Why Redskins rookie Su'a Cravens could be this year's Preston Smith

The similarities between the hybrid safety and edge rusher aren't obvious until you hear defensive coordinator Joe Barry discuss Cravens.

by Justin Byram, special to Breaking Burgundy

Last year, the Washington Redskins selected a raw defender, who would have to settle into a different role in the pros than the one he played in college. That, of course was Preston Smith, who finished off his rookie campaign in impressive fashion, recording six of his eight sacks over the final 4 games.

Could the Redskins be in a similar situation with this year’s second rounder? If defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s comments about Su'a Cravens are any indication, it seems that way.

“I have to be careful. I have to remember that this is a 20-year old rookie," Barry said of Cravens, who went through his second week of Organized Team Activities. "I have to be careful because a guy like that you can do so many things with. You can play him at inside linebacker, at outside linebacker, rush him off the edge, drop him into coverage, or line him up over the slot.”

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Barry went on to admit that learning a new playbook is like learning a foreign language, and that the USC product will have a steep learning curve, especially since the versatile defender will need to know so many roles.

Like Smith, Cravens appears to be a quick learner.

“I think as he learns and he picks up the system and the more comfortable he gets, the sky is the limit with all the different things you can do with him," the defensive coordinator said.

In other words, eventually, expect Cravens to be all over the field for the Burgundy and Gold, and play just about every position other than defensive line.

He has above average football instincts. Pair that with his toughness and grit, and you can absolutely see him fitting as a “hybrid”, modern day linebacker. Cravens has plenty of college tape showing his ability to create havoc in the backfield, particularly on blitzes. The Pac 12 product is capable of playing a third safety role in certain packages, and he can certainly line up in the slot over flexed tight ends and match up well.

For now, the rookie will begin learning the Redskins “Mo” linebacker position (the weakside linebacker in base) as well as the weakside linebacker in in nickel (otherwise known as the dime linebacker).

However, the more familiar Cravens becomes with the defensive scheme, the more versatile and valuable he becomes to the unit; which is why it is certainly possible we see Cravens steadily improve, and hit his stride towards the end of his rookie season, just as Smith did last year.

For Redskins coaches, players, and fans, that would be quite the goal. A rookie season in which he steadily improves, and provides legitimate hope for more would mean general manager Scot McCloughan landed another key piece for a defensive unit that must improve for a return playoff trip.

At this point we all joke about McCloughan's love for "football players." It's said with total sincerity that Cravens is one of those guys. There should be no issue believing he'll bury his nose in the playbook and improve along the way..

There's also reason to believe Su'a Cravens will be this year's Preston Smith. All smiles if that happens no matter where the linebacker/safety lines up. 

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