of the Willie Smith (OT, ECU) and Eric McBride (LB, Richmond) UDFA signings. It’s puzzling Smith went undrafted and Wes Bunting ranked him the fourth best UDFA available, he definitely has a shot to make our roster. McBride is a fellow Richmond alum and finished his college career as one of, if not the best linebacker in school history. He’s indomitable, the soul of a championship defense, started every game since day one as a redshirt freshman, and owns just about every award you can win at the FCS level. He was easily one of my favorite players I had the privilege of watching and following at Richmond, and I’m thrilled he’s got a shot to make my favorite football team. I’m dreaming he’ll shock the world and have a London Fletcher-like career arc going from unheralded UDFA to one of the best linebackers in Redskins history among other notable NFL career achievements.
So all in all, the draft was a mixed bag for me with the bad (missed opportunities, poor value selections early, failure to address the offensive line) insufficiently tempered by the good (nice value selections late). After it was over, I was left with deep misgivings about our front office’s ability in college player evaluation.
However, I have no such misgivings about the front office’s ability in pro player evaluation and I’m highly impressed by their skill in using free agency as an effective team building tool. On the whole, I think and project their successes with free agency signings, particularly since the end of the lockout, have overwhelmed their mistakes. I’ll break down my observations on the details of the free agency acquisitions in Part II of my Offseason Review.