In less than a year, the Redskins completed a stunning turnaround, ascending from a laughingstock in 2014 to a division champion in 2015. But now comes the difficult part: taking that all-important next step and improving from a franchise that was fortunate to get into the playoffs to one that can do some damage once it gets there. And that work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players.
In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will examine the 25 biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
Should the Redskins pick a defensive lineman early in the draft?
Tandler: Yes, early and perhaps even often.
It’s very fair to say that the Redskins have neglected the defensive line in the draft. Excluding college defensive ends drafted with the plan to convert them to outside linebackers the Redskins have drafted just one defensive lineman earlier than the sixth round since the year 2000. That was Jarvis Jenkins, taken in the second round in 2011. Other than that they have taken three defensive linemen in the seventh round and two in the sixth.
The last time the Redskins took a defensive lineman in the first round was 1997, when they took end Kenard Lang out of Miami.
The Redskins have had to rely on free agency to keep their defensive line stocked. In recent years they have spent big money on the likes of Jason Hatcher, Stephen Bowen, and Barry Cofield. With the latter two the cycle was predictable and almost the same. The team got a good year or two out of both of them and restructured their deals to create some cap room. Then both suffered injuries, lost a lot of their effectiveness and were cut, creating substantial dead cap hits.
It goes back further than that, to Andre Carter and Cornelius Griffin during Joe Gibbs’ second stint and the ultimate disaster free agent signing, Albert Haynesworth in 2009. Add them all up and it’s tens of millions of cap dollars spent with very little in return.
The Redskins don’t necessarily have to take a defensive lineman in the first round although at this early stage of the draft process it looks like there are a few players who could qualify as best available at No. 21 overall. Robert Nkemdiche of Ole Miss, Vernon Butler of Louisiana Tech, Sheldon Rankins of Louisville and Jarran Reed of Alabama are all potential picks at No. 21.
A D-lineman doesn’t have to be the first-round pick. There likely will be some solid options that Scot McCloughan can grab in the middle rounds. But if they get to the third day of the draft on Saturday and there isn’t a defensive lineman on the board we will be virtually assured that the Redskins will have to continue the cycle of expensive short-term rentals of older players.
El-Bashir: Tandler with the history lesson! I’d forgotten how badly the Redskins had neglected the D-line in recent years.
Well, it’s time to put an end to that trend.
Terrance Knighton is a free agent. Ditto for backups Kedric Golston and Frank Kearse. Meantime, Jason Hatcher, who turns 34 in July, is talking about retiring.
Depending on how things shake out with Knighton and Hatcher, the Redskins could find themselves in need of two starters up front. Stephen Paea, of course, could claim one of those jobs, but he didn't last year and is coming off a stint on IR. Whatever happens, the need for an infusion of young, top-tier talent along the D-line is both real and immediate.
And, fortunately for GM Scot McCloughan, this is a good year to be in need of a quality tackle or end. Or both, even.
Rotoworld’s Josh Norris has eight D-linemen—Sheldon Rankins (Louisville), Andrew Billings (Baylor), DeForest Buckner (Oregon), Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss), Vernon Butler (Louisiana Tech), Jonathan Bullard (Florida), Jarran Reed (Alabama) and Jihad Ward (Illinois)—among his top 32 prospects.
NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks adds A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama) and Kenny Clark (UCLA) to the list of top tackles available. In fact, Brooks writes, “The 2016 defensive tackle class is arguably the deepest position in the raft. There are not only several blue chip talents at the top of the board, but there are plenty of quality starters that can be found on Day 2.”
Which, of course, is very good news for a Redskins’ team that, after years of neglect, should absolutely consider investing in its D-line—with an early pick or maybe even two.
25 Questions series
- Is McCoy the answer at backup QB for the Redskins?
- Should the Redskins try to keep Alfred Morris?
- Should the Redskins cut Andre Roberts?
- Will there be a surprise cap casualty?
- Will DeAngelo Hall return?
- Should the Redskins draft a quarterback?
- Are the Redskins set at outside linebacker?
- Should the Redskins make changes on the offensive line?
- Should Pierre Garçon return?
- What should the Redskins do at tight end?
- Is Matt Jones ready to assume the Redskins' No. 1 running back job?
- Will Kirk Cousins improve in 2016?
- Who will start at inside linebacker?
- Who on defense will take the next step?
- How can the Redskins make it to the Super Bowl?
- Who on offense will take the next step?
- Should DeSean Jackson return?
- How can the Redskins fix the running game?
- What will the depth chart at safety look like in 2016?
- Should they re-sign Darrel Young?
- What is the single most impactful improvement the team can make?
- Should the Redskins draft a starting running back?
- Who will be the Redskins' comeback player of the year in 2016?
- Today: Should the Redskins pick a defensive lineman early in the draft?