By: Tim Van Blarcom, Feature Writer
Follow Tim on Twitter: @Tim_VB
The 2014 NFL Draft marked the beginning of a new era for the Washington Redskins with Jay Gruden entering his year as the head coach. Of course, the starting of a new era is nothing new for the Washington Redskins as Jay Gruden is the 8th head coach in the last 20 years. What should be encouraging for the Washington Redskins and their fans is that the 2014 NFL Draft showed a major change in approach to the draft from the previous regime.
After Mike Shanahan was fired the front office of the Redskins wasted no time in contributing their lack of success in previous drafts to the influence of Mike Shanahan. Bruce Allen and Scott Campbell in particular were rumored to not have enough of a voice during the draft itself. Based on the outcome of the 2014 draft, there may have been truth to these rumors as the Redskins went with a new approach.
In Shanahan era drafts, the Redskins drafted players with specific skill sets that could come in and contribute right away. They were not always complete players or automatic starters but they had some skillset they hoped would get them on the field that year. Aldrick Robinson had speed, Roy Helu was a third down back, Robert Griffin III could run the option and throw deep, Jarvis Jenkins had a pass rush move, Alfred Morris was a one-cut back, David Amerson, Philip Thomas, and Bacarri Rambo were ball hawks, Chris Thompson had speed, etc. The hope was that the Redskins could use their limited talents immediately and if they developed further good for them.
In the 2014 draft, the Redskins showed a new approach under the complete guidance of Bruce Allen and Scott Campbell. The Redskins drafted players who need development in order to be productive with the hopes that they will be quality starters eventually but not necessarily this year. This year’s rookies may see the field in the coming year but each has multiple facets to their skillset that can be developed and not just a single skill the Redskins hope to exploit.
Head Coach Jay Gruden was asked if they had accomplished their goals in the draft and said, “Yeah, I think we did. We addressed some positions that we needed to address with depth and some good solid character guys and some good solid football players. We’re happy with where we ended with the draft; we got some good draft picks. Moving forward with this football team, we feel like we have good, strong competition at every spot…”
It’s a subtle difference but a major shift in the mindset of the front office. Shanahan era draft picks were expected to contribute in some way immediately their rookie year. Gruden era draft picks are expected to work hard and develop in order to reach their true potential. This shift of attention to developing players with high potential and strong work ethic is an area that the Redskins have struggled to do in the past decade. With a poor organizational track record of developing players, it falls to the new coaching staff to continue turning the culture around by having success in developing this class of rookies.
The Redskins also navigated the 2014 draft well. Some of their more poorly graded selections were the results of adapting to positions runs and availabilities. Similarly, some of their more positively graded selections were the result of taking advantage of deeper positions of the draft as well. The Redskins willingness to trade down also resulted in significant value advantages for their draft class based on the average value chart.
2nd Round, Pick 47
Trent Murphy, OLB Stanford
The Redskins hosted numerous pass rushers for pre-draft visits and seemed set on drafting depth and insurance at outside linebacker in the 2nd round. The 2014 draft was shallow at quality pass rushers and by the Redskins’ original pick at 34, most of the 2nd tier outside pass rushers were still available. The Redskins traded down with the Dallas Cowboys picking up their 2th and 3rd round picks, which was a great value trade. We don’t get to know if the Redskins knew the Cowboys would use that pick to select pass rusher Demarcus Lawrence or if that knowledge would’ve made a difference. It could have been a contributing reason the Redskins got so much value for this trade. When the Redskins picked at 47, the 2nd tier outside pass rushers left were Trent Murphy, Jeremiah Attaochu, and Kony Ealy. The Redskins ultimately selected Trent Murphy.
Murphy was the led the NCAA in sacks and yards lost in 2013. He was a consensus All-American, and semi-finalist for the Chuck Bednarik award. Murphy is primarily a pass rusher and has been refe
rred to as Ryan Kerrigan light. Murphy has good length, exceptional work ethic and effort on the field, and has the versatility to move onto the defensive line and contribute on special teams. Murphy also has a knack for deflecting passes and just generally getting in the offense’s way. The Redskins hope to continue to develop Murphy’s athleticism and pass rushing moves which are not as polished as other prospects.
