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Washington Got Bigger and More Physical in the 2015 NFL Draft

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Washington did a great job accruing players with athleticism and aggressive mindsets.

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Washington turned in another disastrous season where they won four games and had more questions than answers heading into the 2015 NFL Draft. They had a roller coaster of quarterbacks last year, starting Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy at different points throughout the season, their offensive line was mediocre at best, and every level of their defense was absolutely atrocious. Any position they chose to address would have been the right one.

After their most recent season, Washington shook up their front office by hiring former Seahawks' Head of Personnel, Scot McCloughan. McCloughan, though a bit young, is widely regarded to be one of the best talent evaluators in the entirety of the NFL and he played a key role in building the Seattle team that won the Super Bowl. Seattle, as we know, was built with the fundamentals of strong play in the trenches and team speed on defense. That philosophy really shines through in McCloughan's first draft in Washington.

Brandon Scherff

Washington made the Iowa Offensive Tackle the fifth pick in the draft and it is very easy to see why. For one, their offensive line was less than stellar last year. Outside of Trent Williams, there was very little in the department of run or pass blocking that the rest of the group could offer. The running game was inconsistent throughout the year due to the blocking, and quarterbacks were never given clean pockets on the regular. The group needed a talent.

Secondly, Scherff was as clear cut of a prospect as there was in this class. He is a superb athlete with good size and dominating strength. To pair with his world class strength, Scherff plays with an aggressive mindset that maximizes his physical gifts. Every snap, Scherff is playing to hurt the man across from him. He does a great job of playing through the whistle on every play and blocking his man into the ground. He has accurate hand placement on his blocks and punches with shocking power to stall defenders. Not only is he powerful, he also possesses fantastic movement skills. His linear speed is very good and his ability to move laterally in pass protection is phenomenal. He is truly a complete player from an athletic and technical standpoint who can play strongly in pass protection and dominate the run game.

Where his weaknesses show are his relatively short arms. At only 33 3/8 inches, he is in the bottom 20 percent for offensive tackle arm length. This can be a big problem in the NFL for Scherff when trying to pass protect on the edge or keeping a defenders hands away from his body. He does a good job mitigating his length with his athletic ability, but it is a fairly notable issue.

Regardless, Scherff is a very athletic player with a dominant mentality on the offensive line. Washington would be smart to start him bookend of Trent Williams and he would immediately step in and provide Pro Bowl caliber play. However, if the length is that big of an issue, Scherff could absolutely start at either guard spot, still providing high level play.

Wherever he plays, Washington hit a home run with one of the best and most versatile linemen in the draft.

Preston Smith

First of all, I was shocked when Preston Smith fell out of the first round. I went as far to say that I would be comfortable with a team taking him in the top ten of the draft. Secondly, I was PISSED when Washington swooped in and took him in the second round. Furious, even. Smith is an incredibly athletic defensive lineman with great size and the ability to play all along the formation. Dammit, Washington got a really good player.

The Washington defense was a mess last year. The pass rush was inconsistent, the run defense was middling and the secondary was garbage, to put it lightly. They lost Brian Orakpo in free agency, which is not as huge of a loss as it is made out to be, but Washington did a good job to add talent to their front with Stephen Paea and Terrance Knighton. Even with those additions, Washington still needed to add more to a group lacking depth and playmakers. Enter Preston Smith.

Smith was incredibly versatile at Mississippi State. They had his line up anywhere, from all the way out on the edge, to playing straight up on the center. The scary thing is, he disrupted offenses from wherever he was. His hulking size makes him incredibly hard to deal with inside and he has the strength to rag doll offensive linemen. Out on the edge, he possesses the necessary burst and bend to create pressure on the outside, but also can power through offensive linemen to disrupt plays.

There is no doubt Smith has the size and athletic ability to be  force in the NFL, but there are some weaknesses to the nuances in his game. He does not have great anticipation off the line and can look slow as a result from time to time and this lack of recognitive ability shows up when he is attacking in the run game, where he often takes himself out of position to make a play. These are coachable issues, but definitely things to take into account when projecting a player as a possible starter.

