- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Washington Redskins weren’t kidding when they said they would take the best player available in this weekend’s NFL Draft rather than fill a need.

After swinging a trade with the Atlanta Falcons during yesterday’s first round, they chose three pass catchers in the second round — Michigan State receiver Devin Thomas, Southern Cal tight end Fred Davis and Oklahoma receiver Malcolm Kelly.

That left the six choices in today’s third through seventh rounds to choose the defensive linemen, offensive linemen, defensive backs and linebackers they need.

“Basically what we’ve been doing is following our board,” Redskins executive vice president Vinny Cerrato said. “We were not going to jump down a round or two rounds to go get a need. Whenever we’ve gotten in trouble in the past is when you jump to somewhere else and try to satisfy a need. We’re going to take the best player on the board. Everybody says it. We mean it. We felt this draft would be outstanding in the second and third rounds. We’ve got to make hay with our twos and threes and early fours.”

The Redskins needed a bigger target for quarterback Jason Campbell to complement 5-foot-10 receivers Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El, but adding the 6-foot-2 Thomas, 6-foot-4 Kelly and 6-foot-4 Davis seems to be overkill — except for new coach Jim Zorn or receivers coach Stan Hixon, who said he was “ecstatic” to get both.

“You can imagine my excitement,” said Zorn, a former quarterbacks coach. “It fills out some things on offense. We’ll have an opportunity to stay strong in many situations. The flexibility of personnel groups in this West Coast offense is critical. You [want to] keep speed on the field, guys who can really be difference-makers.”

And with the Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions having rebuffed Washington’s trade overtures for respective star receivers Chad Johnson, Anquan Boldin and Roy Williams, the Redskins had to find their difference-makers in the college ranks.

“It doesn’t mean I’m going to be slap-happy throwing the ball every down,” Zorn said. “It can only help our running game. It could threaten what a defensive coordinator does as he tries to defend the weapons we have.”

Sitting with the 21st pick and with no receivers or tight ends yet taken, the Redskins gambled by trading that selection and a third- and fifth-round pick to the Falcons for Nos. 34 and 48 and a fourth-rounder. The gamble paid off when Thomas, the highest-rated receiver on many draft lists, was still there at No. 34. USC’s 247-pound tight end Davis was the choice at No. 48 and then Oklahoma’s Kelly, who hoped to go to Washington at No. 21, was selected at No. 51.

“I had talked to [Atlanta] during the week and said we were a team that would move back,” Cerrato said. “They called us @ pick 16-17. We said it would take [picks 34 and 48]. They called back and said if our guy’s on the [board], we’ll do it. As it worked out, the same guys we were considering at 21 were there minus [Clemson defensive end] Phillip Merling [who went two picks earlier to Miami].”

Thomas burst into prominence as a junior last season. He set a Michigan State record with 79 catches and averaged 29.1 yards on kickoff returns. Hixon raved about Thomas’ 4.42 speed, size and playmaking ability.

“It was kinda long [waiting], but … I’m happy to be a Redskin so I have no complaints,” Thomas said from a raucous family draft party in Miami. “We had some good conversations when I took my visit, but I had good conversations with a lot of teams so you don’t really know. I’m a dynamic player, a guy that’s going to work hard for his team. I’m a bigger receiver so I definitely use my body … going for jump balls, shielding defenders from the ball.”

Like Thomas, the 22-year-old Davis had his best year last fall with 62 catches, 881 yards and eight touchdowns. The Toledo, Ohio, native didn’t expect Washington to select him because of Cooley, but Cerrato said he had the highest grade on the board at No. 48.

“I can catch the ball, get upfield make plays and I can block as well,” Davis said.

Kelly, whom Cerrato said “stuck out like a sore thumb” at No. 51 after catching 111 passes the past two years, is thrilled to join the Redskins.

“When they called my name, I jumped up,” Kelly said. “I was real excited. I’ve been saying the Redskins for the last two or three days. I’m … a competitor day-in and day-out. I definitely have something to prove to all those teams [who kept passing on him].”

Cerrato, who loves “how explosive” the 21-year-old from Longview, Texas, is off the ball, isn’t worried about Kelly running a subpar 40-yard dash because the Sooners’ strength coach, one of his best friends, assured him that was out of character.

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