The Washington Redskins don't have to select a pass-rusher with the fifth pick. They might make a move in free agency that negates the need; they could trade down. But if they stay there, there will be some interesting choices.
Nebraska's Randy Gregory will be, and has been already, projected to the Redskins by any number of mock drafts. That could be cause for celebration -- and a little bit of crossing the fingers. Gregory is a freakish athlete; he's also someone who needs work to make his game fit in the NFL.
So says ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. Gregory's film supports Kiper's belief: In my write-up on him, it was clear he made athletic plays, but his strength is an issue, whether against the run or in beating his opponent in a pass rush where speed isn't working.
"Gregory has to get stronger," Kiper said. "He's more the developmental type. ...If he does, then you could be looking at a guy who can be a very good pass-rusher."
That word, developmental, could scare people. But with Gregory, there are things you can't teach or coach or improve. Like his athleticism and his length. Both are attributes of a (potentially) special pass-rusher.
It's often difficult for pass-rushers to make instant impacts, even if selected high in the draft. J.J. Watt is a dominant rusher now; he was drafted 11th overall and in his first year recorded 5.5 sacks -- and then 20.5 as a second-year player. Last year's No. 5 overall pick, Khalil Mack, had fantastic measurables (a 1.53 in the 10-yard split; anything under 1.6 is good) and showed good things as a rookie. He had just four sacks. St. Louis' Robert Quinn had five sacks as a rookie; two years later he had 19. Teams are trying to find guys who can make a long-term impact, not just an instant splash.
The trick is projecting who will develop into that special rusher. Which of the available pass-rushers could be that guy?
Gregory benched 225 pounds 24 times at the combine, an OK number. But Kiper said his film looked more like someone who benched that weight 15 times. In watching him, Gregory often had a tough time getting off blocks in the run game.
If the Redskins drafted him, they wouldn't necessarily need him as much in the run game with Trent Murphy available. Murphy played the run well, but lacks the explosiveness of any of the available-pass rushers in the first round. Gregory, though, likely would play a lot given how much nickel the Redskins are forced to play (partly because of the division).
However, they'd still have to cross their fingers and hope it pans out. Here's the thing: That's true of pretty much every player in the draft. The more players are scouted and watched, the more they're picked apart. The offensive tackles all have flaws as well -- some project more to guard. Nose tackle Danny Shelton has warts, too; there's concern about his inconsistent game film.
But with the pass-rushers, there is a choice. Florida's Dante Fowler, Jr., has the necessary size, but his game, too, is raw -- he has an explosive first step, but needs to learn how to react thereafter. For Gregory, it's about adding strength -- and staying explosive. Will that happen? It's a bet some team will make.
"Gregory's a great athlete," Kiper said. "Phenomenal athlete. He has the length; long arms. He could be spectacular in this league. He has to show he can be durable as well. He has enormous upside."