1 minute, 32 seconds left in the game. Rookie phenom Robert Griffin III had just given Washington a 23-20 lead over their hated rivals, the Giants, in New York with an incredible 30-yard pass to Santana Moss. Exuberant Redskins’ fans cheered for what looked to be an upset win over the defending champions, and then collectively sighed as Victor Cruz raced past four burgundy-clad defenders into the end zone for a 77-yard game-winning touchdown with 1:13 left.
The image of safety Madieu Williams and cornerback Josh Wilson running behind Cruz proved to be an apt symbol for the Redskins’ secondary in the 2012-2013 season. With Madieu Williams gone and the Redskins without much hope of signing a current free safety due to their salary cap problems, look for their first pick in tomorrow’s NFL Draft, the 51st overall, to be an investment in a stronger, smarter, faster pass defense. Here are some players that could be just that:
1. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina. This free safety coming straight off of an 80-tackle season in the SEC bolstered the 8th ranked Gamecocks’ defense, which allowed a mere 18.2 points a game. Boasts a 4.63 second 40-yard dash and a 37 inch vertical. Scouts say he is a “versatile defender who plays with the aggression, physicality and competitiveness teams want at safety.”
2. Dwayne Gratz, Connecticut. The cornerback just finished a solid 5 years in the UCONN football program, capped with a senior year which included 53 tackles and 3 interceptions. His size of 5’11″, 201 pounds is formidable for a cornerback, but does not lose him any speed or agility, as his 4.44 second 40-yard dash and 38-inch vertical attest. Scouts say Gratz “plays assignment sound football and doesn’t make many mistakes.” This bodes well for a team fed up with watching opponents trot into the end zone on deep throws.
3. Darius Slay, Mississippi State. As a cornerback, Slay had 37 tackles and 5 interceptions on his way to a Second-Team All-SEC honor that stands out in a conference of giants. Standing at 6′, 192 pounds, the former Bulldog is perhaps most impressive as he tracks down receivers with his 4.31 second 40-yard dash speed, the best of all defenders at the combine. Scouts praise: “Good quickness, fluidity and straight-line speed. Better than expected route-recognition given his lack of experience and has natural coverage ability.”
Who you won’t hear called:
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU. the 2011 Heisman finalist made his name at cornerback with 70 tackles and 5 forced fumbles, padding his resume with a 16.2 yard punt-return average as well. Analysis is predictably stellar, with praise covering his ability of ”demonstrating stellar instincts and awareness to avoid blocks and make plays in close quarters.” However, the Redskins will not choose Mathieu, famously nick-named “The Honeybadger,” because they know better. He was dismissed from the LSU football team after failing multiple drug tests and did not play in 2012. His record includes arrests for marijuana possession and he himself admits to losing track of his failed drug tests at “10.” After losing left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Fred Davis to failed drug tests in 2011-2012 and dealing with Albert Haynesworth’s off-the-field antics for multiple years, coach Mike Shanahan is sure to prefer more stable options in his team mold. Mathieu will be available, but he is definitely not the Skins’ man.