- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2018

While watching film of then-Alabama, now-Redskins defensive lineman Jonathan Allen before last year’s NFL draft, another player on the Crimson Tide’s front line caught coach Jay Gruden’s eye.

One year later, that Alabama lineman, Da’Ron Payne, followed in the footsteps of his former teammate Allen, by becoming the second straight Redskins’ No. 1 pick from the Tide.   

“Putting some of that tape on from a year ago and watching those two guys side-by-side working, it’s tough sledding,” Gruden said.

The addition of Payne should help the Redskins address a major need: defensive tackle. Gruden and Co. are confident, the 6-foot-3 run stuffer can help transform last year’s 32nd-ranked run defense into a respectable unit. Tough sledding, as Gruden put it.

All eight players the Redskins took in last week’s draft have the chance to have an impact right away.

From Payne to LSU running back Derrius Guice and Virginia Tech defensive tackle Tim Settle, the Redskins tried to patch up obvious holes. Fixing the team’s run game and run defense appeared to be the priority.

“We feel good about the team we already have,” Gruden said. “Now it’s about adding good quality players, which we did.”

The Redskins made a major splash on Day 2, drafting Guice with the 59th overall pick — stopping an unexpected slide for a running back analysts had projected as a late first to early second round pick.

Guice was the seventh back taken, a surprise considering he was seen by some as the second-best runner behind Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. Washington even landed him despite trading back in the second round.

Guice fell amid reports that he’d gotten into an altercation during his meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles — though both Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and Guice himself denied the report.

Guice also created a stir at the NFL scouting combine, saying in a radio interview that a team asked him if he liked men. The NFL said they found no evidence of Guice’s claims this week.

“No one wants to hear their name be slandered like that,” Guice told reporters of his drop, adding later, “Now, I’m going to run angrier than ever.”

On the field, Guice has the potential to upgrade the Redskins’ 28th-ranked rushing attack. The LSU product ran for 1,251 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Gruden praised Guice as a hard-nosed runner, while also saying the team didn’t have concerns about Guice’s character.

Elsewhere, the Redskins feel like they got a steal in the fifth round with Virginia Tech’s Settle, a 6-foot-3, 329-pound defensive tackle. Gruden said Settle was ranked as a second-to-third round prospect on the team’s draft board.

Settle and Payne are not redundant picks. The Redskins like to rotate defensive linemen, and they had success doing so last season. The more — and bigger — the bodies, the better.

Gruden said he “feels good” about the Redskins’ physicality.

“I like where we’re headed,” Gruden said.

The Redskins will have an open competition at punt returner after a so-so year from Jamison Crowder in the role. Seventh-rounders Greg Stroman, a cornerback from Virginia Tech, and Trey Quinn, a wide receiver from SMU, have return experience.

A couple of picks may be longer-term projects: Fourth-round safety Troy Apke ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the combine, and is still learning the position. And Gruden said linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, the team’s fifth-round choice, was “one of the smarter players I’ve heard about.”

The team’s only headscratcher? Tackle Geron Christian in the third round. Tackle wasn’t a pressing need, though starters Trent Williams and Morgan Moses won’t be ready until training camp while they recover from surgeries.

Gruden said he anticipates this year’s class having “an immediate impact.”

“We’re going to give them every opportunity to do that, but we also have guys in-house that aren’t going to give their job away easy,” Gruden said.

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