What a top level draft class means to the Redskins

Back in 2009, when the Redskins drafted Orakpo and Kevin Barnes in the first three rounds of that draft, I gave the Redskins an A for their return in that draft.  That was the only time in six drafts preceding 2011 that I thought the Redskins had come away with a top level haul, which really just ended up being two players.  Orakpo and Barnes still look like starters on this defense, but the lack of depth proves this class unworthy of an A grade.

It’s on the heels of that class — now two years in — where I have given the Redskins another A grade for their draft.  This time around, I’m not worried about the depth of the class.  I know that if you just look at the Redskins from round three and on, they clearly and unconditionally improved their offensive unit at the positions of wide receiver and running back.  They did it by adding five guys at those position, and four guys who ranked in my top 120: Roy Helu, Jr and Evan Royster at RB, and Leonard Hankerson, Niles Paul, and Aldrick Robinson at wide receiver.  In this draft, the Redskins used the depth of those two groups to completely remake their depth chart at those positions.  And there’s hardly any doubt that the Redskins did better in 2011 than they did in 2008 when they used two second round picks on receivers instead of a 3rd, a 5th, and a 6th.

But all that is to ignore any help the Redskins gave their defense in the first two rounds, picking Ryan Kerrigan out of Purdue to play OLB, and Jarvis Jenkins out of Clemson to play defensive line.  This is, perhaps, because I am more excited about what the Redskins did after the second round than what they did in the first two rounds.  But for a roster that wasn’t deep in players who understand the nuances of the 3-4 front, the Redskins managed to trade down in the first round and solve their absolute number one team need at outside linebacker with Kerrigan.

The only players on the board who filled the same need and offered higher upside than Kerrigan were: Von Miller (2nd overall), and Aldon Smith (7th overall).  The Redskins, however, would have drafted Robert Quinn (over Kerrigan) at tenth overall had they not been able to negotate a trade down with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The trade down was possible because of the falling QB Blaine Gabbert, who moved out of the top five and down to where the Redskins were picking.  I wanted the Redskins to stop his fall and make him the pick because Gabbert compares very well to other first round quarterbacks in recent memory, but those all-encompassing trade down opportunities only arise when something (or someone) valuable becomes available at your pick.  Gabbert was valuable, and it would have been status quo for the Redskins to make him the pick there.  There also would have been a good chance of Gabbert failing in Washington because the Redskins would not have had a full draft in over ten years.  The Redskins, instead, played the percentages and replenished the picks they lost trading for Jammal Brown and Donovan McNabb, and in my opinion, took the first actual step towards rebuilding.

Gabbert (or Quinn at no. 10) would have been the selection made in the past by the Redskins front office, because previously, the draft had been used as an extension of free agency.  The best available player to fill needs on offense (Gabbert) or defense (Quinn) would have been too tempting to pass up.  But rebuilding teams don’t use the draft as an extension of free agency.  And the primary reason I gave the Redskins an A draft is because they did not do so this year.  In trading down, they lost out on both Gabbert and (somewhat surprisingly) Quinn, but made Kerrigan the cornerstone pick of a draft defined by the willingness to trade down and leverage the value to rebuild the Washington Redskins.

In a future post, I’ll discuss the somewhat controversial second round pick (Jarvis Jenkins), and examine the genius of landing Leonard Hankerson in the 3rd round, as well as why Santana Moss’ tenure with the Redskins is now ending.