- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The driving force behind Washington’s decision to draft Dwayne Haskins has been well documented over the last two years: Owner Dan Snyder wanted the local quarterback — much to the chagrin of his team’s coaching staff and front office. 

But in the moment, the public had a very different reaction to the selection.

“We got great draft grades,” former coach Jay Gruden said recently on a podcast, laughing. 

When the NFL draft begins Thursday, not every pick Washington chooses will pan out — even if it gets positive reviews initially. Haskins, the 15th overall pick in 2019, was cut before the end of his second season. 

But for the past few years, Washington’s drafts have been generally well-received as draft analysts rush to grade picks in the immediate aftermath of the weekend. The franchise earned the highest grades on average for their classes in 2018 and 2019, and last year, they still ranked 18th — according to roundups conducted by Twitter user, Rene Bugner. 

Teams don’t draft explicitly to win the court of public opinion, but there are plenty of ways that Washington could impress again. Here’s how:

Be bold

The NFL world wants to know whether Washington will trade up for a quarterback. And ESPN reported Wednesday that the team has held conversations with teams to gauge the potential price of moving in the top 10.

Such a move, as discussed, would be costly. Giving away too many assets could lead to criticism. But nothing excites a fan base more than acquiring a quarterback of the future.  In particular, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance would generate tons of excitement given his dual-threat ability. He excites talent evaluators in the media, too — with the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah gushing over Lance’s potential. 

“This is like a Trey Lance pep rally,” he said last week on a conference call. 

Washington may be an ideal landing spot for Lance or Ohio State’s Justin Fields, given they are both projected to need time to develop and Washington has journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick on the roster. 

Fields’ selection could lead to some criticism locally, but that may largely be because he went to the same school as Haskins. But experts stress they are nothing alike.

“They’re very different quarterbacks in terms of their talents, their strengths,” The Athletic’s Dane Brugler said. “As people, they’re very different.”

Take care of weaknesses

If Washington stays at No. 19, addressing a need is always a surefire way to get praise. During the draft process, Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw and Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah have been two of the most popular choices in mock drafts — because they each would fill a hole for Washington.

Washington likely won’t be wrong in choosing either, if they’re available. Darrisaw, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound late-bloomer, needs to develop better technique in the passing game, but he excels at run blocking and has the tools to become a potential Pro Bowl tackle at the NFL level. Owusu-Koramoah, on the other hand, is undersized, though his versatility in playing different spots would be a welcome addition to Washington’s front seven.

For a possible under-the-radar first-round pick that could still be well received, keep an eye on TCU safety Trevon Moehrig. Washington “likes him a lot,” ESPN reported. And what’s not to like? Moehrig, at 6-foot-2, is a rangy player who has enough speed to cover on the back end. Washington has no clear answer at free safety, so Moehrig would go a long way at plugging that hole.

In the later rounds, Washington will need to add to its offense — despite the free-agent additions of Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries.  General manager Martin Mayhew said he sees the strength of this draft at wide receiver. Washington, remember, has two third-round picks, as well.

On defense, Washington could use more cornerback depth. The team signed William Jackson III and Darryl Roberts to replace Ronald Darby and Fabian Moreau, but Washington was relatively healthy at that spot last year and needs to be prepared just in case that changes in 2021.

First, Washington’s priorities should be finding a tackle, linebacker and tight end — not necessarily in that order. Tight end remains a need, even though the team is excited about Sammis Reyes’ raw potential.

Find the fallen

Anytime a well-regarded prospect falls in the draft, the team that scoops him up almost always earns credit for the move.  

In 2017, for example, Washington was given an “A” from Bleacher Report, NFL.com and a variety of other sites when they landed defensive end Jonathan Allen at No. 17 — given the Alabama product was once pegged as a top-five pick before injury concerns tanked his draft stock. 

The candidate to fall in this year’s draft is hard to project. Perhaps Field’s could slide, but it’s hard to see him going past the New England Patriots at No. 15 in a worst-case scenario. The most interesting candidate would be Alabama’s Devonta Smith. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is an ultra-speed threat, though could he unexpectedly fall because of size concerns? 

The 6-foot, 166-pound receiver would be an absolute steal at No. 19, even if the wideout isn’t Washington’s most pressing need.

A candidate for this scenario in the mid-rounds would be Stanford’s Davis Mills. If Washington wants to draft a quarterback, Mills is an obvious choice for Washington’s pick at No. 51 in the second round. But the move would be even better received if they could somehow land him at No. 74 or No. 82 in the third round.

Mills started just 11 games at Stanford and suffered two ACL tears, though he intrigues teams with his upside and physical attributes.

“Davis Mills is a guy that has a beautiful deep ball,” ESPN analyst and former quarterback Dan Orlovsky said on a conference call this month. “He’s got a compact release. He’s more athletic than we get to see because of the Stanford offense.”

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