The Redskins’ current pass rushing starters are set with Orakpo, Kerrigan, and Hatcher. Murphy will be able to contribute in the rotation but will have the time to adjust to the NFL without having to start right away. Ultimately, Murphy is insurance on Brian Orakpo, who is playing on the franchise tag, and possible Kerrigan, who will need an extension shortly. If Murphy becomes a quality starter either of these guys becomes expendable and until then he provides quality depth.
Round 3, Pick 66
Morgan Moses, OT Virginia
In the 2014 NFL Draft, there was a steady stream of offensive linemen throughout the first 3 rounds. The Redskins held off on getting offensive line help until the 3rd round and were rewarded with a player many analysts thought they would consider in the 2nd round. Morgan Moses started 43 games over his tenure at the University of Virginia and has NFL size at 6’ 6” and 314 lbs. Moses fell into the 3rd round because he is not a finished products. Moses excels in pass-protection using his size and good hand and foot work to hold off defenders. Moses does lack in the run-blocking and struggles with his mobility and getting to the second level.
The Redskins got good value with Morgan Moses in the 3rd round. If he can physically develop and refine his technique, Moses will be quality right tackle with some versatility to play left if needed. Tyler Polumbus is the returning right tackle and did show improvements in 2013. Moses should be able to compete in training camp for the starting right tackle spot but he’s not immediately needed there in Week 1. The Redskins have been lucky the past few years with offensive line health but everyone is another year older and Gruden has brought in enough competition to make the entire unit in flux. Minus Trent Williams of course.
Round 3, Pick 78
Spencer Long, OG Nebraska
The Redskins continue their love affair with University of Nebraska players by selecting Spencer Long at 78. Long started every game for Nebraska his sophomore and junior seasons but his senior year was cut short after 6 games with a knee injury. Long has good size, 6’5” and 320 lbs., and excels in run blocking over pass protection. The Redskins must not have been concerned with his injury and think they see something the others teams have not as Long was projected as a third day guy after his injury.
If nothing else, Long should provide young, cheap depth to the offensive line. He joins a crowded depth chart with Chris Chester, Adam Gettis, Josh LeRibeus, Shawn Lauvao, Maurice Hurt, Mike McGlynn, and Kory Lichtensteiger. If fully healthy Long should be able to compete for a roster spot. If Long develops and improves his health and overall technique, he could become a starter.
Round 4, Pick 102
Bashaud Breeland, CB Clemson
The Redskins took advantage of a deep cornerback class and waited for a player to fall into their lap. That player ended up being Bashaud Breeland of Clemson. Breeland is a very athletic and long corner that rarely gets burned and can stay with any receiver. He’s an aggressive tackler but he needs to refine his technique to limit missed tackles. Breeland had an unspectacular combine and measured in at only 5’11’ and 197 lbs. With the taller cornerbacks in vogue right now, Breeland saw his himself slip into the 4th round. If Breeland can improve his tackling, technique in coverage, and control himself from being overly aggressive, he could be a starting corner.
There could also be some flexibility with Breeland as a safety. When asked about Breeland’s potential at safety, Jay Gruden responded, “Yeah, that’s something else that came up. The coaches at Clemson said that he’s a possible safety… He has played safety, so you know we talk about position flexibility all the time, and that’s another thing that drew us to him. Not only corner, [but] safety [and] special teams.”
The Redskins find themselves with decent depth at cornerback with Breeland coming in. Richard Crawford, Chase Minnifield, E.J. Biggers, and veteran Tracy Porter should be Breeland’s main competition for playing time. With the nickleback spot up for grabs, Breeland could see the field sooner than later if he can adapt quickly to the NFL. Breeland can also make an impact and earn the coaches’ respect early by playing special teams.
Round 5, Pick 142
Ryan Grant, WR Tulane
Again the Redskins took advantage of a deep wide receiver class and waited until after the big runs to draft Ryan Grant from Tulane. Tulane ran a pro-style offense which exposed Grant to the full route tree and should help him adapt to the NFL game more quickly than other wide receivers. Grant also picked up 75+ receptions and 1,000+ yards in his last two season at Tulane as their primary receiver. Grant excels at route running, locating the ball in the air, and has excellent technique and natural talent at catching the ball. Grant was a 5th round or lower prospect because he lacks ideal size at just 6’0” and speed, running a 4.62 at the combine.
