The Washington Redskins will presumably enter this month’s draft with the safety position as their top need. Depending on how the board falls when Washington picks in the 2nd (51 overall) and 3rd (85 overall), it’s very likely that the team will select a safety between those two picks. So, I reached out to Rotoworld draft writer and NFL.com contriubtor, Josh Norris who dropped some knowledge on a few prospects the Redskins could target.
As it currently stands, the Washington Redskins have Josh Wilson, DeAngelo Hall and free agent signee E.J. Biggers as the team’s starting corners. At safety, the team has Brandon Meriweather as their “in the box” guy and a glaring hole at free “roaming” safety spot. Josh Norris spends most of his time watching college football, but has a good feel for Josh Wilson and Brandon Meriweather’s game. Although they play different positions, Norris calls Josh Wilson the better player than Meriweather, in the sense of overall talent. “I don’t think he should be starting,” Norris said of Meriweather. Now, to keep this in context, Meriweather didn’t play a full game in 2012. But the small sample size he gave with the Washington Redskins was pleasant. However, you have to be cautious putting all your eggs in that basket in regards to Meriweather. He still has a ton to prove.
“Luckily, I think that safety and corner are two very good positions to draft this year; I think teams could really double up on those two positions, along with tight ends and maybe running backs,” Norris said. That, of course, is good to know for the Washington Redskins.
Norris went on to say that he believes there are two tiers of safeties. The first tier is “interchangeable” and Norris broke down his top three prospects who fit that mold: Kenny Vacarro (Texas), Jonathan Cyprien (FIU) and D.J. Swearinger (South Carolina). “All three played more strong safety than they did free safety,” he noted. “But I think they all have the range to play single high – work sideline to sideline, while also having the ability to come up and play close to the box. In Swearinger and Vacarro’s case, they can even even cover slot receivers or tight ends man-to-man close to the line of scrimmage.”
From my personal film study, the Redskins do not really use interchangeable safeties, although D-Coordinator Jim Haslett doesn’t like to label them. The strong “in the box” safeties tend to cover RBs, TEs and help in run support. They play some cover two, but primarily upfield commotion. As for the free “roaming” safeties, they tend to play cover 1, some 2 and 3, as mostly a deep half or middle defender. Norris believes a lot of NFL teams have been trying to incorporate those interchangeable safeties and inverting a lot of corners to the safety position. However, he mentioned the major success teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens have had with a pure strong safety and pure free safeties. So, because of that, Norris thinks teams will be more optimistic with that solution than those interchangeable safeties.
“The center-fielders, guys who can do very well in the back half are Bacarri Rambo (Georgia) and Phillip Thomas (Fresno State),” Morris listed. Rambo is a personal favorite of mine and Norris tends to share my thought process. He prefers Rambo over Phillip Thomas. “He has that centerfield mentality — can really disrupt the catch point,” Norris said of Rambo. He also believes that Rambo is a more physical player than Phillip Thomas, and is more consistent being an upfield tackler. “That’s where Thomas really drops off for me,” Norris said. “Sure he had the most interceptions in college football this year — and he actually does take decent angles in run support. But for some reason, in that two yard box right when he’s closing on the running back, he always whiffs. And I don’t know if it’s tightness, if it’s a lack of anticipation, lack of quick-twitch movement — but he whiffs way too much.”
As for the strong safeties, Norris mentioned Matt Elam (Florida), who he’s not as high on as others are. “He puts together a great highlight reel, and I’ll give him that” Norris said. “When his number is called on the edge, he can make it look like an impact play. But from a play to play basis, I worry about his consistency. And you add in the fact that he’s about 5ft 10, as a strong safety — that could be a major issue when covering a Jimmy Graham or some of these other big tight ends.” Norris went on to mention Shawn Williams, who was Bacarri Rambo’s running mate at Georgia. He calls Williams a “very physical player with a little more size.” He also talked about Shamarko Thomas (Syracuse) — “I really like Thomas,” Norris said. “I really think he’s more consistent on a play to play basis than Matt Elam, so I give him the nod there. He plays with reckless abandon. So some teams are going to like that — some, not that much because they think he can be too over aggressive at times — and he can be. There is some tightness in his hips when he’s asked to recover and get vertical again.”
