Meet Ryan Kerrigan, the newest Washington Redskin.

After trading down from the 10th overall pick, the Redskins selected the Purdue University defensive end with the 16th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft on April 28.

Kerrigan is expected to transition to linebacker for the Redskins. At 6-foot, 4 inches and 263 pounds, Kerrigan used explosion, hustle and his size to tie the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) record for forced fumbles, collecting 14 over his four-year collegiate career. But last season, Kerrigan, 22, put it all together when he became the first unanimous All-American from Purdue since 1980.

The team co-captain reeled in a series of awards last year including Defensive Most Valuable Player, first-team All-Big Ten, Academic All-Big Ten, and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He was a runner-up for the Ted Hendricks Award, given to the nation’s outstanding defensive end, runner-up as well as a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive college football player, as selected by the Maxwell Football Club, which includes head coaches and sportswriters from across the country.

Kerrigan led the FBS in tackles for a loss last season with 26, tied for second in forced fumbles with five and finished third in sacks with 12.5, leading the Big Ten in all three categories.

The Redskins’ defense has no place to go but up after finishing last season ranked 31st in the league, and nabbing Kerrigan in the first round was just the start of what should be an extensive rebuilding project.

“I think he brings a lot to the table,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “He plays the run extremely well, obviously a converted defensive end that, when you look at him, we think he fits into our system extremely well, not only the run, but the pass. Blue-collar player, plays extremely hard, did a lot of great things through his career and we are surely glad he is part of the Redskins.”

Kerrigan will be expected to line up opposite 2009 first-rounder Brian Orakpo and provide Washington with two capable pass-rushing linebackers in their 3-4 alignment. After exploding onto the scene as a rookie, Orakpo was slowed last year as teams focused attention on him. With Kerrigan now a threat on the opposite side, the two could become the next elite pass rushing tandem in the NFL.

Kerrigan will be forced to lean on Orakpo early in his career as he adapts to a new position, just as Orakpo, also a defensive end in college, was forced to do when he entered the league.

“ has done very well.” Kerrigan said. “He’s one of the top linebackers in the league at his position. Coming from Texas, I remember watching him and what a beast he was so I hope to emulate him. I feel like I have the ability to be in a two-point stance. I have to practice it, but with my pass rushing skills and my athletic ability, I feel like I can make that transition to outside linebacker.”

The Redskins are banking on that transition becoming a success after bypassing the chance to select Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert and instead trading picks with the Jacksonville Jaguars to take Kerrigan later. The deal netted Washington an extra second-round pick, which gives the team two selections in the second round at numbers 41 and 49 overall.

When asked about passing on Gabbert, Shanahan said: “We felt we had more needs right now and obviously you always entertain every situation, but we were happy to do what we did and pick up an extra pick, and obviously get Ryan on our football team.”

Rounds Two and Three of the 2011 NFL Draft begin April 29 at 6 p.m.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO