- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2020

Ron Rivera found the moment to whisk Chase Young away for a quiet chat. It was at the NFL scouting combine, and the Redskins coach pulled the highly sought-after defensive lineman aside for a brief one-on-one.

As the two talked, Rivera said he noticed that Young’s eyes “light up” when the topic turns to football — a reflection of the desire, drive and push Rivera and others saw in the 21-year-old’s ability to dominate games at Ohio State.

Rivera was sold.

“That 15 minutes really helped me in terms of just solidifying who he was for us,” Rivera said Saturday, recalling the conversation with the defensive end.

In Young, the second overall pick in Thursday’s opening round of the NFL draft, Rivera and the Redskins believe they’ve found a franchise cornerstone whose impact will be felt right away.

The 6-foot-5 pass rusher was the big prize in Rivera’s first draft with the Redskins, but the pick was representative of a larger strategy Washington executed over the weekend.

With eight selections in this year’s draft — including one acquired from trading tackle Trent Williams to the San Francisco 49ers — the Redskins focused on finding fast, versatile players with the character traits that Rivera has consistently said he’s been seeking since Washington hired him late last year.

That focus on versatility led to selections like Memphis’ Antonio Gibson, a third-rounder who is capable of lining up at both wide receiver and running back. Gibson considers himself an all-purpose “weapon” and Rivera even compared him to All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey.

For Rivera’s Redskins, it’s important to draft players who won’t be “pigeon-holed” into just one position.

“There’s an opportunity for us to find ways to use them, to get them on the field,” Rivera said. “And that’s a way for the player to also try and use his talents to get on the field as much, as quickly as possible.”

Young, of course, may be one of the most versatile players in the entire draft.

Rivera raved about Young’s ability to complement the rest of the Redskins’ defensive front, adding his presence will help the offense get the ball back quicker.

Rivera and others graded the No. 2 pick the best player in the draft — Rivera told reporters another team could not have created a trade package enticing enough for the Redskins to move down.

“Chase was the one guy that would really carry the load for us as far as that pick,” he said.

Beyond Young, the Redskins addressed a need for offensive playmakers. While it was surprising Washington didn’t draft a tight end, the Redskins added Gibson and Liberty wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden to lift an offense that ranked dead-last in points.

Redskins vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith called Gibson a “Swiss army knife,” while Gandy-Golden had the fourth-most receiving yards (1,379) in the nation last year.

Gibson and Gandy-Golden have skill sets that should complement the offense. Gandy-Golden, with his 6-foot-4 frame, is more of a possession receiver. He boosted his draft stock by improving on limiting his drops during his final season at Liberty.

Gibson’s versatility, by contrast, means the Redskins can line him up all over the field — the slot, the backfield, out wide. At Memphis, the 21-year-old scored 14 touchdowns on 77 touches last season.

“Just being that gadget guy — wherever they need me, I’m willing to go,” Gibson said.

There was one pick that didn’t seem to be an obvious mesh with Rivera’s philosophy: LSU tackle Saahdiq Charles. The Redskins used the 108th overall pick on Charles, but the 20-year-old had character concerns as he was suspended six games at LSU for drugs.

The Redskins, though, dove deep into Charles’ history, and were impressed with Charles’ ability to own up to the situation.

Rivera said he talked to LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who gave a positive review of Charles’ willingness to learn from his mistakes. Rivera added Charles will be on a “short leash.”

Still, the Redskins saw enough to take Charles as their potential replacement for Williams.

“We feel very confident in the kid,” Smith said. “We’re comfortable with everything, the research that we’ve done. And we’re really excited for the kid, I know he is too. He’s got a chip on his shoulder, he understands why he was taken where he was.”

In later rounds, the Redskins took question marks with upsides. Fifth-rounder Khaleke Hudson was a hybrid safety and linebacker at Michigan, though draft experts voiced concerns whether he’d be too small to play in the NFL.

San Diego State’s Keith Ismael, also taken in the fifth, can play all three interior offensive line spots, but will have to build strength to handle opposing defensive linemen.

Still, when Rivera looks back on the Redskins’ offseason, he sounds pleased. After inheriting a 3-13 roster, the 58-year-old went about free agency building Washington’s depth and added veterans he felt could play right away. Now in the draft, Rivera continued to stockpile versatile, undervalued players.

In total, the Redskins have added more than 20 players since Rivera arrived more than three months ago.

By the time the Redskins make their final cuts before the season, almost half of the roster could be in Rivera’s image.

“You look at the guys who have contributed on this team from the last three drafts, you feel pretty confident and comfortable and you can add some key veteran guys and young guys that continue to develop,” Rivera said, “I think the turnaround can be a little bit quicker than expected, at least I expected.”

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