Jay Gruden chimed in on Ryan Grant with, “He’s a great hands catcher. He’s a good route runner. He can play inside and outside. We’re surprised that he was there… He knows the position. He knows the passing game concepts… we feel like he’s going to come in and compete right away.”
With the offseason additions of DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts, the Redskins did not have a huge need at wide receiver. Additionally, Grant as a possession receiver is in the same mold as Roberts and Pierre Garcon. The Grant pick however shows a different approach to drafting wide receivers that valued hands and route running over size and speed. Jay Gruden also proved in Cincinnati that he is more than capable of developing wide receivers in his system. Grant will primarily be competing against Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson, and veteran Santana Moss for field time but should be able to contribute on special teams immediately.
Round 6, Pick 186
Lache Seastrunk, RB Baylor
The Redskins traded back in the 6th round with Tennessee to pick up an extra 7th round pick. At 186, the Redskins selected Lache Seastrunk of Baylor in their continued quest to find a pass catching, speed back to complement Alfred Morris. Seastrunk was a college teammate of Robert Griffin
III in Baylor’s explosive offense and has a ridiculous highlight reel of long touchdown runs. Seastrunk has the elusiveness and speed to take any run to the house. He also has good vision down the field and has smooth acceleration and cuts. Seastrunk doesn’t have a huge frame and durability could be a concern in the NFL. He’s also unproven as a pass catcher because Baylor rarely used him in that role.
When asked about his pass catching abilities, Seastrunk responded, “I really feel I can catch the ball very, very well. I feel like I proved that in combine, I proved that in my pro day. I just feel like if you give me an opportunity, I know I’m going to utilize it. I’m going to do everything in my power to help the Redskins be an even better organization.”
Seastrunk joins Roy Helu Jr., Evan Royster, and Chris Thompson as hopefuls to backup Alfred Morris. The real concern for this group is health and ability to play special teams as none of the back-up running backs has managed to stay healthy or contribute in special teams the past few years. Seastrunk has the ability to be very productive in a zone blocking scheme but will need improve in pass protection and prove he can take NFL hits.
Round 7, Pick 217
Ted Bolser, TE Indiana
Ted Bolser was a curious pick for the Redskins and many believe he could’ve been signed as an undrafted free agent. Bolser is a very willing blocker and has decent hands as a short yardage receiver. Bolser is very versatile at Indiana and was used out wide, on the line, and in the backfield in different formations. Bolser can be stiff in both blocking and receiving as if he’s thinking too hard and his game does not come naturally to him. He does have good size for a blocking tight end at 6’6” and 248 lbs. and has the grit and toughness to block defensive lineman and linebackers. Bolser should be able to contribute on special teams immediately.
Jay Gruden remarked, “[Ted Bolser] is a solid tight end, got good hands. He’s played outside, he’s played fullback, he has played tight end in the core. He has been very productive at Indiana… So I like his position flexibility, being able to move around, but really what kind of stuck out, he runs down on kickoff like a war daddy.”
The composition of the Redskins tight end squad is still in flux with Jordan Reed being injured and Niles Paul continuing to struggle. If Bolser can develop physically and pack on 10-15 lbs. of muscle he could be a starting blocking tight end. With Paulsen currently holding that position, Bolser could see himself on the practice squad this year.
Round 7, Pick 228
Zach Hocker, K Arkansas
Drafting a kicker is always controversial but the Redskins added a big legged player that can both kick and punt with Zach Hocker of Arkansas. It’s unknown if the Redskins like Hocker as a kicker or punter or even just a kickoff specialist. The Redskins special team unit as a whole was so terrible last year any move they take to improve it should be welcomed.
Kai Forbath is an accurate kicker but he fails to consistently get touchbacks on kickoffs even with the NFL moving up the kicks. Last year’s punter, Sav Rocca, was also cut during the offseason. It would be a shame to use a roster spot on a kickoff specialist so Hocker will need to prove he is just as accurate as Kai Forbath or can adapt to full time punting duties in order to make the roster.
On the young kicker, Jay Gruden said, “[I] liked strength, very good. He’s a productive kicker at Arkansas. His kickoffs, I think he was ninth or tenth in the nation as far as touchbacks, which is excellent… He’ll come in and compete for the kicking spot, obviously.”