By Dion Johnson, Special to the AFRO
As a lifelong fan of the Washington Football Team, it is hard as hell to offer any sort of praise for a franchise that has continued to deliver mediocrity and dysfunction throughout my adult years of watching them play. Yet, amazingly, the front office seems to finally have done right in terms of drafting solid, young talent early in the 2018 NFL Draft that will hopefully shore up two positions that have been sorely lacking in talent in recent memory.
With the teams’ first selection, the drafting of Alabama stud Daron Payne should finally fill a need for a truly talented interior lineman this team has adequately stocked with lower-tier “talent” for seemingly a decade. As everyone knows, the Redskins – who finished 7-9 last season – need all the help they can get on run defense, where they finished 32nd against the run (134.1) last season. Payne is known as a run-stopper but he can also make plays in the pass rush and should find some familiarity on the defensive line with the first of last year’s second round selections in Jonathan Allen and linebacker Ryan Anderson, as they were all teammates at the University of Alabama.
With a shrewd trade, the team was able to select Derrius Guice, a running back from LSU, after moving the No. 44 and No. 142 picks to the San Francisco 49ers for the No. 59 and No. 74 selections. Guice was considered by most experts as a first-round talent, and Washington could not be happier grabbing what most believe is the most talented back on the roster since the heyday of former ‘Skins star Clinton Portis.
One of the main issues I’ve had with coach Jay Gruden and the roster construction by Bruce Allen has been the overlooking of the running back position. Yes, the running back has been devalued in a sense because of the latest trends of NFL offense. Yet, look at the best teams in the league: they all have dynamic talents in that backfield. Gruden has told us time and time again that lesser talents such as Matt Jones would become the lead/feature back but when it was time to shine, the parade of backs have left a lot to be desired. The acquisition of Guice virtually acknowledges that the position has indeed been a problem and needed to be addressed posthaste or jobs could be lost. It’s as simple as that.
Washington also selected safety Troy Apke (Penn State), linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton (Alabama), cornerback Greg Stroman (Virginia Tech) and wide receiver Trey Quinn (SMU), who was the final pick in the draft. Hamilton was the fourth player from Alabama the Redskins have taken in the past two drafts as they seem comfortable in the type of players that are produced in Coach Nick Saban’s system. Obviously, time will tell if these players will pan out and help the roster. But, all in all, a solid draft can make or break this franchise and it looks like for the first time in recent memory the front office can be lauded for being shrewd and forward thinking.
Let’s hope it pays off with victories.