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How the Redskins should draft next week

Nothing quite riles up a fanbase like the weeks leading up to the NFL draft. This year, in particular, Redskins fans find themselves a bit divided. On a team with so many needs, the options with the #10 pick are endless -- from taking a quarterback, taking a pass-rusher, reaching for Mike Pouncey, trading down, trading up, etc.

Then comes the second round pick, the only light in the tunnel for three rounds. After pick #41, the Redskins have to wait for 103 quality players and potential future starters to fall off the board -- until we get to round 5 -- before making another selection. Pressure's on, Bruce.

Everyone has their own opinion about what to do with these picks. I want to run through several scenarios before ultimately convincing you of the best way to go at the top and in the second.

First, some ground rules for picking in the top 10.

1) Pick a longtime starter. In the top 10, you have to pick someone you think will start for a long time -- like, 8+ years. Many of the Redskins' top picks in the past few years fit that bill. Trent Williams, LaRon Landry, the late Sean Taylor and many others validate this point.

2) Don't reach. You're in the top 10. If you're reaching, you should be trading down. Someone on the board is an elite player at their position, even if you don't need them, so in theory, someone should want them. You have to get value out of a top 10 pick because of the money and because of the stakes -- in theory, you shouldn't pick in the top 10 that often.

3) If possible, try not to gamble. You know that feeling you had when the 'Skins picked Orakpo? Or the one you had when they picked LaRon Landry? You just said to yourself, "there's no question that guy's gonna be good."

They passed every single smell test. They showed extensive good play in college, they didn't have any character issues, they were great athletes and smart football players. Any single team in the top 10 had to consider drafting this person. You always want one of those. You don't want any Tyson Alualu's. (Despite the fact that the guy can play.)

Last rule and projection after the jump...

The final rule for drafting in the top 10:

4) Pick a worthwhile position. Here lies the crux of my argument.

Assessing a player's value is often tied to assessing the value of a player's position. Think of it this way -- if you plugged in an average NFL starter at that position instead of someone else, how much would the team be affected?

For instance, if you plugged in Derrick Dockery on the Chargers offensive line instead of Pro-Bowl guard Kris Dielman, do you think the team would be completely different? No. I'm as aware of the importance of the offensive line as anyone, especially given the struggles we've had in Washington. But the truth holds. Being deep on 4/5 of the offensive line is much more important than being top-heavy.

If you put in David Gerrard instead of Peyton Manning, would the Colts be different? Abso-freaking-lutely.

That, of course, is the extreme. The rule applies to many other positions.

Staying on the offensive line, did the Redskins suffer hugely when Trent Williams went out and Stephon Heyer came in? Yes. Left tackle is a premium position in the NFL, no question about it. If that's a need, picking a left tackle in the top 10 is always defensible.

But there are other premium positions. For instance, imagine the Cowboys defense with Lorenzo Alexander at OLB instead of Demarcus Ware. Or the Steelers with Alexander instead of LaMar Woodley or James Harrison. That OLB position in a 3-4 is tremendously important. Imagine the Redskins running with a mediocre player at the 3-4, like Andre Carter was, instead of Brian Orakpo. We'd have had an unquestionably worse record (heck, the Cowboys game would have been a loss on the last play).

Another way to think of this argument is to think of the impact on the team made by the addition of one player. In other words, what kind of player would make the most impact for the fastest and the longest time?

If you pick a cornerback in the top 10, you better be doing it because your secondary needs big help. (Ours doesn't, really.) If you're picking an offensive lineman, like we did last year, it better be because that guy can play his heart out and he can improve the play of the team noticeably from day 1 (Trent Williams fits. Does Tyron Smith, at right tackle?). You shouldn't draft a situational guy, or a guy who has to change his entire game unless you are prepared to wait on him, which the Redskins shouldn't be. They need starters, and they need them yesterday.

That brings me to my ultimate conclusion -- who the Redskins need to take at #10.

Robert Quinn.

The guy fits every single bill. At a mere 20 years old, the guy has a long career in front of him (not to mention fresh legs after missing this season). A year ago, he would have been a top-5 pick, making it difficult to say he wouldn't qualify as one of those, "Ok, he's definitely going to be good," guys. He is not a gamble -- no current health problems, reportedly is of high character and won't need to be babysat for a few years as he develops.

Adding another pass rusher would at least disguise several of the gaping holes on the defense and, hopefully, make the unit competitive while those holes are filled over the next year or two. Brian Orakpo was the only consistent pass-rusher last season. Adding another would do wonders for the defense, which was unable to get any consistent pressure on quarterbacks. When your division has three Pro Bowl quarterbacks in it, you need to make the game harder on them. No longer could offenses gameplan only for Orakpo; they'd have to consider the challenges of picking up two premier pass-rushers from the outside every third down. That is why the Redskins switched to the 3-4 in the first place, after all, essentially forsaking their past season in the process.

We didn't see Robert Quinn play football last year, which is the only reason the kid isn't going in the top 5. The eligibility issue has been long discussed. I don't see it as a problem, and neither should you. This isn't a Dez Bryant-type guy that has other issues. This is a high character kid, from all reports, who made a bad decision. That said, because he hasn't played for a year, he may come out a bit rusty. But in this lockout season, there's a good chance everyone will be rusty.

Now, given my criteria, there are a lot of other players the Redskins could draft. Personally, I think it eliminates picking a 3-4 end. I don't think JJ Watt would be *that* much of an upgrade over Carriker or Phillip Daniels (despite Phil's age). I don't think Julio Jones would make *that* much of a difference on the offense at this point, considering we don't have a quarterback. (I also think Jones is going to Cleveland at #6.) And I don't think drafting Mike Pouncey, who projects as a quality guard or center, would be the right decision at #10, because he wouldn't drastically affect the offense. Yes, he would be a good upgrade, but how much better is he than a guy the Redskins could draft in later rounds? And would he impact the W-L record next year and for years to come as much as a big-time pass-rusher? Nope.

