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Redskins draft countdown: Georgia RB Sony Michel

Redskins draft countdown: Georgia RB Sony Michel

Redskins draft countdown

Sony Michel

Running back
Georgia

Sony Michel is a solid north-south runner who also can bounce outside and pick up yardage. He shared playing time with Nick Chubb last year and still ran for 1,277 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per carry, and scored 16 touchdowns against SEC competition. Michel also showed his bona fides in the passing game, catching 64 career passes and showing that he can handle pass protection. 

Height: 5-11
Weight: 220
40-yard dash:4.54

Projected draft round:2

How he fits the Redskins: The Redskins have made no secret of their desire to draft an upgrade at running back. They would prefer one who can catch passes out of the backfield and gain yardage between the tackles. Sony Michel can do both as well as pop for yardage on the outside. There is a good chance that he will be on the board when the Redskins draft in the second round. Since they don’t have a third-round pick, this may be the last chance to get an upgrade in this draft. 

Film review: vs. Notre Dame, vs. Alabama

—The first thing to say here is that the Bulldogs had a quality run-blocking offensive line. Michel frequently had big holes to run through. For his part, Michel maximized his gains when he had a big opening, hitting it quickly and working north-south. 

—He also can pick up yards through just a small crease, again by hitting it with urgency and gaining momentum to drive for the final few yards. 

—Michel didn’t do a whole lot of pass protection in the plays I watched, but he was solid when he did. On one play against Notre Dame, he put a blitzing defensive back on the ground. Against Alabama, he got in the way of likely first-round pick Da’Ron Payne long enough to allow the quarterback to get off a deep pass. To be sure, he didn’t blow Payne away but his block was effective.

—Besides the O-line, Michel also got quality blocking from his receivers. Again, he took advantage, reading the blocks and maximizing the gain. 

—He also can get it done without much help. On third and 20 against the vaunted Alabama defense, he headed up the middle and quickly went outside when he saw no running room. He headed to the sideline with four Alabama defenders and no blockers in sight. Michel found another gear and accelerated down the sideline to convert the third and long.  

—He later converted a third and 10 on a draw play, quickly getting up to speed and zipping through traffic to move the sticks. 

Potential issues: Although he has decent speed, he’s not the home run threat you might want in a back taken in the second round. And Michel isn’t really a power back either, although he can fight for extra yards. 

Despite his limitations, there is chatter that Michel might be drafted early in the second round or perhaps even late in the first. It’s hard to separate the smoke and speculation from reality as we sit a week before the draft starts. But he’s a talented back and if Derrius Guice goes off the board earlier than most expect, a run on runners could include Michel. 

Bottom line: Saquon Barkley is the obvious top running back and he surely will be gone when the Redskins pick in the first round. After that, the Redskins have plenty of options. They like Guice but 13 may be too high for him and he is likely to be gone when their pick in the second is on the clock. Michel is one of a few possibilities there, a group that also would include Michel’s former teammate Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones of USC and others. Without a peek at the draft board in Ashburn, we will just have to wait and see. 

Redskins draft countdown

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

 

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Redskins draft countdown: Versatile DB Minkah Fitzpatrick could be too talented to leave on the board

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Redskins draft countdown: Versatile DB Minkah Fitzpatrick could be too talented to leave on the board

Redskins draft countdown

Minkah Fitzpatrick

Cornerback
Alabama

Does your team need a safety? Minkah Fitzpatrick can drop back deep and direct the defense from there.

How about an outside corner? He can stick with any wide receiver step for step.

Someone in the slot? Fitzpatrick can handle that, too.

Do you need an edge rusher? You don’t want to line Fitzpatrick up there every snap, but he can get to the quarterback.

On the field, he is a Jack of all trades and a master of many of them. 

Height: 6-1
Weight: 201
40-yard dash:4.46

Projected draft round:1

How he fits the Redskins: The Redskins could go into the season with the secondary starters they have now but that doesn’t mean that there isn't a need there. Safety Montae Nicholson could only play in six games last year due to injuries. The slot corner position is up in the air. It’s possible that Josh Norman will be a salary cap casualty in 2019. But even if they were loaded in the secondary, they could use a versatile talent like Fitzpatrick. 

Film review: vs. Tennessee, vs. Clemson, vs. Georgia

—In the first eight minutes of the Tennessee game, he lined up in press man coverage, off man, at slot corner, outside corner and edge rusher. Later in the game, he was the single deep safety. 

—Anyone who plays in the Redskins secondary needs to be part of the solution to fixing the league’s 32nd-ranked rushing defense. Fitzpatrick was a bit inconsistent here. From cornerback, he fought off a blocker and made the tackle in textbook style. Another time he had a bead on a runner on a sweep but he overran the tackle. And against Georgia, he started to jog after it looked like Sony Michel was going out of bounds and Michel turned upfield for an additional 10 yards. 

