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What did the ‘Skins brass say about Day 3, and what can we learn from it?

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NFL: Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Trent Williams

Day 3 of the draft for Washington started with the end of a 9-year journey that seemed to take an eternity to reach a conclusion. Before the Redskins made their first draft pick of the day, it was announced that Trent had been traded to San Francisco for a 2020 5th-round pick and a 2021 3rd rounder.

Kyle Smith was clearly relieved:

It’s been a long process. You know, I think everybody is a little bit, you guys as well, think we’re all relieved that it’s over, that it’s done. From day one that we got into this, it’s a unique situation, where, a lot of different layers to it, and we did the best that we could. We opened it up to the agent to find a partner and all that stuff and finally, we’re to the point where it’s over, and we’re all moving in our own direction. We wish him the best.

You determine compensation by your eyes as a scout or a coach, and that’s what you watch on tape. Trent Williams is a first-round value, that’s what he is, that’s what the tape tells you, that’s what everybody knows. This circumstance and everything that has gone into this for two years or whatever it’s been, that’s what’s devalued him. At the end of the day for the Washington Redskins, we’re happy with what we got with a fifth and third and it’s time to move on and we’re ready to move forward.

I can’t wait, personally, to stop talking about it. I can’t wait to stop hearing about it...I’ve been here for a while.

Ron Rivera took the opportunity to reinforce his message of my way or the highway:

You know one of the things that we talked about when I first got here was talk about a sustainable winning culture. You know, again, one of the things that we wanted was just to have guys that were going to be part of it from the beginning. And again, just, this was an opportunity for us to part ways with a guy that wanted to move forward which is great. I get that, I understand that, but again, we’re going to do things a specific way. That’s the whole idea about what we’re doing is we’re going to build this culture with the guys that want to be here, the guys that want to be a part of what we’re doing, so we can go forward, and just feel good about where we are.

I have to give Ron bonus points for staying on-message. He rarely wavers from his talking points, and it’s clear that his priority in 2020 is to establish the Rivera Culture, and I think he places more value on that this season than he does on the win-loss record.

Kyle Smith took the opportunity to support the boss’s view:

Since Coach showed up here, we made it very clear that, as an organization, anybody that has a year left on their contract we’re going to wait and see how you mesh with the coaching staff. And I think that’s pretty fair, personally, that, out of respect for the player, let’s see how we jibe — let’s see how we mesh — before we extend somebody for four years or three years or whatever the case may be. I think that’s pretty fair.

So, Kyle and Ron are speaking with one voice. Not Ron Rivera, but the organization of the Washington Redskins has made it clear that there won’t be extensions for players until it can be evaluated how the player and the new regime will “mesh”.

I wrote 6,000 words on this before — words that were not well-received by the audience — and my ideas haven’t changed.

You simply can’t say in one situation that the organization isn’t making any multi-year commitments to players, and then go out and sign Kendall Fuller to a 4-year deal and publicly proclaim that you chased Amari Cooper aggressively in free agency.

It simply doesn’t make sense to make significant long-term offers to players from other teams while telling players from the Redskins roster (ie. Dunbar and Williams) that they have to wait to find out if Coach likes them or not. The messaging isn’t in sync — especially if, at the same time — the team is, as has been reported, negotiating a long-term contract with Brandon Scherff. Somebody’s dissembling somewhere.

The draft process

Once again, Kyle and Ron are singing off the same sheet of music when they talk about the process of preparing for the draft and making picks. They tag-teamed like a couple of pro-wrestlers who’d been together for years.

Rivera:

The board was very, very accurate. So really, as we got to our picks there was that clump of guys, the three or four guys that we would talk about and one guy would be above the three of four of them and that was the guy we went with.

Again, as I said, I really thought that the things that Kyle and his guys did in terms of preparation...were very good. I thought that the communication between Kyle and I as he was setting the final board was exactly what you look for because, then, as you go through the process, you should see things quite close to one another. And again, it’s because we worked through the process.

Kyle:

Sometimes people think that we come into the war room in the NFL and the board’s up there, the clock starts and you’re like ‘Who are we taking?’

We have a thorough process of two weeks in advance to where you have readings and you have all that stuff, and then, once you talk to coaches and scouts, you have a pretty good idea of everybody’s final opinion.

