SBy HOGAN LEPORE
It is now the offseason for the Washington Redskins after a tough loss to the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs. Luckily enough for me, I was able to attend the game. I was quite surprised actually, the atmosphere at FedEx Field was at an all-time high, I have never seen Redskins’ fans so proud to be apart of the franchise. I have been to FedEx Field in previous years and in those visits the atmosphere was definitely not as positive as it was this season. Of course it was a postseason game but I believe that is why the atmosphere was so exhilarating.
It seems this organization is starting to turn the corner and hit its stride. General Manager Scot McCloughan has definitely put this organization on the path to success, as he developed the NFL’s most impactful rookie class in 2015. McCloughan was brought in by team owner Dan Snyder because of his unique ability to draft and develop. His most recent and significant work of art, so to speak, was during the regime in Seattle where McCloughan was the Senior Personnel Executive and helped the Seahawks win a Super Bowl back in 2013.
In just his second year, McCloughan has devised a plethora of promising, talented young men to his 53-man roster, most notably Bashaud Breeland, Brandon Scherff and Jamison Crowder. Perhaps McCloughan’s biggest gem of his Redskins run thus far has been the selection of Kyshoen Jarrett, a safety from Virginia Tech, in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Jarrett was a force at the back-end of that Washington defense this season. Although the Redskins’ General Manager is a ‘build through the draft’ kind of guy, he does not shy away from free agency.
Usually in the NFL, when we think about the draft and develop, we think of Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers. Of course, when we think of Thompson we also think of no free agent signings. McCloughan is a little different in that regard. He is not afraid to sign a new body off the street. If McCloughan sees a hole in his roster, he fixes it. One good example is last offseason when he managed to sign two high dollar defensive tackles in Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea, thus helping to bolster that thin defensive line spot for Washington. Both were not as effective as expected, but that justifies McCloughan’s overall ‘build through the draft’ philosophy.
I will focus on the Redskins’ top three options at pick number 21, including insight on each prospect. Washington’s positions of need (ordered from greatest need to least) are cornerback, inside linebacker and safety.
Reggie Ragland, an inside linebacker from national champion Alabama, is the best, truest inside linebacker in this year’s draft. He has a unique instinct for the ball and great tackling form, very rarely do you see Ragland miss a tackle. Ragland won the will linebacker starting position back during his junior season in 2014 and never relinquished it. The unanimous first team All-American was the heartbeat for arguably the nation’s top defense during their championship season. The Redskins have a log jam of sorts at the inside linebacker position, where they have many viable options, but do not have a Pro Bowl caliber player. They could add one by drafting Ragland. Reggie Ragland is currently ranked as the 16th overall draft prospect according to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report.
Jaylon Smith, inside linebacker from Notre Dame. Smith is probably the most athletic inside linebacker in this year’s draft. When evaluating him, it looks like there is a running back at the linebacker position. Smith’s greatest strengths are pass rushing, defending the run and covering plenty of ground. Smith had a brilliant junior year this season until he blew out his knee, tearing both his ACL and his LCL. He underwent reconstructive surgery to repair all damages. This injury did hurt Smith’s draft stock a bit. The sure-fire top-five pick from summer workouts until his injury, has seen his overall ranking go down a bit. Although Jaylon might not care, his injury has indeed cost him over $10 million. The top five picks of the first round in the NFL Draft are usually offered a starting contract of four years, $22.6 million. Mid-round selections usually make a starting level of about four years, $9 million. So Smith has other things on the line besides just draft stock.
That being said, Washington would get another Pro Bowl caliber backer in Smith. The All-American and Butkus Award winner is currently ranked as the second overall draft prospect according to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report.
Last, but certainly nowhere close to being least is cornerback Mackensie Alexander of Clemson. I am not a betting man, but if I were to bet on who the Redskins would take in the first round I would bet on Alexander. This is the Skins’ biggest need and Alexander is one of the best in college. A tweet by Matt Miller read, verbatim, “In the final 24 games of his #Clemson career, Mackensie Alexander allowed 0 TDs.” This stat is astounding. Alexander excels in man coverage, football IQ, instincts, speed (both acceleration and recovery speed), physicality and his work ethic.
It is tough to say whether he is the best corner in this year’s draft, but he is certainly one of the best. The First-Team All-ACC corner decided to forgo both his junior and senior year in order to enter the draft. I feel the Redskins will not waste anytime weighing their selection if Alexander is still on the board at 21st. Mackensie Alexander is currently ranked 10th on Matt Miller’s Overall Top 300 Big Board.
But the Redskins’ offseason doesn’t end there. McCloughan is also very aware of his current players who might be on their way out.
The most notable free agent that must be the top priority for the Redskins is quarterback Kirk Cousins, who helped lead Washington to a postseason berth. Other big names include Terrance Knighton (DT), Alfred Morris (RB), Chris Thompson (RB), Darrel Young (FB), Will Compton (ILB), Mason Foster (ILB), Junior Galette (OLB) and Duke Ihenacho (SS).
Although the NFL’s salary cap will grow to somewhere around $150 million this coming offseason, signing most of these guys could be hard to do with only $13.5 million in cap space so McCloughan will look to restructure contracts like Desean Jackson’s and/or Pierre Garcon’s. It is tough seeing McCloughan keeping both Jackson and Garcon, so McCloughan might look to free agency to sure up that position. A couple reassuring names are Mohamed Sanu or even Rishard Matthews (both pending free agents). Time will tell what happens with the Redskins this offseason, they have many impending free agents but I believe Scot McCloughan will do a fine job maneuvering contracts and staying under the cap number.
It is no secret the Redskins had a surprising season, and it looks like their success will continue. The Redskins seem to be the team with the most potential in their division and with Scot McCloughan at the helm I believe the Redskins are the offseason favorite to win the NFC East again next season.