Jay Gruden's situation Monday afternoon was not enviable. The Redskins head coach watched his team completely choke away a chance at the playoffs Sunday afternoon, and less than 24 hours later, Gruden was forced to eulogize the disappointing 2016 season.
The coach probably got little sleep, if any, and was then thrust into the difficult situation of talking about pending free agents and ultimately what went wrong for his team. Still, even considering those factors, Gruden's comments about building the 'Skins through the draft came off as quite surprising.
"We’re getting there, but we’ve had, what, two first-round picks since I’ve been here? One of them hasn’t played a down, or played one game, and the other one is a guard," he said. "We have got to utilize our picks."
Factually, everything he said was correct. The Redskins did not have a first round pick in 2014, Gruden's first year as coach in Washington. Then the team selected Brandon Scherff in 2015, followed by Josh Doctson in 2016.
At the time, some thought Scherff would play right tackle for the 'Skins, but that experiment ended quickly. He started every game of his rookie season at right guard. The second-year player out of Iowa has proven to be a very good player, he made the Pro Bowl this season and again started every game at right guard, yet offensive guard is not widely considered a high-impact position.
Doctson's rookie year was lost to Achilles injuries. He dressed the first two weeks, then came a series of games on the inactive list before finally going on injured reserve in October. It also was no secret that some on the 'Skins staff grew frustrated with the inability to figure out what the problem was with the first rounder out of TCU, as the Achilles ailment could not be properly diagnosed and the only remedy appeared to be rest.
So, in a vacuum, Gruden's comments about the two first-round picks adds up, yet, they still seemed somewhat jarring in person. The coach quickly said he admires the work general manager Scot McCloughan has done with the Redskins roster and that he expects the team to continue to improve.
"We have got to make sure we do well in the draft the next year or two and make sure that we continue to add to the talent that we have," Gruden said. "We’ve had some good drafts, but we have to add to it, obviously."
Around the league, some teams make general managers or personnel executives available for an end of season press conference, but not universally. In some regard, it's tough for Gruden to have to answer questions about building through the draft, as some of the decisions that get made are not his call, though the coach certainly gets to provide his opinion as part of the decision making process, he explained.
"We are in sync. We have a very good view of what we look for in a football player – very similar – and that won’t change. I have a lot of respect for the work that he [Scot McCloughan] puts in, and he does also. I think together we’ll come up with a plan and get the right players in here."
The draft process will heat up quickly, as Senior Bowl practices take place in just a few weeks in Alabama. After that comes the NFL Draft Combine. McCloughan's first draft in 2015 was a slam dunk; the results of the 2016 crop would be best labeled as incomplete. The 2017 haul will be very important for the Redskins future, both next season and long-term.
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