You set the board across and then as decision makers, [Head] Coach [Ron Rivera] and I get together and it’s like ‘We know this cluster of players is going to be there. Which way are we going?’ and obviously we know what positions we want and what are the focus positions – boom, boom, boom, you go through all those scenarios so that when we come to here, when you get your five, six names you already kind of have a feeling of what you want to do.

Rivera:

One of the things that we did do was we had a couple of mocks that we mocked through with our entire group and with our IT guys, and we tried to do it over the system just to see how it would work. We had no issues. We had one with the league and we had two of our own. The last one we did took us through the fourth round, so we worked on a mock of trades, we worked on a mock of trading out of position and I thought the guys handled that very well. It gave us a little taste as to what to expect and it went very, very well, it really did. It went about as smooth as we could’ve expected and hoped for,

I start to get the feeling that Ron & Kyle could have been co-joined twins in a previous life; they seem to be talking with a single voice. I know there are always a lot of discussions about draft strategy and practice among the fan base here, and we are getting some very clear information straight from the horses’ mouths here to validate what we all know — that at most picks outside of the very top of the draft, there are a cluster of players to consider, but there is one guy who emerges (or perhaps begins) as the consensus selection. Out of the small “cluster” the team has one guy that they feel is the best player to pick.

There was one comment from Kyle that’s a bit redundant, but I don’t want to go past this without highlighting it.

You meet with medical people. They explain what the grades are so you know when you go into the draft that these guys are off the board, these guys are on the board, these guys are safe.

This is one of the missing variables for mock drafters and armchair GMs; that is, the teams have detailed medical information on these draft prospects that no one else has access to, and it is the medical “red flags” that people often point to, after a draft, to explain the “slide” of certain players.

Ron Rivera tossed out one other nugget about Kyle Smith, and his style and value in the draft process:

When the decisions were made, [Kyle] was on board or he was pushing for this, and that’s exactly what you need — a guy who’s going to tell you what you need to hear and not necessarily what you want.

In the context of his fuller answer, I get the sense that Rivera, as the coach, is understandably more focused on the roster, and patching any holes it has, while Kyle Smith is his guardian angel, there to remind him that drafting the right players transcends the task of setting the opening game lineup; that it is about filling the locker room with the right kind of people. Rivera seems to value Kyle’s ability to maintain the focus where it needs to be.

It felt to me as if Ron Rivera put a bow on all of this with his reply when asked about the importance of this draft:

Well I think the biggest thing, more so than anything else, was going out and drafting the young men that we believe can be a part of what we want to do — grow with this as we go forward.

I mean, these young guys we took with our first few picks, these are the guys we expect to be here, the guys we expect to be a part of what we’re building — the next group of guys we expect to grow and develop and...become a part of what we’re doing. So, we feel real confident, real strong about it.

Then Ron went back to the message he put out at his introductory press conference:

It’s important to put your own stamp on it so that guys understand we have a certain way we want to do it.

We’re going to ask you to do it the way that you’re coached. We’re going to ask you to play the way that we have mapped things out — you know — to do it our way. And if you do that, believe me, I believe we can have a lot of success. I’m asking them to do it a specific way. And that’s the most important thing, and I hope everybody understands that.

Ron Rivera: My way or the highway.

Saahdiq Charles

Speaking of red flags and information that the team has that we don’t, I found Kyle Smith’s comments about the work they did on Charles ahead of the draft to be quite interesting. In case you weren’t aware, Charles was suspended for a total of six games at LSU last year for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

Here’s a news article from 2019 that talked a bit about his situation:

Charles had to sit six games for what Ed Orgeron called a “coach’s decision,” leaving the Tigers without their starting left tackle — whose responsibility on passing plays is to protect Joe Burrow’s blindside.

Basically, Charles, who’s started 26 of 30 games he’s played in since signing with LSU in 2017, played in alternating games with one notable exception.

After being held out of the season opener with Georgia Southern, he was in the lineup for the Texas, Vanderbilt and Florida games before making consecutive starts against Auburn and Alabama.

After sitting out the Ole Miss and Arkansas games, he played in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M and in the Southeastern Conference championship game against Georgia.

It was certainly an unorthodox way to go through a season, but Charles admitted he had no one to blame but himself and doesn’t have any hard feelings about how it played out.

“It was a violation of team rules, so it was my fault,” he said. “It was my responsibility. Whatever happened, happened, but it’s over with now.”

