Myth #2: The use of the team’s top three draft picks on pass-catchers was based entirely on a “best available” draft board philosophy.
Yes, there was a lot of value at the WR position in round two as other teams passed on pass-catching prospects throughout the first round. Receiver was a legitimate need for this club (as mentioned in Myth #1), and the attempts to trade for Chad Johnson & Anquan Boldin should have been seen as indications that it was target area #1 for the Redskins brass. Selecting Devin Thomas at #34 overall appeared to make a lot of sense, but selecting another receiver as well as a TE when the roster already includes Pro Bowler Chris Cooley clearly showed that the top goal of the weekend was to improve the passing game and give the still-maturing QB and new offensive-minded HC some more weapons to use in the West Coast Offense.
Cerrato was quick to point to his best-player-available (BPA) strategy and infamous ‘draft board’:
“We didn’t sit in that room all those hours to make a board to come to the [draft] day and go all over the place and ignore it. We’ve always followed the board. In the past, when we’ve made mistakes, it’s because [we] didn’t go by ‘take the best players, not fill a need.’ Take the best guy on the board.”
While that may be true, he was also eager to talk about the need each selection filled and how each would fit into Zorn’s system. Specifically, he said of TE Fred Davis: “there are a lot of formations with two tight ends in Jim Zorn’s offense that he’ll be utilized in.” Cerrato sounded defensive when letting on that DC Greg Blache was in the room and concurred with the BPA theme. For his part, Zorn told the media pre-draft that he would not lobby to draft offensive players as he had done as QB coach in Seattle, and had “become far more neutral.” However, after the draft he admitted to being “very excited” and that he “couldn’t have predicted that scenario” which included three pass-catchers coming onboard in a matter of hours. He beamed that the added personnel “gives us a tremendous amount of flexibility, and that “flexibility of personnel groups in the West Coast offense is critical.”
Cerrato sounded even more like a hypocrite when talking about his strategy going into the draft’s second day. He began with the mantra “take the best guy on the board,” only to qualify it with “but, I don’t think it will be a receiver.” So much for the board and the BPA strategy.
Assuming for a moment that the BPA strategy was employed with each and every pick, questions remain about the board itself. Both receivers had “first-round grades” on the Redskins’ boards, but apparently not on many other teams’. Cerrato called getting Thomas at #34 “an outstanding deal for us” and stated that many prospects “on our board as our choices at 21 were [almost all] still there at 34.” To borrow the words of Thomas Boswell, “could they really be correct while everybody else in the NFL was wrong to leave such great talents untouched?” Taking Kelly was an “easy [decision],” but what of the slow 40 time and character issues that seemingly scared off other teams?
Finally, is the BPA strategy really the best to utilize? Would it be wise to devote a pick to a punter if there was a signed Pro Bowler on the roster? Should a team with a franchise QB select Matt Ryan if he slipped to them late in the first round when he was graded as a top-5 pick on their board? Would they then draft a second QB in the next round if he was atop their board? Of course not. To continue to utter the tired BPA sound bites when clearly factoring in need with each pick further exemplifies the amount of spin involved in all official Redskins team communications. Why not just be a bit more honest with your fans, who continue to set multiple NFL attendance records. As Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian told Sally Jenkins, “It’s an art.” He talked about factoring in both need and talent, and “when the need line crosses the talent line, go ahead.” The Colts, for what it’s worth, selected a center pretty high based on their need for depth at that position.
Why can’t Cerrato & Snyder just be forthright after the fact and state that they were desperate for help at receiver and were willing to go the extra yard for it? As the Redskins Insider blog has revealed several times, the two were talking about the possibility of trading for Johnson with every candidate during the coaching search. When the Bengals decided not to part with Johnson for multiple picks, the Redskins simply used the same relative resource (multiple picks) on the position through the draft. Check out this Insider entry from Jason LaConfora:
The Redskins made it obvious that, as it became clear they would not get Johnson or Anquan Boldin, wide receiver was a focal point. Snyder watched the private workouts of players at the top of the board. Even as the rest of the league was talking about all receivers sliding out of the first round, and this draft lacking a legit stud candidate at WR, the Redskins were devoting more and more attention to receivers.
Inside the building, coaches were fretting that upper management was pushing grades higher on players like Malcolm Kelly, inflating their worth as the draft approaches, while Kelly was dropping down other boards. Teams I spoke to before the draft had him rated in the lower half of the second round, and no one seems shocked he was still on the board at 51. The Redskins kept coming up with high grades on this slumping receiver class, thus ensuring a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you simply follow the board, and the draft plays out as expected, and you sit there with a bunch of second round picks, of course you’re going to have wide receivers “sticking out like a sore thumb.”
If the deck is stacked towards receivers, and that’s what the owner is most enamored with – those are the players he keeps swinging and missing on in the trade front – well, how do you think the draft going to unfold? And, if you feel like you have to take multiple receivers in the draft, you could get a player they had rated highly, like Arman Shields out of Richmond, at the end of the 4th round (he went one pick after Washington’s 4th round selection, at 125 overall).
Just look at the recent history at this position – the blockbuster trade of WR Moss for WR Coles, then making David Patten a key free agent in 2005, then giving $10-million guaranteed to Randle El and Lloyd in 2006, then watching the owner covet receivers like Edwards and Calvin Johnson and Ted Ginn in the draft, then watching him chasing Johnson and Boldin in 2008 ….
That’s an amazing amount of time and resources sunk into one position group. Again, all play dependent positions – if the line and the QB and the running game aren’t right, your stable of receivers ain’t going to be doing much, no matter how good they are. Cerrato spoke as if defensive coordinator Greg Blache was doing cartwheels over the selection of three pass catchers on Saturday, and maybe he was. But I can assure you that some other coaches were scratching their heads.
No team can go four wide receivers and two tight ends all the time. Just can’t be done. Unless they plan on running a whole lot of empty backfield, it’s going to be tricky utilizing all of these guys and the existing one. Yes, they certainly have great depth at pass catcher now, but at the expense of how much else?