- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2015

Entering his first season as general manager of the Washington Redskins, Scot McCloughan has a vision. He wants strong players, smart players, players with excellent character. 

But above all else, he wants mean players.

“When you get done playing the Washington Redskins, you know you’re playing them. You’re going to feel it,” McCloughan said in a pre-draft press conference Monday. “I want those guys.”

He got one of those guys Thursday night in the first round of the NFL draft. Though the Redskins and their new general manager had opportunities to trade down, they decided to keep the fifth overall pick and add an immediate starter on the offensive line, selecting Brandon Scherff, a 6-foot-5, 320-pound offensive lineman out of Iowa. In the first major surprise of the night, they chose Scherff over defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who was considered by many to be the best overall prospect in the draft. Williams was picked sixth by the New York Jets.

Coach Jay Gruden said the Redskins chose Scherff because they believed he was the best player available. He will enter the upcoming season as the team’s starting right tackle.

“There was a lot of things that happened obviously with the first four picks that had a lot of impact on what we were deciding to do,” Gruden said Thursday night. “When you’re talking about an offensive lineman, you’re talking about a big physical guy, and we want to bring that mentality back to this football team and it starts up front. We addressed the defensive front a little bit in free agency, and I think we had to address the offensive line room, and we did that tonight.”

Scherff was sitting at a table in Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre when he felt his phone vibrate. Gruden was on the other line. “We want you to be a Redskin. How do you feel about that?” the coach asked. “Absolutely,” Scherff answered. After a brief conversation with Gruden and new offensive line coach Bill Callahan, Scherff was on stage, pulling a Redskins hat over his head.

The 23-year-old from Denison, Iowa, did not visit Redskins Park and admitted he was a bit surprised by the pick.

“I’m just happy,” Scherff said. “I really didn’t talk to the Redskins after the combine, but I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to be a Redskin.”

Scherff will be an immediate contributor for the Redskins at a position of legitimate need. He won the Outland Trophy last year as the nation’s top interior offensive lineman and was a consensus all-American. He started 36 games in his collegiate career, spending five years at Iowa and leaving as a redshirt senior. He was widely believed to be the top offensive line prospect in the draft. 

Though Scherff spent most of his career at left tackle, he has the ability to play any position along the offensive line. At right tackle, he will occupy a position that has been in flux, with Tyler Polumbus and Tom Compton sharing time there over the course of last season. Gruden believes Scherff will make a smooth transition but also values his flexibility.

“That’s the exciting thing about Brandon. He’s very versatile,” Gruden said. “Heck, he could probably play center if he wanted to. I think Day 1, we start him out at right tackle. Obviously we have a Pro Bowl left tackle and we’ll start him out at right tackle, see how he does. I’m sure he’ll pick it up quickly.”

Scherff said he models his game after fellow Iowa product Marshal Yanda, who is now a four-time Pro Bowl lineman with the Baltimore Ravens. When asked to describe his style of play, Scherff started off with one word: nasty.

“I think that’s what everybody — every lineman — wants to be known for,” he said. “They want to be known for tough, nasty, physical [play]. I think that just goes to show what [Iowa offensive line] coach Brian Ferentz says back at the University of Iowa. 

Before the Redskins went on the clock, the draft got off to a predictable start, with the past two Heisman Trophy winners going in consecutive picks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started by selecting Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston with the No. 1 overall pick. Then, despite numerous trade rumors, the Tennessee Titans held on to their selection and chose Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

At the third spot, the Jacksonville Jaguars opted to take a local, selecting Florida outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. The Oakland Raiders then followed a pattern of taking talented skill position players, choosing Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. That opened the door for the Redskins to take Scherff, the big, nasty offensive lineman they had targeted all along.

“We had some phone calls here and there,” Gruden said, “but when it comes right down to it, if you have the guy you want, you’ve got to take him. And that’s what happened.”


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