- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2012

Robert Griffin III’s career ultimately will determine whether the Washington Redskins‘ 2012 draft was a success. They traded three first-rounders and a second-round pick for the chance to draft him, so the grade is heavily weighted on his performance.

The Redskins needed much more than a quarterback, though, and they at least added players at thin positions such as offensive line, secondary, inside linebacker and running back. Without knowing how their nine draft picks will perform, Washington moves forward deeper in some problem areas.

Their selection of Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins in the fourth round surprised the player himself, but it makes sense. The Redskins have suffered from instability at the position for years. Considering how erratic the quarterback play was last season, it’s hard to fault Mike Shanahan for gutting the depth chart.

Shanahan repeatedly had stated his goal on Day 3 of the draft was to find players who can make the team and provide depth. Cousins fits that requirement.

Griffin is the undisputed starter, presumably for the next decade. Shanahan made that clear. Cousins, however, is smart, a good leader and capable passer. He and Griffin can grow together, and Cousins should adequately fill in if Griffin were to be injured. And if Griffin never misses a game, perhaps Cousins could be traded similarly to how Matt Schaub or Kevin Kolb were in recent years.

Redsklns fans cast their vote for change when Robert Griffin III's name was announced during Thursday's first round of the NFL Draft. Griffin, the second-overall pick, was last season's Heisman Trophy winner. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
Redsklns fans cast their vote for change when Robert Griffin III’s name ... more >

The lack of offensive line depth last season was a major reason for the team’s 5-11 finish, so it’s no surprise the Redskins drafted three linemen. Their starting five still must be upgraded, particularly at right tackle, in order to establish a dominant running game. But for now the competition for roster spots at least is intensified.

Third-round left guard Josh LeRibeus is an intriguing pick. He played in a man blocking scheme at Southern Methodist but prefers the type of zone blocking scheme the Redskins run. Draft analysts lauded his lateral quickness, which should be an asset on Washington’s stretch runs.

If LeRibeus shines at left guard this summer, that would give Shanahan options on the interior line. Incumbent starter Kory Lichtensteiger’s fitness remains in question following a serious right knee injury, so LeRibeus could provide insurance early on.

Iowa right guard Adam Gettis (fifth round) and South Dakota swing tackle Tom Compton (sixth) have decent chances to make the team because the Redskins‘ offensive line depth is so poor. Gettis fits Shanahan’s mold for athletic, speedy linemen, and Compton has experience playing at both right and left tackle.

They would have to beat out the likes of 2010 seventh-rounder Erik Cook, who hasn’t proved versatile enough inside. Free agent Tyler Polumbus was inconsistent in pass protection after joining the team late last season, and 2011 undrafted free agent Willie Smith struggled with a tendency to bend at the waist and lunge.

As usual, the competition for offensive line spots will be a major storyline. There could be some surprises, especially with health concerns involving Lichtensteiger and incumbent right tackle Jammal Brown.

Drafting Keenan Robinson in the fourth round to provide inside linebacker depth was critical. If London Fletcher had signed elsewhere as a free agent this offseason, the Redskins would have been in a very bad spot. Robinson is fast and aggressive, which is imperative for a player who must read and react inside. He also has extensive special teams experience, which provides value while he learns the difficult inside linebacker responsibilities in coordinator Jim Haslett’s 3-4 defense.

Washington still has holes in the secondary despite drafting SMU cornerback Richard Crawford and Iowa safety Jordan Bernstine in the seventh round. It’s more realistic for late-round 2011 draft picks DeJon Gomes and Brandyn Thompson to make an impact next season at safety and corner, respectively, than Crawford and Bernstine.

It all comes back to Griffin, though. He showed during draft week his mastery of the numerous off-field responsibilities of a franchise quarterback. He handles media as smoothly as a 10-year veteran. He answered the same questions over and over for two hours after he was drafted Thursday night, and each time he responded respectfully as if it were the first time.

He’s infectiously charismatic and also respects the challenges of transitioning to the NFL. We’ll find out soon how good his footwork is and whether he can read defenses. For now, though, the odds seem very good that he’ll be the player the Redskins expect him to be.