The Washington Redskins elected not to opt for the shiny new safety or risk any more draft picks for the flashy young quarterback, but instead took offensive tackle Trent Williams with the fourth pick in the NFL Draft on April 22. Williams wasn’t the tackle that many had projected to the Redskins as Washington chose him over ballyhooed prospect Russell Okung from Oklahoma State.

Okung was viewed as the draft’s top offensive line prospect but didn’t possess Williams’ mobility or versatility. The 21-year-old Williams shuffled between both tackle spots during his tenure at Oklahoma and even operated at center in postseason drills. Regardless, if the pick was Williams or Okung, the Redskins needed to add a blue chip prospect to their rebuilding offensive line and Williams may actually grade out better for head coach Mike Shannahan’s zone blocking scheme.

Wherever Williams lines up, he’ll definitely be a key man in protecting newly acquired quarterback Donovan McNabb. Washington’s main blueprint going into the draft was patching up a leaky offensive line that allowed 46 sacks last season, tied for fourth highest in the league. Despite whispers that Tennessee safety Eric Berry was in serious consideration, the Redskins held firm and added a much needed piece to a unit that drew heavy criticism last season.

“Our offensive line was terrible last year,” said longtime Redskin follower Chief Honesty-Bey who attended the Redskins’ draft party over the weekend. “They needed to get somebody on the line and I’m glad they did. You always underestimate the luxury of having a good line until you look up and see how hard it is to run your offense when the guys up front can’t block anybody.”

After sacrificing second and third round picks for the acquisitions of McNabb and supplemental draftee Jeremy Jarmon, Washington made the most of their five remaining draft choices, headlined by two additional offensive linemen and a linebacker. One of those linemen, West Virginia offensive tackle Selvish Capers, was considered a mid-round prospect leading into the draft but lasted until the seventh round and could be a sleeper to make the team.

Fourth round selection Perry Riley, a LSU linebacker, was a four-year starter for the Tigers and was a member of LSU’s 2007 championship team. While Riley and Capers will add some notable collegiate names to the roster, securing Williams was the biggest coupe of the draft for Washington. The Redskins haven’t used a first round pick on an offensive tackle since Chris Samuels was drafted in 2000.

With Samuels announcing his retirement in March, Washington will hope that Williams can provide something close to Samuels’ productivity in helping protect the quarterback. The value of an offensive lineman is often underrated but the stock appears to be on the upswing.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO