Washington Ranks 32nd in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ “Under 25″ Organizational Talent

Dec 13, 2009; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden (20) straight arms LaRon Landry (30) on a 48-yard gain at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Redskins defeated the Raiders 34-13. Photo via Newscom

Well here’s a shocker: the oldest team in football has less talent under (and including) the age of 25 than any other team.  At least according to the writers at Football Outsiders, that is.

You need to be an ESPN.com insider to read the whole article, though, you can get the Redskins paragraph for free.  Here it is in its entirity:

32. Washington Redskins
Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan have inherited a wasteland from Vinny Cerrato, who used his draft picks to acquire “has-beens” and “never-weres.” As a result, the Redskins only have four “young” starters, and two of them (wideout Devin Thomas and safety LaRon Landry) have been professional flops. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo was extremely effective last year, and rookie tackle Trent Williams should start on the left side from Day One. The only notable young players behind them are tight end Fred Davis and backup linebacker H.B. Blades.

It’s probably far too early to write Landry off as a high draft pick that never developed, but if he wants to represent talent prior to age 26, he’s running out of time.  Landry turns 26 on October 14th.  Chris Horton probably deserves some sort of mention, but even “young” prospects such as Justin Tryon and Kareem Moore fail to qualify for being under 25.  Jeremy Jarmon has that ACL injury that will make him a limited factor in the defense this year, but he’s only 22, and is likely an oversight in the article.

Still, adding Jarmon and Horton to Davis and Blades still doesn’t really create much of a core of talent behind first round picks Trent Williams and Brian Orakpo.  That would probably move the Redskins ahead of the Chargers, and that’s not such horrible company.  The point remains that the “age” on this roster isn’t good age because only four players expected to play a major role this year are under the age of 25; only three once Landry leaves this category after Week 4.

The Redskins have been pretty successful at drafting over the last seven drafts, which is to say, they’ve added a lot of field-ready cheap talent to complement their big-money contacts.  The problem with the Redskins’ draft record is two fold.  First, the inclination of the team to trade its picks for players that other teams aren’t building around any longer gives the Redskins a cast full of veteran bit players who replace even more potential draft picks on the roster.  However, this is a fairly notorious Redskins inclination.  The second problem with the draft record is much less obvious: when the Redskins draft, they tend to draft older players.

The team passed over age-19 Amobi Okoye for age-22 LaRon Landry in 2007.  Both have flashed their potential, though neither has developed quite as expected.  However, with Okoye just 23 years old going into this season (younger than rookie Ndamukong Suh), he still has multiple years to develop: his rookie contract doesn’t expire until after the 2012 season.  Landry finds himself in a make or break year; at age 26, the Redskins HAVE to know if he’s a cornerstone of Jim Haslett’s defense, or whether he should be someone elses problem.

Landry is just one really obvious example of the Redskins looking for field-ready players in the draft.  Carlos Rogers was a legitimate 24 year old rookie who was born the same week as (2003 NFL Draft pick) Nnamdi Asomugha.  Both are on the back end of their prime years.  Rocky McIntosh is going to be 28 in November (no, I’m not kidding). Chris Horton is 25 this year, just his third in the league.  Kareem Moore is 26 in his third year.  Justin Tryon is 26 in his third year.  Reed Doughty is to be 28 in his fifth year, and Kedric Golston is 27.  Jason Campbell was a 23 year old rookie, didn’t get on the field until just a month before his 25th birthday.  Even, unfortunately, Brian Orakpo, was an advanced rookie who turns 24 this month. There’s a really obvious benefit to drafting this kind of player: the prime of their career is covered at minimal cost in their rookie contract.  All of these players developed really quickly, because they had a maturity advantage compared to their rookie class.

Even worse, when the Redskins step outside their comfort zone and draft younger college players (particularly underclassmen), their development record is terrible.  Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly made their Redskin debuts at age 21, as did Jarmon.  Add to that list Sean Taylor, who took longer to develop before his break out.  Taylor’s tragedy might point towards more of a Murphy’s Law type jinx on the franchise and player development.  Even when they get it right, they can’t reap the benefits.

