Redskins made smart choice with Kerrigan

Washington is counting on Ryan Kerrigan to bring enthusiasm and energy to the defense. Sandra Dukes/Icon SMI

Here’s the easy way to assess the Washington Redskins' decision to select Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan with the 16th overall pick in this year’s draft: They added a strong, versatile pass-rusher who can complement burgeoning star Brian Orakpo. Now here’s the better way to evaluate that move: The team also sent a potent message about the near future, one that said energy and attitude will mean as much as talent for new additions to that locker room.

As good as Kerrigan is -- he was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 -- his approach to the game will pay huge dividends for his new employer. This is a young man who plays every down as if the Lombardi Trophy hangs in the balance. Kerrigan also treats any opportunity he receives as if he’s truly blessed to have one. For a team that has spent the past year coping with the headache that is their highest paid defender, defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, this has to be a nice change. Kerrigan should pump new life into that side of the football just with his love of the game.

What he’ll also do is bolster a defense that sorely needed an injection of new blood. The Redskins have a few playmakers, including Pro Bowlers cornerback DeAngelo Hall and linebacker London Fletcher. Yet, they also have too many aging veterans and not enough help on the edge to keep double-teams off Orakpo. Aside from his 8.5 sacks in 2010, no other Redskins player totaled more than 2.5 sacks last season.

Those numbers are even more frightening when considering the kind of opposition the Redskins face in the NFC East. They have to contend with Michael Vick and all those speedy skill players that surround him in Philadelphia. They also have to deal with Eli Manning and the New York Giants as well as Tony Romo and the talented Dallas Cowboys offense. If you can’t make those quarterbacks sweat, you don’t have a chance in that division. If you’re a team with the kind of offensive issues that plagued Washington last season, you need that defensive pressure even more.

This is where Kerrigan’s presence should pay off. He’s playing a position that usually requires much less transition time. Orakpo made the Pro Bowl as a rookie while Green Bay’s Clay Matthews, another 3-4 pass-rusher, challenged for league Defensive Player of the Year honors in his second season. Even though the 6-foot-4, 267-pound Kerrigan was a 4-3 defensive end in college, he displayed the athleticism to play outside linebacker during his workouts and combine testing. Playing opposite of Orakpo alone also should guarantee that he will have an immediate impact on the Redskins' defense.

It also helps that Kerrigan started for three years at Purdue and produced 32 career sacks. What is just as impressive is the fact he earned defensive player of the year honors in the Big Ten. Three other defensive linemen from that conference -- Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, Illinois’ Corey Liuget and Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn -- were selected in the first round of Thursday’s draft as well. Not one of those players had the kind of production that Kerrigan displayed in his final college season.

The Redskins also won big with Kerrigan because they traded down to get him. Washington entered the draft with only two picks in the first four rounds and eight overall. Jacksonville moved up to the 10th overall spot to select Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Washington also acquired the Jaguars’ second-round pick (49th overall). That’s a selection that will certainly allow coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen to address some other major needs Friday.

Anybody who follows the Redskins recognizes this isn’t a team that is one good draft away from being in contention. The Redskins need to find a quarterback now that the Donovan McNabb era has turned disastrous. They have to bolster their defensive interior with Haynesworth’s future in doubt and running back and offensive line are other questionable areas. In a division as competitive as the NFC East, this team won’t be competing for anything for at least another year.

One key reason for those issues is the team’s drafting history. While the Redskins have found gems like Orakpo and left tackle Trent Williams, last year’s top pick, they’ve also had a mediocre track record in this area lately. This is a team that has been far too concerned with big-name coaching hires and high-profile acquisitions. What they ultimately should have learned by now is that there are no quick fixes in the NFL.

The teams that win most consistently are the ones who get it right on draft day. By taking Kerrigan, the Redskins proved that they have a better sense of the value in this philosophy. He isn’t the only thing they need these days, but his arrival is definitely a strong step in the right direction.