Life is sweeter for the Washington Redskins on their NFC East division throne. The sunshine is warmer in Cabo and other offseason vacation spots. The Five Guys burgers served in their draft room Sunday were juicier. And coach Mike Shanahan could afford to select high-upside players and value picks in the 2013 draft.
Shanahan didn’t need to play it safe. He could swing for the fence, and he did. That freedom comes with returning 21 of 22 starters from last season’s 10-win division champion. That Redskins team was flawed in some areas, particularly in pass defense, but Washington entered the draft with sufficient talent — especially at the quarterback position — to mitigate those weaknesses
And so Shanahan in Rounds 2 and 3 selected N.C. State cornerback David Amerson and Florida tight end Jordan Reed, respectively, two exceptional athletes with high upsides. They don’t need to make an immediate impact, and they could develop into key pieces of a perennial contender.
Then Shanahan met his annual Day 3 goal of establishing depth by drafting free safeties Phillip Thomas from Fresno State in the fourth round and Bacarri Rambo from Georgia in the sixth. Considering free safety is the only first-string position not occupied by an incumbent, the selections present quality value.
Looking through burgundy and gold lenses, it’s easy to see why the Redskins drafted their seven players when they did. Skepticism about each pick is justified, as always. But Shanahan, director of player personnel Scott Campbell and area scouts have earned the benefit of the doubt because of their results since the 2011 draft, the first in which they operated after a full scouting cycle together.
Amerson likely would have been a first-round pick after the 2011 season, in which his 13 interceptions tied for second-most all time in the Football Bowl Subdivision. At 6-1, 205 pounds, Amerson is now the Redskins‘ biggest cornerback. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds at the NFL combine, an impressive accompaniment to his ball skills.
In 2012, though, he admittedly gave up too many big plays. “I was trying to make everything an interception,” he said Friday. “I started sitting on routes, and eyes in the backfield. It was a lot of me beating myself.”
Shanahan, however, wasn’t deterred.
“We don’t really worry about that,” he said. “We’re going to coach him the way we want to coach him.”
That will include Amerson’s ability to support the run defense. Just as cornerback DeAngelo Hall has become a more physical, willing tackler during Shanahan’s tenure, expect coaches to emphasize that to Amerson.
Reed is an example of Shanahan staying true to the team’s draft board, a vow he made Wednesday. The Redskins entered the draft with some uncertainty at tight end because Fred Davis is on a one-year deal coming off left Achilles’ tendon surgery, but other needs were greater, such as those in the secondary.
Again, Shanahan chose the athlete. Reed started at quarterback for the Gators in the 2011 Outback Bowl before converting to tight end. He’s 6-2, 236 pounds with a 4.72-second 40 time. He needs to improve as a blocker, but he’s a passing-game weapon in the slot and could be used quite creatively in the option game.
Reed “has a great ability to make people miss,” Shanahan said. “When he has the ball in his hands, he can do things with the ball that are very athletic, something that a lot of tight ends can’t do. We weren’t necessarily looking for a tight end, but when he was there we couldn’t pass him up.”