My strategy does not, though, eliminate the possibility of picking one position. Quarterback.

I wrote around this time last year, when the Redskins were picking #4 (but before they had picked up McNabb), that if the Shanahans and Allen saw a true franchise guy fall to them at #4 we couldn't fault them for taking him.

I maintain this position. Nothing impacts the team more than the quarterback. No team in the league can play anymore without a truly great quarterback. The ridiculous "Trent Dilfer argument" is no longer applicable. There wasn't one quarterback in last year's playoffs who wasn't at the top of the game, including Matt Hasselbeck.

That said, I don't think there is a guy at #10 who would really fit in Washington. I happen to think Blaine Gabbert would be a nice fit given his mobility and accuracy, but he will be gone by #5. Cam Newton, thankfully, will be long gone before the Redskins could even think about taking a huge risk on him.

I have to say, though, that if Kyle, Mike, and Bruce think Jake Locker is truly a franchise quarterback, they have every right to take him at #10. Would I like them to trade down instead and take him later? Of course. Would I rather them take Quinn? 100 percent, yes. But you can't pass on a franchise quarterback when your guy is Rex Grossman. That's just reality. Filling the quarterback spot is always a priority in today's NFL. Missing on that pick is huge -- and it goes against the "avoid risk at all costs" of my formula above -- but the reward is too high. So if Locker is the pick, don't boo. Don't lose your mind. That would mean the staff sees a truly great quarterback in their future. And, for better or worse, we'd be stuck with him.

All that said, I don't think we will see Locker at #10. I think his accuracy issues will deter our boys from making that decision. My guess, for the record, is that Robert Quinn is a Redskin next week, and if he is, we should all jump for joy. Our No. 31 defense will be significantly better from the moment he's on the field.

Second round strategy

At this point, the Redskins will have (hopefully) filled a major need on the defensive side of the ball. Assuming they do that, whether it's Watt, Quinn, etc, the Redskins will have a big chance to make a statement in the second round.

Realistically, we can count on at least two of Mallett, Ponder, Dalton or Kaepernick being available. Also, we can count on Phil Taylor, the top nose tackle in the draft, being gone. (If he's not, I don't see how we can pass on him, right?) We can also count on the fact that not every team that needs a quarterback that also drafts behind us (Minnesota? Seattle?) will not take one in the first round.

If there is a quality quarterback sitting there, I believe firmly the Redskins should trade down with an interested team. Why the change in strategy between the second round and not the first?

In the second round, you're not taking a can't-miss guy. You're taking a first round talent that had character problems (Mallett), injury issues (Ponder) or you're taking a guy who wasn't skilled enough to make it in the first round (Kaepernick). The second round pick, ideally, should be a really quality starter who plays for your team for a long time. Even if they aren't Pro Bowlers, they should be competent, quality, above-average NFL starters for a long period of time. Odds are, a quarterback will not fit this bill. And if he does, you're saddled with an above-average guy for a long time, instead of a potentially great guy you can find in the first round.

I think every 'Skins fan needs to hope that Ryan Mallett or Andy Dalton is available at 41 -- and that the Redskins trade the pick away. Someone will definitely want them. Let's hope that team would be willing to part with a third-round pick in the process.

If that doesn't happen...

At 41, you shoot less for the stars and pick for consistency. Which is why the Redskins should take someone who will plug in as a starter at ANY of their positions of need. If there's a quality guard here, absolutely. If there's a strong wide receiver like Torrey Smith or Leonard Hankerson, go for it. If there's a corner that the brass believes can supplant Carlos Rogers, I have no problem with that. You're picking a top-40 prospect -- take whoever you can, as long as it's someone who can step in and be solid. If you do that, you've picked two immediate starters in two rounds and the team is already significantly better at 2 key positions before free agency. Great start, and the ideal scenario considering the Redskins have only two picks in the top 4 rounds.

We aren't in a position to discriminate between positions when the Redskins pick at #41. They need everything except safety and tight end. Any position they take at #41 will be welcomed with open arms, as long as he is a sure-fire starter from day 1 and for the next several years.

Later draft strategy

Hopefully, we will have traded down and netted another pick because some team felt like snatching up a Mallett, Kaepernick or Dalton. If so, I can't see how the 'Skins could possibly ignore the offensive line in the 3rd or 4th round, when you see a lot of quality starters drafted.

If not, the Redskins don't pick again until round 5, where they pick at #13 (144) and #24 (155). At this point, you're picking fairly long shots at any specialty position or guys of lesser positional value. This may be where the Redskins draft a nose tackle and an offensive lineman. There's no way this draft passes by without the Redskins taking both of these positions.

I also would be surprised if the Redskins don't take a diamond-in-the-rough running back. You know Shanahan's reputation, as does everyone else, drafting runners. I think the Redskins will definitely tag a runner in the later rounds. Even if he isn't the next Terrell Davis, the Redskins do need depth behind Ryan Torain and Keiland Williams. Ideally, I'd hope for a speedy guy, wouldn't you?

Per the Redskins blog, they pick again here, where they could fill the running back pick and a few more linemen picks:

  • Round 6, pick 12 (177 overall)
  • Round 7, pick 11 (213 overall)
  • Round 7, pick 22 (224 overall, from Indianapolis)
  • Round 7, pick 52 (253 overall, compensatory selection)

If you made it this far, I commend you. I'm sure the comments section on this piece will get rowdy. Have at it!

I'll be the guy waiting to pre-order his Robert Quinn jersey.