ROUND 1, 13 overall — DL Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
I was pounding the table for Da’Ron Payne for months so I can’t claim to be anything but happy about this pick. His pass-rushing skills are mostly based on brute strength and athleticism at this point, but that’s why DL coach Jim Tomsula is paid the big bucks. However, Payne should be an elite run-stopper from day one. Those complaining about his lack of sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage need to understand that the Alabama defense generally asked Payne to occupy gaps and blockers, allowing linebackers to flow to the ball and make the play. If you’ve ever wondered why Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster look so good on tape, guys like Payne are a major reason why.
Nevertheless, I expect some real interior pass rush push from Payne, which will be critical for any team, like Washington, that plays so much zone defense. Payne looked like a very good defensive lineman in college, the sort of guy who gets picked near the end of the first round. Then, if you saw Payne in the college football playoffs against Clemson and Georgia, you understand why he went much higher than that.
One thing that isn’t mentioned enough about Payne is how hard he works. He’s got a non-stop motor and does not take plays off the way DL Vita Vea, who was taken before Payne, does.
Should the Redskins have taken safety Derwin James, who was still on the board at 13? You can make a good argument in favor of taking James. You can make a good argument for sticking with Payne. Either way, the Skins added an elite talent at their position of biggest need. Washington was among the worst run defenses in the NFL last year. Payne should help change that immediately.
Round 2, 59 overall — RB Derrius Guice, LSU
What you think about this selection depends on whether you think Guice has off-the-field or personality issues that will cause problems for him and the Skins. So far, no evidence of these much-hyped issues has emerged. If it does not, the Skins probably got the steal of the 2018 NFL Draft.
My grade for this pick is affected — postively — by the fact that the Skins got a player at 59 who was valued by everyone much higher than that draft position and also nabbed the 74th pick in the Draft as part of a trade.
At a hair under 6′ tall and about 220-225 pounds, Guice has excellent size for an NFL back, as well as quick feet and impressive athleticism. He looks the part and has elite instincts that allow him to find and hit the hole almost every time. In addition, Guice is strong and powerful, enabling him to drag tacklers and fall forward for extra yards after contact. He is the between-the-tackles banger that Head Coach Jay Gruden said he wanted before the Draft and he has been known to protect the ball well in college. He’s also a solid, if unspectacular, receiver out of the backfield.
Guice was a third year junior who fell off last year. After averaging 8.5 yards per carry as a freshman and 7.6 yards as a sophomore (and running for 1387 yards and 15 TD), Guice averaged only 5.3 yards in 2017 and rushed for only 11 TD. Part of that was a major problem at QB for LSU, allowing teams to key on Guice, but the fact is there were weeks last season when he simply didn’t produce much of anything. Guice had to fight through injury early in the season, but the fact remains that some weeks he looked like one of the most dominant runners in the nation and others when he looked like he should last until the 6th round.
Guice ran a 4.49 in the 40 at the Combine, which is impressive, though it’s not clear he plays to that speed. He can break big runs and some of that is speed, but a lot of it is an angry, furious running style that bashes through tacklers. He runs with good balance and vision and can turn a 3-yard gain up the gut into a 14-yard gain pretty quickly. He has what it takes to be a very good starting running back in the NFL, but the injury he suffered in 2017 took a lot of the edge off him.
If you think Guice is the runner we saw in 2016 — and I suspect that he is — then the Skins just drafted a stud starting running back who should quickly earn the bulk of the team’s carries in 2018. If 2017 Guice was simply injured Guice and not what he will be in the NFL, then the Skins traded down and picked up a third round selection while still getting a first round talent at a major position of need.
Round 3, 74 overall — OT Geron Christian, Louisville
Using the third round pick they picked up in a second round trade down with the San Francisco 49ers, the Washington Redskins selected Louisville OT Geron Christian, a three-year starter at Louisville who played more basketball than football in high school. At 6’5″ and 300 pounds with 35″ arms, Christian has the size you want and he actually flipped between tackle positions during the middle of a game. He’s very athletic and versatile, with good feet and excellent speed.
However, he’s a bit underpowered for the offensive line in the NFL and is viewed as a passive run blocker. The upper body strength simply is not there right now.
Some view Christian as an average NFL prospect, but many others think he simply needs time to develop and coaching. While most of the tackles taken in front of Christian are regarded as basically as good or nearly as good as they will ever be, even many of Christian’s detractors believe he has a high upside and plenty of room (and ability) to improve.
The Skins have two excellent and expensive starting tackles right now and may view Christian as someone who can eventually take over at either position, after a suitable period of coaching and strength-building.
Will we see the Redskins move Ty Nsekhe inside to guard, with Christian taking over the duties of the backup tackle? We will see.
OVERALL GRADE FOR ROUNDS 1-3: A-
The Redskins dealt cleverly to add a third pick to the mere two they possessed going into the first three rounds of the NFL Draft and wound up taking two instant starters who should be major difference-makers, the first on defense and the second on offense. The team’s major weakness on defense, rush defense, should improve instantly. The team’s major weakness on offense, inability to run the ball, should also improve instantly. The third pick is a bit of a puzzle and I’m not sure why the Skins did not use the third round selection on someone who could step in and start at guard. Right now, the team’s starting left guard is Arie Kouandjioe, whom the team tried to discard less than one year ago. If the Christian pick allows the Skins to solve the guard problem by moving Ty Nsekhe inside, fine. If not, that pick, while perhaps wise from a long-term view, could be costly in the short-to-medium term.