But where does he play? He really can play anywhere along a defensive front. Ryan Kerrigan is coming off the best season of his career at outside linebacker and former second round pick, Trent Murphy, did a very good job in a rotational role during his rookie season. Washington could rotate him in at the outside linebacker spot, and that is likely what will happen, but he will also be an asset on sub packages where he can kick inside and rush from the interior. Both dynamically and stylistically, Smith is very similar to Seahawks End, Michael Bennett. Both are very athletic, more power oriented players who win all along the formation. Bennett was brought to Seattle while Mcloughan was overseeing personnel, so it is no surprise he likes Smith.

Smith was probably their best pick, considering how good he could become relative to where he was drafted. In his rookie season, Smith may only see the field as a package player and rotational outside linebacker, but it would not shock me to see him blossom into an impactful player very quickly.

Matt Jones

Washington surprised a lot of people when they took Florida runner, Matt Jones in the third round. Jones was never incredibly productive at Florida and did not blow up the combine either. So, bad pick, right? Wrong. Jones may not be an outstanding athlete, but he is a physical, downhill runner.

Jones' production may be underwhelming on the surface, but his numbers were hampered by an inept coaching staff, offense and injuries throughout his career. When Jones saw the field, he made his impact felt as a powerful runner. At 6-2 and 231 pounds, Jones' size makes him incredibly difficult to bring down. Despite being a taller runner, Jones plays with excellent pad level and balance to maximize his strength as a runner. He will rarely go down at first contact and consistently keeps his legs moving through plays. He is a violent player who has no problem dealing contact to intimidate defenses and likes to set the tone rather than let defenses dictate for him. Stylistically, he was one of my favorite backs in the class.

His running style is awesome, but the lack of finesse and nuance to his game makes him predictable. He is a linear runner and lacks vision to utilize lanes or create in the open field. His game is almost entirely predicated on running through defenses. While this makes him difficult to deal with, physically, there are ways to contain him. Also, his playing style will ware on his body very quickly. Not to mention he does not provide a dynamic presence in the passing game.

Overall, I like the Jones pick a lot. He is a powerful, tone setting runner. Alfred Morris has been statistically declining every year and is heading into a contract year, so Jones will get thrown into the running back rotation early and is likely the plan at running back after Morris finishes his contract. Jones will provide a more physical presence, albeit less nuanced, than Morris ever did.

Jamison Crowder

This was the first pick in Washington's draft where I would say they reached. Crowder has good quickness and playing speed, with good open field vision with the ball in his hands, but he is a minuscule player who gets consistently outmuscled and has inconsistent hands.

Crowder was a good and productive player at Duke. They did a good job of getting him out in space quickly and getting the ball into his hands, depending on his speed and vision to create splash plays. He does a good job running routes and his ability to change direction without losing much speed makes him difficult to cover.

However, his lack of size made him easy to deal with at the line for physical cornerbacks and he can get redirected very quickly if he is not given a free release. With the ball in his hands, despite his speed, he will very likely go down at the first breeze that hits him. With the ball in the air, he lacks the size, arm length or physicality to make an impact at the catch point and will not do much of anything in traffic. That is not to say he is not willing, he is, but he is not physically capable of making an impact there. Even in the open space, he has a tendency to drop the ball due to small hands and inconsistent focus.

First and foremost, Crowder can make an impact as a returner from day one for Washington. His burst and vision will prove to be an asset there. On offense, he is likely the fifth receiver behind Desean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and Ryan Grant. I doubt he sees a ton of looks on offense, unless they try to design plays where the ball is in his hands, which seems redundant with Jackson also on the field. Long term, his ceiling is turning into a player who can create separation out of the slot and make an impact catching underneath passes in space. Whether he reaches his full potential is to be seen, but I am not confident of him being anything more than a depth receiver and special teams player.

Arie Kouandjio

Washington continued to upgrade and add competition to their offensive line. The selection of Alabama's Arie Kouandjio could prove to make a positive impact sooner than later. Kouandjio is a big bodied, powerful offensive lineman. He has great lower body strength and a violent punch to stun defenders. Kouandjio is a mauling run blocker and possesses positive traits to make an impact in pass protection.

He is a bit stiff of an athlete, and his lack of ability to move laterally pigeonholes him at guard. With that, he also has a tendency to expose too much of his body with wide set hands and inconsistent pad level. Both are coachable traits, but it is always difficult for players to learn consistently good leverage.

I thought this was a good pick, especially considering how late they were able to get Kouandjio. He has plus physical traits, a nasty demeanor and good size for an offensive lineman. I would not be shocked to see him take a starting job at guard very early in his career.

