Washington Redskins: 5 First-Round Options To Watch At 2017 NFL Combine

The Washington Redskins sit in the middle of the first round in the 2017 NFL Draft. Which prospects for that pick should they be watching at the NFL Combine?

The Washington Redskins have a pivotal offseason in front of them. Besides the lingering free agency questions regarding quarterback Kirk Cousins and wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, Washington has numerous holes to fill. The Redskins have nine picks in the 2017 NFL Draft and a defense in need of a talent infusion.

General manager Scot McCloughan is a firm believer in selecting the best player available. For a team with numerous holes, he can select the BPA while also filling a need. So, while the Redskins need defense, specifically along the defensive line, if a player like running back Dalvin Cook falls to him, don’t be surprised if he is the player chosen.

With the BPA mentality of this front office in mind, the upcoming 2017 NFL Combine is going to pivotal. Watching players run the 40-yard dash and take part in other physical drills, seeing how players perform in on-field drills, and getting to interview these young men can do a lot for their draft stock and force teams’ boards to shift a bit.

Knowing what the Redskins need in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft and looking at the potential first-round options for Washington, these are the five players that the teams should be watching at the NFL Combine.

Sep 24, 2016; Tucson, AZ, USA; Washington Huskies defensive back Budda Baker (32) celebrates after a Arizona Wildcats fumble during the fourth quarter at Arizona Stadium. Washington won 35-28 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

5. Budda Baker, FS – Washington

The Redskins have needed help at free safety since the death of Sean Taylor in 2007. Unfortunately, Washington has continued to sign over-the-hill veterans or transform cornerbacks into safeties in hopes of receiving adequate production from the position. It hasn’t worked.

Budda Baker, a 5-10, 190-pound safety from Washington, could be the perfect choice for McCloughan. Remember, McCloughan was in Seattle when the Seahawks chose All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas back in 2010.

While Baker isn’t Thomas, he is a true free safety in a draft that has some good options at the position. Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker are likely top-10 selections, meaning Baker should be available for Washington at No. 17.

Baker is a true center-fielder that brings physicality to the position, too. While he may be considered a bit small for the safety position at the NFL level, he doesn’t play like it. Baker is a physical player that will be active in the run game. He’s a smart player who plays with instincts and is a good blitzer. He can line up in the slot and cover receivers when needed. Even still his measurements at the Combine, in addition to his lateral quickness times, will be eyed by Washington and other potential suitors. 

The safety helped change the Washington program upon his arrival on campus, according to co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, per Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com:

It was the No. 1 thing we had to get done when we first arrived here. All you had to do was watch the tape — he was a once-in-a-decade type of a player.

Now, he could change another Washington’s fortunes. Subsequently, Baker would be an excellent choice.

Sep 26, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) breaks though the Central Michigan offensive line during the 2nd half of a game at Spartan Stadium. MSU won 30-10. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

4. Malik McDowell, DL – Michigan State

Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell is a bit of an enigma. He possesses all-world talent, but it didn’t exactly show up for the Spartans on a consistent basis. McDowell was outstanding as a sophomore in 2015. However, he appeared to take a step back in 2016. If you watch his film, you see a player who doesn’t give maximum effort on every play. When he does, he can be dominant. He’s scheme-versatile and can move all around the defensive line.

If you’re drafting solely on potential, McDowell could be a top-five pick. Drafting on potential often gets general managers fired. Will McCloughan roll the dice on a player like McDowell? Remember, his first three picks last year either didn’t see the field much or struggled. With recent reports that team president Bruce Allen is putting the pressure on McCloughan to nail this draft, McDowell could be a risky proposition. Like many others in this class, that puts extra weight on how he interviews at the Combine. 

McDowell has a higher ceiling than Jonathan Allen but isn’t nearly as consistent or productive. He could, however, be the steal of the draft if that potential turns into production. With new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula on board, the Redskins now have one of the more respected D-line coaches in all of the NFL. Would McCloughan roll the dice and trust Tomsula with the talented McDowell?

Sep 30, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver John Ross (1) warms-up before the start of a game against the Stanford Cardinal at Husky Stadium. Washington won 44-6. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

3. John Ross, WR – Washington

Another Washington player for Washington? Sure, why not—especially with one as talented as John Ross. Don’t scoff at the notion Washington could select the speedy Ross. Remember, DeSean Jackson is a free agent and probably won’t be back in D.C. next season. So why not take a player who appears to be the closest thing to Jackson in years?

