- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2008

At great risk to my retinas yesterday, I pored over page after page of the “Complete Pro Football Draft Encyclopedia,” a handy publication put out by the Sporting News. I just had to know whether any team had ever done what the Redskins did over the weekend — that is, take three receivers (in their case, two wideouts and a pass-catching tight end) — in the first two rounds.

The answer is no, not since the NFL and AFL held their first common draft in 1966. (And probably not before that, either — the rounds, after all, being much shorter.)

So within months of hiring a head coach — Jim Zorn — who had never even been a coordinator, Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato have tempted the fates again by selecting wide receivers Devin Thomas (34th overall) and Malcolm Kelly (51st) and tight end Fred Davis (48th) with their first three picks … to the exclusion of all other needs (defensive line, linebacker, what have you).

We’ll take Cerrato’s word for it that the Redskins didn’t plan to go this heavily on receivers, that it was just the way the draft — and their board — fell. You can’t blame a club for wanting to maximize the value of its picks — at least, you can’t blame the club too much.

Besides, loading up on players at a particular position — or in a particular area — isn’t uncommon, nor is it necessarily ill-advised. The 49ers built a Super Bowl secondary in a single draft in ‘81, grabbing Ronnie Lott in the first round, another cornerback, Eric Wright, in the second and strong safety Carlton Williamson in the third. All three became Pro Bowlers, and Lott is in the Hall of Fame.

The Eagles turned the same trick in ‘02, drafting cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown and strong safety Michael Lewis in the first three rounds. Two years later, the trio started in the Super Bowl.

What’s different about the Redskins’ situation is the position they targeted. As any scout will tell you, year in and year out, wide receiver is the deepest position in the draft. You can get a good one, sometimes a great one, in almost any round. Terrell Owens, let’s not forget, was a No. 3, Brandon Marshall was a No. 4, Marques Colston and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were No. 7s and Wes Welker is still waiting for the phone to ring.

As for tight ends, I’ll just point out that Cooley and Jason Witten, the two NFC Pro Bowlers last year, both went in the third round (and in the AFC, Antonio Gates wasn’t drafted at all).

For Snyder and Cerrato, of course, the proof will be in the playing. If Thomas, Davis and Kelly all contribute to the cause, no one will gripe too loudly about the pass rusher the Redskins didn’t take. But with Cooley ahead of him, it’s hard to see Davis being a significant factor … unless Chris is incapacitated. Yes, Zorn could run a lot of two-tight end sets, but if he wanted to that, then why draft two wideouts so early?

Speaking of which, the Thomas-Kelly exacta in Round 2 smacks of the dual Antwaan Randle El-Brandon Lloyd acquisitions in ‘06 — of overkill, of redundancy. It’s almost like the front office is saying, “If we bring in two of these guys, one of ‘em has gotta pan out.” Not the way you want to be doing business in the NFL. Draft picks — and cap dollars — are simply too precious.

And really, the Redskins can’t expect to bat much better than .500 on the two wide receivers. Why? Because history tells us so. Five years ago, you may recall, the Cardinals selected Bryant Johnson in the first round and Anquan Boldin in the second. Johnson has been ordinary, Boldin a star. In ‘96, the Jets drafted Keyshawn Johnson first overall and Alex Van Dyke at the top of Round 2. Keyshawn: Almost Canton material. Van Dyke: 26 career catches.

It was the same deal in ‘85 with the Bengals. One of their first-rounders was David Verser, who never caught more than seven passes in any of his six seasons. But their second-rounder, Cris Collinsworth, made up for it.

Those are the last three times — before now — a team has taken two wideouts in the first two rounds. It’s not unheard of, in other words, but it’s unusual. And to add to this twosome a tight end whose greatest talent is as a receiver … you’re going into uncharted territory there.

And now it’s up to Zorn, the rookie coach, to sort it all out. (With Santana Moss and Randle El still around, the position certainly is well populated.) He can only hope his big-body wideouts, who measure 6-4 (Kelly) and 6-2 (Thomas), lean more toward Art Monk than Rod Gardner.

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