The Redskins’ tendency for older players means that they end up receiving quality complementary players in the draft instead of franchise cornerstones.  When you look at the players that the Redskins have successfully developed, such as Chris Cooley, Derrick Dockery, Davis, Blades, and Orakpo, those worthy of contract extensions either now or down the road have been college seniors who were between a few months and a year and a half younger than the advanced draft prospect that the Redskins have preferred.  In this case, it might be refreshing that 4 year college player Trent Williams turns 22 on Monday, just in time for training camp.  For comparison, Russell Okung is about 10 months older, and would have been a much more in-character pick for the Redskins, given their past history.

Interestingly, the Redskins have built the core of their teams around veterans, but the kind of veterans who were originally very young college draftees, and hit the free agent market in the prime of their careers.  The Redskins acquired players developed elsewhere in Clinton Portis, Andre Carter, Santana Moss, and DeAngelo Hall, all of whom received lucrative contracts from the Redskins at young ages (Hall — 25, Portis — 23, Moss — 25, Carter — 26).  Portis was acquired to be a cornerstone player.  Moss was acquired to fill a need, but established himself as a probowler in a year.  Hall is more of a complementary part whose age is a bonus, and will help him justify his contract if he can keep his nose out of trouble.

It’s expensive to let other teams develop your stars, but the Redskins’ drafting preference for advanced players leaves little choice, and leaves them as one of the two weakest teams in football in terms of talent under 25, because typically, that means “talent from the 2009 and 2010 drafts”.  It’s why, if you miss on third rounders like Chad Rinehart and Kevin Barnes, and then Jeremy Jarmon tears an ACL at the end of his rookie season, then you trade your next third round pick for Donovan McNabb (or, arguably, Jamaal Brown), and that’s your haul of third round picks between 2008 and 2011, well, your coaching staff has to go out of the way to develop those players before their 26th birthday.  Barnes and Jarmon still have time to develop, but you look at the Artis Hicks and Phillip Buchanon signings, and well, it’s tough to blame the Football Outsiders writers for ranking the Redskins 32nd in age 25 and under talent.  If the team isn’t going to try to develop it’s young players from a prior regime, why should national writers pretend they 1) exist and 2) represent talent?

Rinehart’s short season performance from last year suggests he’s ready for a bigger role, and he already knows the zone blocking scheme from his college days as a Northern Iowa Panther (as well, obviously, as with the last two years on the Redskins).  But he had slipped behind both Big Mike Williams (who will miss 2010 with blood clots near his heart), and Hicks at last mention, which should kill the notion that bringing in a zone blocking guru for a head coach is going to do anything but kill his career.  Anyway, the Redskins suddenly have plenty of young talent on the offensive line, which makes the Hicks signing even more confusing.  They no longer need Rinehart as a developmental player, but I think they would be best off starting him at RG in 2010.  Williams’ injury will at least give him reps to show the coaches what he can do, but this probably isn’t a competition.

We’ll conclude this piece with a Hog Heaven power ranking of players on the Redskins who will be age 25 or younger when the season begins on September 9th:

(first round selections in bold)

  1. LB Brian Orakpo (24)
  2. TE Fred Davis (24)
  3. OT Trent Williams (22)
  4. S LaRon Landry (25)
  5. S Chris Horton (25)
  6. LB HB Blades (25)
  7. LB Jeremy Jarmon (22)
  8. OL Chad Rinehart (25)
  9. WR Malcolm Kelly (23)
  10. G Kory Lichtensteiger (25)
  11. TE/FB Dennis Morris (23)
  12. CB Kevin Barnes (23)
  13. WR Devin Thomas (23)
  14. G/C Edwin Williams (23)
  15. G/C Erik Cook (23)
  16. RB Ryan Torain (24)
  17. DE Rob Jackson (24)
  18. LB Perry Riley (22)
  19. WR Terrence Austin (22)
  20. RB Keiland Williams (24)
  21. LB Robert Henson (24)
  22. OT Selvish Capers (24)
  23. WR Brandon Banks (22)
  24. LS Nick Sundberg (22)
  25. CB Byron Westbrook (25)
  26. OT William Robinson (25)