When the Tigers needed him most, Charles was there — playing his best games against Florida, Auburn and Georgia.

He graded out 91% against Florida; 88% against Auburn, one of the best defensive fronts in the nation; and a team-high 92% against Georgia.

After reading several draft profiles about Charles, it is clear that he isn’t an elite prospect, but a good one — a guy who needs a year or two of development, and may or may not become a starter, but has what’s needed to play in the NFL. I kept reading the phrase, “high ceiling”.

His physical abilities probably make him a Day 2 prospect, but the Redskins got him at the top of the 4th round. Most pundits agree that he was available on Friday because of the “red flag” raised by his suspension last season.

Kyle Smith said that the Redskins did a lot of research on that before making the decision to draft him:

We’ve done a lot of work on him. Obviously as you guys know, I mean you can look it up and stuff, there was the suspension there and he made a mistake, and he’s made mistakes in his past there at LSU, so once we come through with guys like this throughout the Fall and you gather all the character in the background, then you start to dive in. Right? You watch the tape, and you find out what is he as a player, what’s the talent level, and that’s what we always go off of when we put them on the board.

He’s a high talent player. Tremendous talent, tremendous upside.

Obviously, he was there in the fourth round for a reason. We dove into this kids character in a big way. With our area scout, with our cross checker, Coach Rivera, myself, and Malcom Blacken, in our player development. I had a long meeting the other day with [Saahdiq Charles] on Zoom. We feel very confident in the kid, we’re comfortable with everything, the research that we’ve done.

Ron Rivera added more depth to the discussion of the background work the team did on Charles:

For him to have to come back [to LSU], he was going to have to stay clean and finish the season. Talking with [LSU Head] Coach [Ed] Orgeron, he was very positive about how the young man came in and the way contrite about the mistake he had made, about doing things the right way and trying to learn.

One thing that really caught my attention was he had made the statement that when you have something taken away from you, you want it back, you want to do it the right way. That really swayed me. I’m one of those that do believe you do give guys opportunities, especially if they show that they want it and this is a young man that wants it.

He’s going to be watched, he’s going to be on a short leash. This is a young man that, obviously, we feel has a tremendous skill set, but he’s a young man who has a bit of an issue that we’re trying to control and help him out with. Again, hopefully we keep him going where he needs to be and that’s straight ahead.

So trust, but earned trust, and trust that has to be earned every day.

The profiles I read on Charles said that he needed coaching on technique. Well, that’s what you get when you draft guys outside of the first round or two, and I feel very good about this addition to the ‘Skins offensive line.

Rivera put the exclamation point on Charles’ selection when he was talking about something else later in the conference call:

Saahdiq has played left and right tackle and has played some guard. Again, this is a guy that’s going to compete, he’s going to compete on the left side, left tackle and left guard for us. He’s a guy that has a chance to contribute early on, and quite frankly, because we’re starting over, we’re starting from the beginning, everything is on the table. Every opportunity for anybody to come in and play is here. We are going to play the guys that we believe give us the best opportunity to win football games.

Now this is worth some banner headlines in my opinion.

Rivera isn’t saying this for the first time — he’s talked about competition before — but this line about “starting from the beginning” and the idea that “everything is on the table” would be significant enough to write an entire article about just that quote (and I may do that if the off-season drags on too long).

But buried in the long transcript of this conference call is the idea that Charles could well be in competition for the Left Guard spot! Who knows? It might even be a competition he could win. He wouldn’t be the first college left tackle the Redskins had converted to Left Guard.

Don’t get me wrong; Saahdiq Charles was drafted as a left tackle, and, like Morgan Moses and Brandon Scherff who came before him, that’s where the coaching staff will put him on the first day of on-field work, according to Rivera:

The biggest thing is you want to make sure the guy has a primary function. What does he do best? Again, a great example right now is that what [Tackle] Saahqid Charles did best in college is play left tackle, so that’s where he’ll start out, at left tackle. Because he’s over there, we’re always cross training our backups, so he’ll work at left guard as well. It’ll be an opportunity to see what his skill set is and see how versatile he truly is, and it’ll also help him learn.

One thing I always believed in is, if you know what the guy next to you is supposed to do, it’s going to help you do your job, and that’s how we try to help grow our young [players].

This adds a bit more evidence to the growing mountain of support that this front office and coaching staff value positional versatility.