Another player Josh Norris believes can be an interchangeable piece is J.J. Wilcox from Georgia Southern, who is fairly new to the position. “He played receiver and running back up until this season,” said Norris. “But he had a great year — very physical player; he just needs to learn the position a little more. He just needs to be more refined. I think the sky is the limit for J.J. Wilcox.”
The Redskins have also shown great interest in Nevada safety Duke Williams, who is popular among the fans. I asked Josh Norris about him and here’s his evaluation: “If you want to watch one game of his — turn on his game against Cal — that was very early in the season, but he did well. This is a guy who participated in everything during the pre-draft process. He was at the East-West shrine game, he got a call to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine as well. He is interchangeable as well. I mainly rooted for him when he lined up in the slot against Keenan Allen and did a very good job with that. I like Duke Williams — he would be in the next group that I didn’t discuss (didn’t discuss a guy like Eric Reid who he’s not as high on as others). But Duke Williams, I think, could go earlier than one of these other bigger names that I’ve discussed.”
I gave Josh Norris three names to choose from if he was making the decision for the Washington Redskins: Bacarri Rambo, Phillip Thomas and Duke Williams. I chose those names assuming that Cyprien and Swearinger will be gone when the Redskins first pick at 51 overall. Here was Norris’ response: “Just as an overall talent, I would say Bacarri Rambo. I think that he is the best of the bunch. In the terms of interchangeable safeties, none of those guys really are on the next level. I think that you have to do your role very well and specialize in your role. And I think Rambo does that the best of that bunch, in terms of being that single high safety, centerfield type, even free safety when they are neck and neck with the strong safety in deep pass in a cover 2. In terms of being a consistent tackler in space, I would pick Rambo.”
Nice to see that Norris and I think alike! He went on to mention that the Redskins should even go safety in maybe the 5th round, where they have two picks, and look at a guy like Earl Wolf (NC State) or a Josh Evans from Florida. “Those guys are kind of flying under the radar a little bit, but I think that they are very good players as well,” Norris said.
As for the conerback position, I asked Norris specifically about two players who I’m hearing the Redskins have a lot of interest in: Brandon McGee (Miami) and Dwayne Gratz (UConn). “I think McGee is going to go higher than people expect, because he is drawing a lot of interest during this pre-draft process,” Norris said. “McGee is kind of your typical Miami athlete, in that, he’s more an athlete now than a corner who’s very aware of a receiver’s route and when to break them. He has great closing speed and I do think he can develop into something good. But I probably wouldn’t touch him until the 4th round. I think that’s where his talent level is. Now, I can definitely see him going in the 3rd round. But the 4th is where I’d feel comfortable.”
On Dwayne Gratz, Norris had this to say: “He actually looked better at times than Wreh-Wilson during Senior Bowl practices. I prefer Wreh-Wilson as a prospect. But he was a lot more physical at the line of scrimmage, riding the defenders downfield — just disrupting the catchpoint. He gave receivers a lot of fits and there were some talent evaluators that prefer him over Wreh-Wilson.”
Josh Norris went on to throw another conerback name out: “I really like Will Davis from Utah State. Now, he had an abysmal Senior Bowl, to be perfectly honest. But I think his tape is a lot better. He’s only like a year and a half starter. If you can teach him to just be patient with his footwork, on his press coverage and jams at the line of scrimmage, I think Will Davis can be a very good football player.”
So, based on our conversation with Rotoworld draft writer and NFL.com contributor Josh Norris, Bacarri Rambo could be the best fit for the Washington Redskins. But it really comes down to what the team wants. Interchangeable vs pure free and strong safety. There’s benefits and negatives to both. But one thing’s for sure, the Redskins should be able to improve their secondary through the draft with multiple prospects.
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