Sure, every year at this time fans and evaluators compare someone to DeSean Jackson. And no one has come close to Jackson since he entered the league back in 2008. He brings a unique skill-set to the wide receiver position that no one else brings. His speed and ability to track the football are elite.

Ross dominated the Pac-12 in 2016, catching 81 passed for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Huskies. He claimed he recently ran the 40 in 4.3 seconds, per Emily Kaplan of MMQB. That’s fast. Seeing if he touches that mark at the Combine will obviously be worth watching

And speaking of Jackson, he took notice of Ross last season, according to Kaplan, and the two began working out together. Both are from Long Beach, so the connection was more than just about Ross’ ability to run past the secondary like Jackson. What will be critical in Indianapolis is how Ross looks in drills, in addition to what teams take away from the interviews. 

Sep 5, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook (4) runs in the fourth quarter as Mississippi Rebels defensive back Zedrick Woods (36) defends at Camping World Stadium. Florida State Seminoles won 45-34. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

2. Dalvin Cook, RB – Florida State

Remember the narrative from years back when running backs were being phased out and no one would use a first-round pick on them? Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliot have flipped that narrative with outstanding rookie seasons the last two years after both were chosen in the top 10. Now the running back position is back in vogue and this happens to be one of the deeper running back classes in recent memory.

While most analysts have Leonard Fournette at the top of the list, Dalvin Cook could end up being the best back in this draft. He’s the type of player who can change the game on one play. He’s a dynamic runner capable of breaking the big play every time he touches the ball. He’s a three-down back because he is a good receiver out of the backfield. Cook can dominate defenders if he gets them one-on-one in space.

The concern with Cook is a few off-field incidents (per Fox Sports)—although he was cleared of any wrongdoing. Cook had an incident with a BB gun, an arrest for battery and he was also cited for mistreatment of animals. So any team that drafts Cook will check into his background to make sure these things aren’t a pattern. Cook’s also had shoulder surgery, too, so teams will certainly put him through a battery of tests to make sure that isn’t a recurring injury. That makes both his medicals and interviewing at the Combine critical. 

Cook could take Washington’s offense to another level if selected. The Redskins started undrafted rookie Robert Kelley last season, and while Kelley proved solid, he doesn’t appear to be the long-term answer at the position. Kelley gets only the yards that are blocked for him and rarely creates anything on his own. As he should show at the Combine with his burst and vision in drills, Cook can do much more. 

All told, Cook could easily go in the top 10, but he could also slide down the board a bit. If the Redskins address some defensive areas in free agency, Cook could very well be in play for the Skins with the 17th pick.

Dec 30, 2016; El Paso, TX, USA; Stanford Cardinal defensive lineman Solomon Thomas (90) celebrates with head coach David Shaw (L) after defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels 25-23 at Sun Bowl Stadium. Thomas was named MVP of the game. Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

1. Solomon Thomas, DE – Stanford

The Redskins need tons of help along the defensive line. With plenty of money to spend in free agency, Washington will look to address the defensive line with veterans entering their primes. However, the Redskins will likely select a defensive lineman or two in the draft in order to rebuild depth to a unit that’s been a weakness for years.

Perhaps the best defensive lineman in this draft—outside of Myles Garrett—is Solomon Thomas of Stanford. Yes, that means even better than Jonathan Allen. Now, Allen was certainly the better college player at Alabama, but did you see Thomas against North Carolina in the Sun Bowl?

Thomas essentially did that all game long. UNC had no answer for him. And it wasn’t just the Tar Heels Thomas terrorized. Thomas was a nightmare for opposing Pac-12 schools in 2016.

The great thing about Thomas is his versatility. You can line him up anywhere along the defensive line and he’ll make an impact. While he isn’t as big as some would like (6-3, 273 pounds), he’s exceptionally strong and moves like a player much smaller. You can expect Thomas to really open some eyes at the Combine.

The trouble with Thomas and the Redskins is that he may not even be available by the time Washington selects. His stock will rise because his film is good, he will have terrific workouts and he’ll blow executives away in the interview process.

While people will call Garrett a transcendent talent—and he could be—it’s easy to forget about how special Thomas is. Could his size cause him to fall in the draft a little? Or could teams be concerned that he didn’t post ridiculous stat totals? They shouldn’t be. Thomas is an impact player and a future All-Pro. If he falls to No. 17, the Redskins should rush the card in immediately.

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