Beyond filling 2020 roster holes, Saahdiq Charles should offer the possibility of being a 2-position player on the left side of the line. While the rule changes for 2020 might make this a bit less critical than in past seasons (active gameday rosters will also grow from 46 to 48, provided one of those extra players activated is an offensive lineman), positional flexibility among linemen can be huge on game day if a couple of injuries strike.

Antonio Gandy-Golden

Ron Rivera:

He’s a guy that can make his presence felt. We believe in the red zone, certain short yardage. Third and intermediate, third and three, third and seven, something like that a guy that can work the middle for you. He can block, he’s a guy that we feel can be a very physical blocker. He’s got special teams value as well.

I feel the shade of Jay Gruden still hanging around Ashburn. Somehow, it seemed like Jay spent 5 years looking for someone other than Jordan Reed that he could use to threaten the defense via the passing game in these situations.

Gandy-Golden is not fast. I watched some film of him last night and he was loping down the field in the kind of awkward jog that my dear departed Great Dane used to have — an awkward gait that required a few seconds and some open field to develop into a smooth gallop. He won’t be running past anyone.

But he’s 6’4” and a pretty smooth hands-catcher who can snatch the ball out of the air. He can offer the Redskins something that no other receiver on the roster outside of Cam Sims can: a tall target.

I think Ron Rivera has told us pretty clearly where he sees AG-G’s role on this team, and, while it is limited, it is also important. He needs to get the hard yards on third down or near the end zone.

Tight end?

Kyle Smith is aware of who’s on the roster, and that the Redskins look pretty thin at the tight end position. He talked about that on Saturday:

You follow a board, and you kind of go and let the board speak to you. The tight end position, we did address. We added in free agency with Logan [Thomas]. So, we’re excited about him and his upsides.

Obviously, we are bringing in Thaddeus Moss as well as an undrafted free agent so he’ll be added to that mix.

But, letting the board speak to you [means] you don’t want to force things. We’re always going to have needs and positions of focus, but you don’t want to force it. That’s when...you start making mistakes. When we add a tight end or any position, it’s based off of that board.

Kyle Smith is casting gold nuggets out for free here. Drafting to fill roster holes is the path to failure. He’s clear in his messaging all the time: “let the board speak to you” means that there’s one guy there who is the best football player available based on what your team values, and he’s the guy you have to choose. Kyle Smith continues to confound mock drafters because he simply refuses to draft for need; instead, taking the player available who clearly fits the vision of the Redskins that he and Ron Rivera share.

It’s not as though the Redskins don’t have a tight end on the roster. The current depth chart goes seven-deep:

  • Logan Thomas
  • Hale Hentges
  • Richard Rodgers
  • Jeremy Sprinkle
  • Thaddeus Moss
  • Caleb Wilson
  • Marcus Baugh

While none of these players have impressive draft pedigrees, four of them have NFL experience, and Hentges and Sprinkle carried the position for the last quarter of the 2019 season for the Redskins.

The team may yet add a veteran with more proven skills prior to the start of the season via trade, or if the right veteran is cut by another team, but we may just have to accept that this is the position group for 2020, and seek to upgrade it next off-season, trusting Scott Turner to scheme his way around it. His apparent passion for 21 personnel groupings should make that a bit more palatable than in the Jay Gruden system, which really relies on having a talented tight end to make it all work.

Kyle Smith spoke (very) briefly about the injury status and skills of Moss, the UDFA tight end and son of Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss:

We’ll let [Head Athletic Trainer Ryan Vermillion] handle that stuff, but [Thaddeus Moss] was injured, yes. That’s why he didn’t perform at the Combine, but everything that we’ve gotten from our medical staff we feel comfortable with, and we’ll monitor that whenever the time comes that he’s able to come with us.

He had a nice season, he has really nice hands and ball skills, he’s a tough kid that competes in the run game. When you’re signing priority free agents, you need to have two qualities that really stand out,...and that’s what we base stuff off of. We’re excited. Playing at LSU, big time football, big time season. It was really no brainer to sign him as a PFA.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the Redskins didn’t use a draft pick on tight end during the draft was that they were confident that Moss would be there as a UDFA, and felt that they had the inside track on signing him. I certainly don’t know that, but given how quickly they secured him after the draft, it seems like a conversation they might well have had with Moss and his agent before the draft began.