Drafting a safety in the top-ten of the NFL Draft isn’t a common theme, but it has happened a handful of times this decade. And, when the Washington Redskins selected LaRon Landry with the sixth pick in 2007, they envisioned a decade of greatness in their secondary by pairing Landry with another former top-ten selection Sean Taylor. Landry and Taylor were going to revolutionize the safety position together and had gotten off to a tremendous start in the early going. But, the untimely death of Taylor ended the dreams of eventual glory together and abruptly ruined a creation destined for the unimaginable.
Without Taylor, Landry has been good, and there’s no question he’s the No. 1 prospect in the organization, but he hasn’t fully lived up to the expectations just yet. It was obvious while Landry was playing with Taylor he looked more confident and showcased a much more physical presence. He’s been durable so far in his young career and has started every game since entering the league. As a rookie, Landry was all over the field and was quick to the point of attack; he finished with 95 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Last season, Landry had a down year statistically and was susceptible to giving up big plays. He recorded just 65 tackles and a half a sack, but he did manage to collect two interceptions, which showed off his playmaking skills. Landry’s ball skills have been questionable since he was at LSU, as he was known more for his ability to layout the opposition. In the NFL, physicality is needed, but being able to cover is crucial. Landry has shown improvement in his coverage skills and has the talent to be one of the top safeties in the league. Expect Landry to be a breakout star this season and become the playmaker the Redskins need him to be on defense.
On offense, second-year wide receiver Devin Thomas will be expected to take a quantum leap in his development and be a major contributor this season. Thomas, the No. 2 rated prospect in the Redskins organization, was slowed by a hamstring injury in training camp last season, but managed to play in all 16 games as a rookie and hauled in 15 passes for 120 yards. Thomas did get in the endzone during his first-year in the league; it was on a 29-yard run against the New York Giants. At Michigan State, Thomas had an outstanding junior campaign catching 79 passes for 1,260 yards and eight touchdowns, decided to leave school after that breakout season and was taken in the second round of the 2008 draft. It’s been said that Head Coach Jim Zorn wants either Thomas or Malcolm Kelly, who’s listed as the seventh best prospect in the organization, to start on the outside opposite Santana Moss, so that Antwaan Randle El can move to the slot. Thomas will likely command that position, as Kelly is still recovering from a second knee surgery.
A big concern for the Redskins going into the offseason was to improve their pass rush. The Redskins finished the ’08 season tied with the third worst sack output (24 sacks) in the NFL, and an upgrade was a huge priority in the 2009 draft. Owning the 13th pick in the draft, the Redskins were fortunate to have Texas sack master Brian Orakpo fall into their lap. Primarily playing at defensive end at Texas, Orakpo will make the transition to outside linebacker in the NFL. Even though Orakpo hasn’t played a down at OLB, his draft standing and overall talent is hard to ignore and makes him a lock to be a top-five prospect in the organization. Breaking in at No. 3, Orakpo is a tremendous pass rusher, whether it’s from the down or up position, and can create a lot of havoc in the backfield. As a senior at Texas, Orakpo registered 42 tackles, 19 for a loss and 11.5 sacks, and as great of a prowess as Orakpo has for getting in the backfield, the transition to linebacker will require him to improve in coverage. Orakpo has the size, speed and agility to patrol a large area and cover tight ends; it’s just a matter of getting comfortable in his surroundings and learning the playbook.
Maybe the biggest surprise of all during the 2008 season for the Redskins was the emergence of seventh round pick, safety Chris Horton. Four selections from not even being drafted, Horton impressed the coaching staff during mini-camp and training camp and ultimately earned a roster spot with his play during the preseason. The No. 4 prospect in the organization, Horton made the most of his opportunities last season and eventually became the starting strong safety. He shared time with Reed Dougherty at the beginning of the season and ended up playing in 14 games, starting 10, and developed into the perfect compliment alongside Landry. In his first career start against the Saints, Horton had two interceptions and recovered a fumble; he was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts against New Orleans and also won the NFC Defensive Player of the Month award for September. Horton finished his rookie season with 76 tackles, three interceptions and a sack. If he continues to develop the way the Redskins hope, Horton and Landry will represent the NFC in Miami next year at the Pro Bowl.
One of the most popular players in any organization is the backup quarterback, because when the starting quarterback struggles and gets booed, and that happens more than it should in the National Football League, the backup hears his name chanted and gets applauded. In Washington, there’s a special circumstance happening, as a Colt following has started for the team’s third string quarterback and fifth rated prospect in the organization, former Hawaii signal caller Colt Brennan. A sixth round pick of the Redskins in 2008, Brennan holds over 30 NCAA records and finished his collegiate career with an astounding 70.1 completion percentage and threw for 16,725 yards, 154 touchdowns and 46 interceptions. After a promising preseason in ’08, Brennan didn’t see any game action as a rookie; he was stranded behind starter Jason Campbell and veteran Todd Collins. Entering his second season, Brennan will challenge Collins for the backup job, and with another impressive preseason, the chants of “Colt” will only get louder and the inconsistent starter, Campbell, will start to feel the pressure if he’s unable to realize any of his hyped potential.The Redskins, just like all of the team’s in the NFC East, have some intriguing prospects that qualify for the list, but unfortunately it’s only a top-ten ranking, and some players will be left out. From the looks of it, the 2008 draft was a good one for the Redskins as four of the five prospects listed [No. 6 Fred Davis, No. 7 Malcolm Kelly, No. 8 Chad Rinehart and No. 10 Justin Tryon] in the bottom half were drafted last April. All four of those prospects will start the year in backup roles and all possess the talent to become starters in 2010. Also breaking into the top 10 is a very talented corner, 2009 third round pick Kevin Barnes. Barnes spent half of his senior campaign injured, but when he’s healthy, his combination of size, speed and skill set matches up with any cornerback drafted this year.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.