- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS — Last year, the Washington Redskins used their first three draft selections on defense, and six of their 10 picks were on the defensive side of the ball. The focus reflected not just the Redskins‘ needs, but the depth of the 2017 class.

“Sixty-three of [the] 107 players that went in the first three rounds were on defense,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “By far the most ever.”

The Redskins‘ needs in 2018 aren’t as distinct — though there are still clearly areas that need to be upgraded after a pedestrian 7-9 season.

Washington and the rest of the league will get an up-close look at this year’s crop at the NFL Scouting Combine here this week. Scouting is an around-the-clock process, and the combine is a valuable resource for evaluations.

The Redskins have seven picks come April, starting with No. 13 in the first round.

Washington’s most obvious need is to boost its interior defensive line — where there’s a lot of talent to choose from.

“I think interior defensive line at the high end is outstanding,” Mayock said. “I think at least four are going to go [in the first round] — Vita Vea, [Da’Ron] Payne, Maurice Hurst, and Taven Bryan. Harrison Phillips from Stanford is an interesting player. B.J. Hill from North Carolina State. But I’m saying four interior defensive linemen go”

The Redskins finished 11th in defensive DVOA, a metric that measures efficiency, with a unit built around an emerging core of young stars. Players like Matt Ioannidis and Anthony Lanier made strides along the defensive line. First-rounder Jonathan Allen had an immediate impact but only played in five games because of a foot injury.

The Redskins could use a nose guard. Veteran Ziggy Hood slotted in at the position after projected starter Phil Taylor suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. Hood is 31, and the Redskins also like to rotate their defensive lineman, so depth is a necessity.

Up front, the Redskins‘ run defense struggled, giving up a league-worst 4.5 yards per carry and 134.1 yards per game.

Mayock was particularly high on Vea, a 6-foot-4 lineman out of Washington. He compared the 23-year-old to Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who was drafted 11th in 2012.

“Vea is a better player than Poe was coming out of college, more advanced,” Mayock said. “He’s a plug-and-play nose tackle in any scheme. If he runs 4.85 or 4.9 at 342 pounds, to me that’s more impressive than watching [wide receiver] John Ross run a 4.22. Seriously.”

Vea could be available at No. 13 — ESPN’s Mel Kiper has him going to the Redskins in his latest mock draft.

Another name to keep an eye on is Payne, a 6-foot-2, 308-pound defensive tackle out of Alabama. The Redskins were big supporters of Nick Saban’s program last year, using their first two selections on defensive players from Alabama.

Elsewhere, the Redskins will look to bring in weapons for quarterback Alex Smith. The Redskins lost playmakers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to free agency last year, and the replacements failed to match the production.

It won’t matter to him anymore, but soon-to-be former Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins suggested the team needs more speed.

“These guys don’t grow on trees, but if you can find somebody … where you [can] say ‘this guy’s better than your better. He can fly,’” Cousins said in January. “I just know that if we call this route, unless they double him, he’s going to get behind the guy covering him. That adds an element to your offense that really helps. I think that would be a piece that would be great to find, if we can find it.”

Mayock called the wide receivers in this year’s draft “cloudy.” In general, teams are struggling with wideout evaluations. Mayock pointed out that since 2014’s star-studded class of wideouts, only one (Amari Cooper) of the 13 first-round wide receivers taken in the following years have made the Pro Bowl.

But league-wide, teams are desperate to find playmakers. Rookie running backs Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt showed how a dynamic skill set can unlock an entire offense. And for the Redskins, coach Jay Gruden knows how to build an offense without star wide receivers.

Outside of the defensive line and wide receiver, the Redskins could use more depth at linebacker, cornerback and the interior offensive line.

Players start participating in drills Friday.

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