Martrell Spaight

Going into the later rounds, it is important to focus on depth and getting guys who can contribute on special teams. With the Spaight pick, Washington was able to supplement both while maintaining their philosophy of drafting physical.

Spaight is a smaller player, but he plays with an aggressive, violent mentality. He willingly attacks the line of scrimmage at full speed, has no issue taking on players of any size and packs a serious wallop with his tackling. He is quick to disengage from blocks and is very intelligent at diagnosing and attacking.

Despite the high motor and IQ at which he plays, Spaight is incredibly physically limited as to what he can actually do. He is not a very fast player, nor does he change direction well. Also, his lack of size and length auses him to get washed out by bigger, more physical offensive linemen (Hi Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Tyron Smith, Zach Martin, Travis Frederick, etc.). In coverage, though he can diagnose, he just does not have the athletic ability to cover a lot of ground.

His best bet to start comes from being protected at inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense where he does not have to cover a lot of space and hopefully will be protected by a strong defensive line so he can flow to plays. Realistically, his playing IQ and aggressive style makes him one hell of a special teams player.

Kyshoen Jarrett

Another player I think that Washington stole in the later rounds. They have a dire need to add competition to their secondary, and Jarrett could get a fair shot at competing for snaps on defense this year.

What stands out about Jarrett are his great instincts. He consistently is able to make an impact based on his ability to quickly diagnose and react to plays. He has no issues coming up against the run and he is a very dependable and sometimes tone setting open field tackler.

He is a bit physically limited, where he is a bit smaller at 5-10, 200 pounds and does not have optimal athletic ability. His athletic ability is not a liability, but I would struggle to call it a strength. However, he does a good job to compensate with his top notch instincts.

I think Jarrett deserves a shot to compete for the strong safety spot, but it is up to the coaching staff to make that call on a later round draft pick. Washington's secondary is in shambles and any kind of plus trait should be seen as some type of blessing. He will likely be a special teams player early on, but I expect to him to start seeing reps on defense sooner than later.

Tevin Mitchell

Mitchell joins former Arkansas teammate, Martrell Spaight in Washington's draft. Like what was said before, Washington was probably just looking to add competition to their secondary at this point and looking for late round athletes.

Mitchell is a smooth athlete who can change direction well and does a good job of closing on the ball. He has a good frame, but needs to add weight as he is consistently at a strength disadvantage. Also, his instincts are less than desirable.

Washington likely will not get a starter out of Mitchell, but he provides an athletic depth player who can contribute on special teams.

Evan Spencer

Washington is loading up on special teams players late in the draft, which is a good approach. Special teams, while incredibly important in itself, is a great way to get younger players snaps and experience. A lot of very good players started their careers out on special teams, learning to work out the jitters of playing through getting experience on kick coverage and field goal units. I digress.

Spencer was underutilized at Ohio State due to the run heavy nature of the offense and the guys ahead of him (Draft picks Devin Smith, Jeff Heureman and future NFL draft pick, Michael Thomas). However, Spencer made an impact as a very good and very violent run blocker. That aggressive mentality was huge for the Ohio State offense and will help him make a career for himself, at the least, on special teams. On offense, he has dependable hands and does a good job using his size to win at the catch point. He is not a plus athlete and struggles to gain separation out of his routes due to his lack of foot speed.

Unless he can clean up his route running, his outlook on offense is very bleak. However, I am confident in saying he will be a very good special teams player during his career.

Austin Reiter

With their last pick, Washington finished out the draft by taking a center out of South Florida. The approach to load up on offensive lineman, which was one of the team's bigger weaknesses last year, is a smart one. Reiter looks athletic on tape and has good technique. He is very undersized at 280 pounds, so it will be seen if he can maintain his movement skills at a higher weight. Regardless, it is important to add competition to the offensive line group in order to field the best five guys.

Overall

The Washington draft was very good. From a philosophical standpoint, they took a ton of incredibly physical players who like to bring it on every snap. They drafted incredibly impressive athletes with their first two picks and I would not be shocked to see Brandon Scherff quickly ascend to being one of the better offensive linemen in the league. I think this class will yield a ton of special teams studs and four starters within a few years. I hate to say this, but Washington had a great first draft and they may have found a very good GM in Scot McLoughan