- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2018

At the NFL scouting combine last month, Notre Dame product Quenton Nelson made his case for why teams should use a top-five pick on a guard — a position, historically, taken in the later rounds.

He rattled off Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins: two destructive forces that wreak havoc on a weekly basis. They are both defensive tackles, and defenses are having increasing success up the middle.

“You need guys to stop them,” Nelson said.

There’s no thrill in selecting a guard — no matter the round, truthfully. Remember the mixed reaction to the Redskins selecting Brandon Scherff with the fifth pick in 2014?

But with the NFL draft days away, the Redskins have a pressing need at left guard. The first round starts Thursday.

Shawn Lauvao, last year’s Week 1 starter, is still a free agent, but is unlikely to be brought back because of his injury history and age (30). Spencer Long, another candidate to have played the position, departed for the New York Jets in free agency.

Luckily for the Redskins, there seems to be a quality amount of guards available in the early rounds of the draft.

Outside of Nelson, who will be gone by the time the Redskins will pick at No. 13, UTEP’s Will Hernandez, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn, Ohio State’s Billy Price, Auburn’s Braden Smith, and Iowa’s James Daniels could be prospects who could still be available into the second round. 

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock called this year’s class “one of the deeper interior offensive line classes I’ve seen recently, especially at the top end.”

“So what it comes down to is what kind of offense do you run?” Mayock said. “Are you looking for more of a zone guy? Are you looking for a gap guy? Hernandez is going to show out to a gap-scheme team that wants a mauler. Price is more of a zone-scheme guy at center or guard.”

Under offensive line coach Bill Callahan, the Redskins have run a hybrid of schemes for its offensive line. They mix in zone techniques with power concepts for its running attack, and blockers are asked to learn both.

The Redskins’ running game struggled in 2017, finishing with just 3.6 yards per carry. While that can be blamed on the running back, some of that responsibility falls on the offensive line. Both groups, to be fair, were decimated by injuries. 

Redskins coach Jay Gruden told 106.7 The Fan last month they would consider drafting a guard in the second round if “there’s one we really like, that we feel like can help us right away.” Besides that, he rattled off taking a prospect anywhere from the fourth-to-sixth round.

Complicating matters, the Redskins don’t have a third-round pick in this year’s draft because they traded it away to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Alex Smith deal.

The Redskins also have others needs, namely defensive tackle and running back, at the top of the draft. Publicly, Washington will say they just want the best player available. Because who doesn’t?

On the roster, guard Arie Kouandjio started the last six games of the regular season. He’ll be back for 2018, though he didn’t make Redskins’ 53-man roster out of training camp in 2017. Injuries opened the door for the Redskins to sign him off Baltimore’s practice squad. Besides Kouandjio, the Redskins have veteran Tony Bergstrom and Tyler Catalina.

So if you’re looking for the “sexy” pick in the NFL draft, be prepared that one of the Redskins’ eight selections could be used on a guard. But hey, bigs guys can be fun, too.

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