The symbolism of the Redskins' 2011 draft was as important as the draft itself. For too long they've gotten too little out of what is, for almost every other team, a major source of talent. They've traded picks, plunged headlong into free agency and generally thumbed their noses at conventional wisdom.
And what has it gotten them? Well, since Dan Snyder assumed the director's chair in 1999, it's gotten them one division title - with a roster essentially assembled by the previous administration - and a whole lot of snickering.
But maybe, with this draft, the madness will end. Wheeling and dealing from the opening bell, Mike Shanahan turned eight picks into 12 and infused an aging club with youth - assuming, that is, some of these kids can play. A few more drafts like this, and the Redskins might actually be able to build something lasting instead of a house of cards that collapses every couple of seasons.
Shanahan's maneuverings brought back memories of Bobby Beathard, who loved to stockpile later picks so he could take fliers on Monte Coleman (279th overall), Charlie Brown (201), Barry Wilburn (219), Raleigh McKenzie (290) and others. During the glory years from 1982 to '91, the Redskins were a great Next Man Up team. Whenever a player got hurt, there always was somebody ready to take his place (e.g. Mark Schlereth, a rookie 10th-rounder, stepping in at right guard in 1989 when the line was hit with injuries.)
The Redskins haven't had that kind of depth for a while. In recent seasons, almost every time a starter has gone down, it's been a crisis. There's just been too much focus in the Snyder Era on marquee players and not nearly enough on the rank-and-file types, the guys who are your insurance policies. This was never more evident than last year, when, at too many positions, the Redskins simply had no Plan B. (And sometimes, not even a Plan A.)
It's too bad Shanahan didn't start this process 16 months ago, when he first took over the club. But he deluded himself into thinking the Redskins could contend with a nip here and a tuck there - coupled, of course, with his own coaching genius. He traded his second-round pick for Donovan McNabb, who seemed to age before our eyes. He brought in Larry Johnson's old legs to back up broken-down Clinton Portis. He began the season with 38-year-old Joey Galloway as one of his wideouts. His answer at right tackle, veteran Jammal Brown, turned out to be damaged goods.
At a certain point, though - maybe it was when the scoreboard read Eagles 35, Redskins 0, nine seconds into the second quarter - Shanahan woke up and smelled the coffee. His team wasn't a player or two away . . . or even 10. It needed a major overhaul.
That's what this draft told you as much as anything. It was as if Shanahan was saying, "OK, the quick fix didn't work. Now we'll behave like responsible adults and try to build through the draft - especially since, given the labor situation, there's no telling when we'll have free agency."
Give Shanny credit. He began the proceedings without third- and fourth-round picks (thanks to the McNabb and Brown deals); but he recouped them - and gained other selections - by trading down several times. This strategy made sense for a couple of reasons: (1) he needs help at virtually every position, so the more picks he had the better; (2) it was an unusually deep draft, so dropping down a few spots didn't figure to hurt him much.
Let's face it, scouting is an inexact science. You need some margin for error. And one of the ways you gain this is by gathering extra picks - something the Redskins have rarely done in the past decade. Shanahan, though, has quite a bit of experience in this area. When he was in Denver, he had 10 or more selections in 1996 (12), '99 (12), '00 (10), '03 (10) and '04 (10). Indeed, 11 of the players he took in '99 wound up playing in the league, and six became starters.
Could this year's draft be as bountiful for the Redskins? Perhaps, but we won't know for a year or two. What we do know is that Shanahan has added reinforcements across the board - Ryan Kerrigan (first round) and Markus White (seventh) at linebacker; Jarvis Jenkins (second) and Chris Neild (seventh) in the defensive line; Leonard Hankerson (third), Niles Paul (fifth) and Aldrick Robinson (sixth) at receiver; Roy Helu (fourth) and Evan Royster (sixth) at running back; DeJon Gomes (fifth) and Brandyn Thompson (seventh) in the secondary; and Maurice Hurt (seventh) in the offensive line.
(Shanny even mentioned the ultra-quick Helu in the same breath with Portis. We'll see about that.)
With Kerrigan crashing from one side and Brian Orakpo from the other, the Redskins anticipate a much improved pass rush - which will make the whole (31st-ranked) defense better. And Hankerson, at 6-foot-3, could be the big receiver the offense has been looking for since Art Monk peeled off his No. 81.
What the Redskins' draft is missing - the elephant in the room - is a quarterback. Seven QBs went flying off the board in the first 74 picks, and Shanahan didn't offer at any of them. And this, remember, was considered a very good year for QBs. It was a strange turn of events, to say the least.
This leaves the team, quarterback-wise, with McNabb (who undoubtedly will be traded or released), Rex Grossman (who still has to be re-signed) and John Beck (who hasn't thrown a pass in a regular-season game since he was a rookie in 2007). The only time Shanahan got testy in his post-draft news conference was when he was asked what "strengths" Beck might possess. Shanny merely reiterated that Beck was, in his opinion, "the best quarterback coming out [in '07]. That kind of tells you a lot."
The best quarterback in the 2007 class? File that one under: Damning With Faint Praise. After all, not a single QB from that draft (JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Kevin Kolb, etc.) has made any real mark in the NFL.
You get the sense, though, that Shanahan might have other plans for the position - a free agent, possibly - if the league ever gets back to business as usual. But beyond that, he gets a big thumbs-up for his efforts. Unlike some of his predecessor's feeble attempts, this looks like a draft, smells like a draft and, when all is said and done, might actually be a draft, a block in the foundation.
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