—Fitzpatrick was a rare true freshman starter on the Alabama defense and his experience shows. He reads plays well and follows his assignments. Once as the quarterback started to scramble he stayed disciplined and stuck in his zone in a situation where many corners rush up to tackle the quarterback, allowing a receiver to run free. 

—He has great speed off the edge rushing the quarterback. Fitzpatrick also shows great hustle, keeping after the QB if he can’t get the sack. That allows other defenders to make the play. 

—Fitzpatrick is very sticky in man coverage, starting with his receiver step for step down the field. 

Potential issues: His interception numbers are hard to sort out. He had eight in his first two seasons with the Crimson Tide - including a school record four returns for touchdowns - but in 2017 he had just one interception. It should be noted that teams mostly threw away from him in the games I watched, so perhaps he did not have many opportunities. Still, it’s something a team should be wary of when spending a high first-round pick. 

There are some analysts who are dubious of Fitzpatrick’s ability to play corner full time in the NFL. That could make the Redskins think twice about drafting him with the idea of having him replace Norman in 2019. 

Bottom line: There is plenty of chatter out there that the Redskins will not hesitate to draft Fitzpatrick if he is on the board at No. 13. That could be true or it could be a smokescreen. Take your pick. 

The Redskins may not have to make the decision, of course. A team could well take him somewhere between the fifth and tenth picks. But the wild card is the likelihood that four or possibly five quarterbacks will go off the board before the Redskins pick. That could push a talented player like Fitzpatrick right into their laps. The Redskins will then have to decide between Fitzpatrick and a few others who would be a top-10 player in most drafts.  

Redskins draft countdown

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Redskins draft countdown: If they draft S Derwin James, the Redskins will have to alter their defense

Redskins draft countdown: If they draft S Derwin James, the Redskins will have to alter their defense

Redskins draft countdown

Derwin James

Safety
Florida State

He lines up deep, pressed up against the line of scrimmage, and everywhere else in between. Derwin James not only sets the tone for games defensively, he changes outcomes. Just line him up wherever you need him. He will find the ball. James can quickly become a major presence in an NFL locker room. 

Height: 6-2
Weight: 215
40-yard dash:4.47

Projected draft round:1

How he fits the Redskins: The Redskins have their two starting safeties in D.J. Swearinger and Montae Nicholson. But Nicholson’s ability to stay on the field for the entire season is in question. James would be high-quality depth. 

On a broader level, the Redskins lack impact players, especially on defense. A lineman like Da’Ron Payne or Vita Vea would fill a more urgent need in a specific spot. But would either player be able to lift the whole defense and give the opposing offense a player they have to account for on every snap? James has that potential and that could fill a greater need than more beef on the D-line. 

Film review: vs. Florida, vs. Clemson

—James does line up everywhere. He lined up as the deep single safety, as one of two deep safeties, at inside linebacker and pressed up against the line in the middle and on the edge. 

 —His mobility is tremendous. A few times he was backing up out of the picture before the snap and then he shot to the line to help make a run stop or assist on the tackle after a short pass.

—James has great anticipation, but he doesn’t always make the play. Against Florida, he was able to sniff out a swing pass but after he flew to the receiver he missed the tackle in the backfield. 

—That play was one of few where James seemed to be out of control. On most plays when he was lined up at safety he took his responsibility as the last line of defense seriously. He doesn’t go for the big hit; he makes sure the ball carrier gets to the ground. Sometimes this makes him appear to be overly cautious but it’s better than overrunning and allowing the big play. 

—If you want to find the ball, find James. If you want to find James, find the ball. 

—The Redskins want to improve their rushing defense. Adding a lineman isn’t the only way to do that. Against Clemson, the defensive front was tiring in the fourth quarter and James made tackle after tackle on running plays. 

Potential issues: Despite his presence around the ball, James did not make many big plays. In 26 games with the Seminoles, he had just three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Teams generally look for more takeaways from highly-drafted safeties. Eric Berry, to whom James has been compared, picked off 14 passes in three years at Tennessee. 

James suffered a torn meniscus in his sophomore year that ended his season after two games. Such injuries don’t tend to have lingering problems but it’s certainly something to check out. 

Bottom line: The team that drafts James won’t have to completely revamp its defense but the coordinator will have to be creative to make him worth a top-15 pick. Just lining him up at free safety will get you a good player but not an impact player. 

If James is still on the board along with Payne and/or Vea, the Redskins will need to make the classic choice between filling a need and taking the best available player. The organization will need to decide how to utilize James if they are going to take him. If they just want him to “fit in” they should pass and take the lineman. If they are willing to make him a centerpiece in their defense and use him in an active, attacking “robber” role from Day One, they should go ahead and take him. 

Redskins draft countdown

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.