Thursday, January 20, 2011

A plea to Shanahan and Allen

Now that the Redskins season has been over for a few weeks, much talk has centered around what the Skins will decide to do with their first-round pick (No. 10 overall). Obviously there are plenty of mock drafts to dissect, and some of them have the Redskins selecting Auburn quarterback Cam Newton at No. 10.

The first round of the NFL Draft is not until April 28, so scouting reports and mock drafts are going to drastically change in a few months. But the current Redskins team is old and has plenty of holes, and this draft is hugely important going forward in terms of shaping Mike Shanahan's and Bruce Allen's legacy in D.C.

Picking a franchise quarterback would be fantastic. The Redskins have not had a young, talented quarterback for a very long time, and there's no question that Shanahan will desperately be looking for a quarterback to mold and develop to his liking. But having a talented quarterback does not guarantee success. Not many people would argue that quarterback is the most important position on the field, or that having a solid quarterback is immensely important. But if the Redskins neglect the rest of the team's holes to draft a quarterback, they may not only risk taking a step back in the standings next season, but also hindering that quarterback's development (again, assuming that they don't surround him with the right pieces -- the Skins don't exactly have a ton of draft picks right now (6)).

Still, having a top quarterback does (usually) make things easier. Of all the quarterbacks who finished in the top 10 in terms of quarterback rating this season, seven made the playoffs. However, the No. 2 name on that list, Philip Rivers, threw for more yards than anyone else (4,710) and had the fifth-most touchdown passes (30), and his team still fell short of the playoffs despite having one of the best points differentials in the league.

Sure, that's just one example -- and a recent one at that. I'm also not going to go back over every draft and focus on which quarterbacks taken early were and were not busts. But unless the Redskins get lucky and select a truly elite quarterback like a Tom Brady or Peyton Manning -- not likely at all -- then it's important to keep building up the rest of the team and to not keep neglecting key areas like the offensive and defensive lines. If a team is well rounded and can compete with a mediocre quarterback, then there isn't much of a reason to draft a quarterback so early unless Shanahan and Allen -- whoever gets the final decision (Shanahan, probably) -- are completely convinced that guy is going to be a star.

Just take a look at the Jets and Bears. Are both of those teams a little lucky? Sure. The Jets sort of limped into the postseason before catching fire and taking down the Colts (a game they easily could have lost) and the Patriots (who the Jets outplayed). And the second-seeded Bears ended up facing a flawed Seahawks team in Chicago while the top-seeded Falcons were blown out at home by a determined Packers team. Would the Bears have faired as well hosting the Packers instead? We're about to find out this week. But that's beside the point. Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger are elite quarterbacks, so it's not surprising to see their teams still alive at this point. But Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez? They may be good quarterbacks, but neither would be considered great. This season, Cutler ranked 16th in quarterback rating (86.3) but did have 23 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. He was good -- but not great. Sanchez was even worse this season, finishing with the fifth-worst quarterback rating (75.3) while throwing 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. But both of those teams have been able to overcome their lack of a truly elite quarterback because they're able to do things like force turnovers, get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and run the ball a little themselves on offense.

Of course, it's all about being able to build a franchise. The Redskins are not ready to compete for a championship; they need to add more pieces before that can happen. So all I'm trying to say is that the Redskins shouldn't reach for a quarterback so early in the draft if they're not sure he's the guy. Again, there's no guarantee the quarterback they select is going to be great, but there seems to be a little less pressure and difficulty in picking another position of need -- and the Redskins obviously have plenty of those.

I'm a fan of taking the best available player, and I think the Redskins should do that -- even if it's a quarterback. But they should also be exploring the possibility of taking any other position -- offense or defense -- or even trading back to replenish some of the picks they gave away when trading for Donovan McNabb and Jammal Brown.

In the end, if the Redskins do decide that Newton is the guy, that's fine. But he's not going to be the team's savior with so many other gaping holes on the roster, and it would be wrong of them to believe that. Shanahan and Allen have a ton of work to do, and hopefully they are not solely focused on finding a quarterback. This team needs much more help than that.

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