After barely missing the playoffs the Washington Redskins can make big strides with a good 2017 NFL Draft, but who might they target in the first round?
Some things in the NFL just never change. Look at the Washington Redskins for example. This team barely missed the playoffs and should be just a player or two away from being considered a real contender. Yet instead of focusing on their 2017 NFL Draft targets, the team is having some power struggles again. An employee of the team and former player, Chris Cooley ripped general manager Scot McCloughan.
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Cooley has always been a loose cannon, but this time he took a shot at McCloghan’s past when he questioned whether or not the GM was drinking. While not an uncommon phrase, McCloghan has experienced alcohol-related struggles in the past and hasn’t hidden it from the organization. As Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk put it:
McCloughan has been open about his problems with alcohol in the past. For his employer to use that in an attempt to discredit him would be disturbing.
On top of this the team is still playing chicken with quarterback Kirk Cousins. He has proven in back-to-back seasons to be a legitimate starter in the NFL, and yet the team still won’t give him a long-term deal. All this clouds the waters as the draft approaches and their needs will vary greatly depending on what they do with Cousins.
Despite all that, we can try and see which direction the Redskins may go come April with these five first-round options in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Jan 1, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Braxton Miller (1) makes a catch as Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2) defends during the first half in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
5. Marshon Lattimore, CB — Ohio State
In 2016 the Redskins made a huge splash by signing cornerback Josh Norman, formerly of the Carolina Panthers. Norman played well and was credited with 67 tackles while also intercepting three passes for his new team. Despite his arrival the defense did still struggle with stopping the pass. For the year they surrendered 258.1 yards per game, which ranked worse than all but seven teams.
With the goal being to rectify that problem, Washington may consider Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The 6-0 corner has enough size to match up with some of the bigger receivers in the game, while also packing enough bulk that he doesn’t get the dreaded “lengthy” label. While Lattimore is one of the highest rated secondary players in the draft, there could be some cause for concern which could lead to him being available when Washington makes their selection at No. 17.
The biggest issue is that Lattimore played in just 16 games for the Buckeyes. After redshirting his freshman year, he only appeared in three games the following season thanks to nagging injuries. He did return in 2016 and played in 13 games as a redshirt sophomore. His play in those games turned heads. Lattimore intercepted four passes while deflecting another nine for Ohio State. He also returned one of his picks for a touchdown during his final collegiate season.
Nov 25, 2016; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver John Ross (1) makes a catch in front of Washington State Cougars cornerback Darrien Molton (3) during the first half at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
4. John Ross, WR — Washington
The Washington Redskins were second in the NFL in passing behind Cousins’ 4,917 yards. He had several great options at his disposal, including two wide receivers who topped the 1,000-yard mark. Pierre Garcon had a team high 79 receptions for 1,041 yards. Fellow wideout DeSean Jackson had 56 receptions for 1,005 yards. They also are both set for free agency this offseason.
In 2016, the Redskins selected Josh Doctson out of TCU in the first round. He had an injury-plagued rookie season in which he only caught two passes. But in college, he was a quality outside receiver. Washington may feel comfortable letting Garcon go and replacing him with the sophomore player. As for the speedy Jackson, it looks like he may be leaving as well with a reunion with his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles highly likely.
To replace him, the Redskins could target John Ross, the receiver from the Washington Huskies. He is similar in stature to Jackson as both are under 6-0 and and less than 200 pounds. They’re also both lightning fast. Ross obviously isn’t as polished as Jackson. He also had just one really good season for Washington, which came in 2016 when he caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns. Washington may not want to go receiver in Round 1 again, but Ross would offset the loss of Jackson by adding another deep threat who would be considerably cheaper, as well as quite a bit younger.
Sep 17, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Dedrick Mills (26) scores a rushing touchdown against Vanderbilt Commodores linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) and cornerback Tre Herndon (31) in the third quarter of their game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Yellow Jackets won 38-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
3. Zach Cunningham, LB — Vanderbilt
Arguably one of the biggest areas of need for the Redskins is in their interior linebacking corps. Both Will Compton and Mason Foster racked up a ton of tackles, but neither one really made the impact plays. With their first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Washington could look for an upgrade there. One of the biggest playmakers available that could become a starter upon arrival is linebacker Zach Cunningham.
At 6-4 and 230 pounds, he was considered to be thin heading into college. However, once he started playing, all he did was destroy offenses. Cunningham was a tackling machine for the Commodores and single-handedly picked apart the Georgia Bulldogs in Vanderbilt’s upset road win over the much higher rated SEC foe. In that game alone, the linebacker recorded 19 tackles while blowing up several plays in the backfield.
Cunningham could still put on some weight as there are times he can struggle to free himself of blockers. When he is able to get around those blocks he is a nightmare. His speed is fantastic and he dissects plays almost instantly. Vandy may not be a powerhouse for sending defensive talent to the NFL, but Cunningham will be an exception to that rule.
Sep 24, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) talks to teammate during the second half of a game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
2. Malik McDowell, DL — Michigan State
The defensive line for Washington could use an upgrade. In fact, it may be their biggest need overall, but finding the right guy is hard. Take Michigan State’s Malik McDowell, for example. He is one of the most talented defensive linemen in the draft, but on the field he just never seemed to put it all together. There are also questions about him disappearing during games and if he gives full effort on every play.
Despite that, his raw skill and size (6-6, 276 pounds) will get him drafted early. In Washington he could be a fit although they would have to figure out where he plays. Is he an end or linebacker in this system? That question would have to be answered before Washington considers him, but according to an unnamed NFC North scout quoted in Lance Zierlien’s NFL.com Draft Profile of McDowell, he is a player with all the tools to be dominant:
He has a chance to be a dominant player in our league. I mean dominant. It hasn’t turned on for him all the way yet but if it does, he could be like Mario Williams. He’s just a little lazy and I worry about whether he is going to be a self-starter.
If Washington could tap McDowell’s potential, he could be a great player for the next decade. If not he could be considered a bust. Risky pick, but high reward for sure.
If the Redskins wise up, this option disappears quickly. If they keep playing this dangerous game with Kirk Cousins, then a quarterback suddenly becomes a gigantic need for them. The problem with letting Cousins walk is there are no better options on the team and really there’s no guarantee a player like Mitch Trubisky from North Carolina will be there at No. 17. Some mock drafts have him going in the top-five, others have him in Round 2. So who knows what will happen.
Trubisky is a talented player with plenty of arm and good accuracy. The problem is that there’s limited tape on him. He was just a full-time starter for one season for the Tar Heels. While he was impressive in that one season, it’s still hard to place a franchise in the hands of a guy with such limited experience.
He also spent the majority of his career in a spread offense, where he hardly lined up under center. In the end, good quarterbacks are hard to find and Trubisky fits that bill. He completed 68 percent of his passes in 2016 for 3,748 yards with 30 touchdowns to just six interceptions. He would be a downgrade from Cousins for a couple years at least, and there’s no guarantees he will ever get to his level. Really, Washington is better served keeping the quarterback they know and building around him. However, things could be worse should Cousins walk and they land Trubisky.