DALLAS -- The draft has helped the Dallas Cowboys emerge from the ruins of the 2012 salary cap penalty. The draft has not done the same for the Washington Redskins -- not yet at least. Perhaps Dallas can't sustain its early-season success because of a flawed defense that hasn't been fully exposed, thanks to a dominating offense. And perhaps the Redskins' growth will become more evident in 2015. For now, though, they're at different points, thanks in part to the draft.
Let's take a look:
Dallas and Washington have built their respective offensive lines in different ways. The Cowboys did an excellent job building through the draft, with three first-round picks -- at left tackle (Tyron Smith), center Travis Frederick and right guard (Zack Martin). Each of the five starters began their careers with the Cowboys. (Jeremy Parnell, who will start at right tackle Monday night, is a fill in for Doug Free. Parnell began his career as an undrafted free agent with New Orleans; Dallas drafted Free in the fourth round.) Left guard Ronald Leary was an undrafted free agent -- he has a degenerative knee condition that hurt his draft stock.
The Redskins have drafted a total of three offensive linemen in the first round since 1982 -- Andre Johnson, a massive bust, in 1996; Chris Samuels in 2000; and Trent Williams in 2010. They obviously hit on the latter two. In the franchise’s history, they’ve selected one guard in the first round (Mark May in 1981) and no centers. Also, of Monday’s starting five, only two were drafted by Washington: Williams and right tackle Tom Compton. But it’s not as if the others weren’t higher picks -- right guard Chris Chester (second round), left guard Shawn Lauvao (third round) and center Kory Lichtensteiger (fourth round) all were picked in good spots by their former teams (who also let them leave).
The Redskins have drafted nine offensive linemen since 2010, and only Williams is a regular starter. Compton gets the start Monday, of course, but he’s not yet a regular. Eventually, though, the job will belong permanently to him or last spring’s third-rounder, Morgan Moses. Here's the point, however: They haven’t done a good job in this area. Dallas’ offense was explosive before the line became this good, but the line has transformed their offense and, by effect, saved a defense (for now at least) that has many issues.
During that same period, from 2010-14, Dallas drafted six offensive linemen and three are high-level starters (the first-round picks). It definitely helped that the Cowboys had talent elsewhere on offense, starting at quarterback, and could focus on the line in the first round; that’s a key point and a luxury not many teams have. But they needed a ton of help on defense this past spring yet chose Martin (then went defense with seven of the next eight picks). Martin is fantastic. I’m typically not a big fan of drafting guards or centers in the top half of the first round (Frederick was picked No. 31, a good spot for such a player). But Dallas did so with Martin and has been rewarded.
There's also this: 10 of the 11 regular starters for Dallas’ offense have only played for the Cowboys. And nine of them were draft choices (with quarterback Tony Romo an undrafted free agent). Only fullback Tyler Clutts has played elsewhere. The other key is that these players aren’t just starting, they’re contributing to a powerful offense.
The Redskins do have seven former draft picks starting on defense, with the lone exceptions being safeties Ryan Clark and Brandon Meriweather and defensive linemen Chris Baker and Jason Hatcher. Offensively, they have four former draft choices starting Monday: Williams, Compton, tight end Jordan Reed and running back Alfred Morris (there's also fullback Darrel Young and tight end Logan Paulsen, both of whom start depending on the package and both of whom were undrafted free agents by the Redskins). Next week a fifth could be added with quarterback Robert Griffin III.
By next season, if Griffin develops, the Redskins could have seven former draft picks starting -- if Moses and guard Spencer Long develop. And, again, if Griffin blossoms and those linemen become legitimate starters, it could be a powerful and well-built attack for the foreseeable future. A lot depends on the quarterback play, of course. Had Griffin stayed healthy, things might look different. But he hasn't and that's also why there is concern at this position. Still, if the Redskins end this season feeling good about the development of these young players, it would allow them to focus more on defense in the offseason. That’s why, even if the Redskins fail to get back in the playoff race, the second half of the season bears watching closely.