Ranking Washington Redskins' Biggest Needs to Address in the 2014 Draft
The criteria for ranking Washington's biggest draft needs is simple enough. Does it have reliable starters at the position, and if so, is there significant depth behind them? Further to that, does the 2014 class offer viable options at the position?
Jay Gruden and Bruce Allen have gone to great lengths to put Washington in the best possible position to succeed. With the cap penalty lifted, the free-agency acquisitions have been plentiful, and the roster looks better as a result.
There's no doubt that the expectation is higher, too. Robert Griffin III gets a full offseason to learn the new system as well as genuine weapons to throw to.
That's not for today's discussion, however. Instead, the draft remains the topic of conversation. Read on for the top five positions of need in D.C. ahead of the circus coming to town on May 8.
Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather aren't the long-term answers here, that much is true.
However, with Bacarri Rambo in his second season and Phillip Thomas announcing on Twitter that he's cleared to return from the Lisfranc injury that robbed him of his rookie season, there are more reasons to be hopeful this year.
Thomas is a talented playmaker who has aggressive instincts and is strong in the tackle. Even if he doesn't get the nod as a starter, with Rambo, he ensures that Washington has good depth behind its veteran players.
That doesn't mean that Gruden shouldn't take Calvin Pryor or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix should either fall to No. 34, but picking up Clark in free agency gives him a player who has proven himself in the NFL and can also act as a mentor for the younger guys.
Players like Deone Bucannon could be available in the third and wouldn't be so pressured to start Week 1 like Rambo was last year. With Meriweather a tackle away from a lengthy suspension, there is obviously a need for a backup plan.
It's still an area of doubt, but the safety position isn't quite as vulnerable as last year.
4. Inside Linebacker
London Fletcher is gone and Perry Riley has been re-signed, but even with the extra bodies arriving in free agency, the future at inside linebacker is uncertain.
No one really knows what Keenan Robinson can do, but his injury history makes it difficult to depend on him as a contributor. Darryl Sharpton has also had some injuries in his career, and his performances rate better against the run than as an asset in coverage.
Both Shayne Skov and Chris Borland have been linked with Washington since the offseason began, and that logic is sound. With defenders bouncing off ball-carriers in 2013, the defense could use some efficient tacklers whose primary instinct is to kill the play, not make ESPN.
Past Skov and Borland, however, the 2014 draft isn't particularly deep at ILB, which is why it ranks above safety as a position of need. A versatile player like Florida State's Christian Jones is an option, but he'll likely need to sit for at least a year before he's ready to take the field.
With both the safety and linebacker spots facing some questions, they will need to work in absolute harmony in order to succeed.
3. Defensive Line
Rather than picking a position, the defensive line could really use some assessment across the board. Jarvis Jenkins, Barry Cofield and Jason Hatcher are the starting three, but only Hatcher is really guaranteed his place.
Jenkins has struggled to regain his explosiveness after his ACL tear his rookie year, while Cofield is set to count $7,677,500 against the cap in 2014. Someone like Ra'Shede Hageman would offer an immediate upgrade and put real pressure on the opposition, despite being a little raw in terms of technique.
Hageman is a physical freak who compares favorably to JJ Watt in terms of potential. He's not at the same level as Watt was coming into the league, but he has all the tools to reach that level.
In order to offset other defensive frailties, it's absolutely vital that Washington puts pressure on the quarterback. That simply did not happen last year, and opposition signal-callers seemed to have all day to pick apart the secondary.
Watching Tony Romo beat Washington with a herniated disc in Week 16 wasn't pretty, so giving Jim Haslett some more aggression along the line would benefit the team immensely.
2. Offensive Guard
While Gruden locked down the services of Shawn Lauvao, the feeling persists that he overpaid for a player whose pass-blocking strengths come with deficiencies when opening holes for his running backs.
Chris Chester is in line to start again on the right side, but his struggles in 2013 don't instill a lot of confidence for his year. With Josh LeRibeus and Adam Gettis looking like the odd ones out after Mike Shanahan's exit, there will be a lot of college linemen analyzed ahead of the draft.
Griffin's group of pass-catchers has seen significant upgrades, but the question of his durability remains. He still needs better protection, and there will be some talented players available if Washington looks to address the need early on in the draft.
With early picks in each round, Gruden remains well set, despite lacking a first-rounder. UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo and Stanford's David Yankey could be first-year contributors and grow into a full-time role as the season draws to a close.
Su'a-Filo, in particular, possesses an ideal combination of size, strength and quickness that could see him go in the first round for a needy team. Early in the second, he would be a great fit for Washington and give his quarterback a little more reassurance after the snap.
1. Right Tackle
It's been a problem for a while now, but with Gruden and Allen betting heavily on Griffin's return to form this year, right tackle is now the top priority in the 2014 draft.
This isn't an excuse to reach based on need. A starter should be the priority with the 34th overall pick, but the need for a starting-caliber right tackle is glaringly obvious right now.
Taylor Lewan could yet fall out of the first round, and there's a real argument for picking him up. Although he's been playing left tackle since high school, he's well rounded enough to make the switch, has good lateral movement and the overall toughness to make a solid bookend to Trent Williams on the other side.
There is also no depth at left tackle behind Williams, so having a player like Lewan in the team's back pocket would be very beneficial.
Aside from Lewan, Tennessee's Ja'Wuan James could be a solid pickup—especially if he fell to the third round and competed with Tyler Polumbus for the Week 1 starting spot. In size alone, he would be an upgrade, and that size could compensate for his occasional lapses with his footwork. Starting four years at right tackle in the SEC can't hurt, either.
Ohio State's Jack Mewhort, too, would bring some quality to the right side, as well as the versatility to play guard if required. He's strong in the trenches and has enough technique to remain aware of the blitz and his responsibilities.
While there is some drop-off after the first round, picking at No. 34 gives Gruden a borderline first-round choice. It's imperative that Griffin remains upright this year, and Polumbus is unlikely to get the job done.