Redskins need to look beyond first round of NFL draft

Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much that the Redskins’ latest win might hurt their drafting position. As the Patriots are showing, you don’t need a pile of first-round picks to be successful in the NFL. You just have to make intelligent use of the picks you have.

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Redskins owner Dan Snyder, right, stands with General Manager Bruce Allen as they watch football training camp at Redskins Park in Ashburn. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Long story short

You don’t need a pile of first-round picks to be successful in the NFL.

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Take the Pats’ offense. It’s averaging 32 points a game, tops in the league, yet only one player of any importance was drafted in the first round – and he was the very last selection. Here’s the breakdown:

Round 1 – Guard Logan Mankins (32nd pick).

Round 2 – Tight end Alge Crumpler (35), tight end Rob Gronkowski (42), tackle Matt Light (48), tackle Sebastian Vollmer (58), wide receiver Deion Branch (65).

Round 3 – Wide receiver Brandon Tate (83).

Round 4 – Tight end Aaron Hernandez (113).

Round 5 – Center Dan Koppen (164).

Round 6 – Quarterback Tom Brady (199).

Undrafted – Wide receiver Wes Welker, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, running back Danny Woodhead, guard Dan Connolly, guard Ryan Wendell.

Eye-opening, isn’t it? The Patriots are on pace to put up 512 points, one of the top 10 totals in NFL history, and they’ve got more undrafted players contributing to the cause than first-rounders.

Heck, even the Redskins’ popgun offense has four No. 1 picks – Trent Williams (4th overall), Jammal Brown (13), Santana Moss (16) and Rex Grossman (22). (That’s right, every one of them was taken earlier than Mankins, the highest-drafted player on the New England offense.)

It’s something for Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen to think about as they begin mapping plans for next year. Actually, it’s something the Redskins should have thought about ages ago. But for reasons known only to Dan Snyder, the organization has never seemed to place much emphasis on the scouting end of the business. We know this because (a.) for the longest time, Snyder was satisfied to have Vinny Cerrato in charge of it; and (b.) the Redskins have rarely come up with any hidden gems in the later rounds (or among the mob of undrafted free agents).

Whenever the Redskins have had a high pick, which has been too often (2000, ’04, ’05,’07), they’ve hung onto it rather than trading it for multiple lower selections. The result has been a roster top-heavy with extravagantly paid players – and lacking in quality depth. That’s why the team almost always fades late in the season. Once the injuries start to mount, the Redskins are cooked.

Funny, isn’t it? Snyder is always making attention-getting free agent signings or throwing money at famous coaches, but you never hear him say, “I want us to have the best personnel operation in the NFL. I want us to turn over every rock, to find players no one else finds. I want the next Danny Woodhead to be a Redskin. I will spare no expense, I WILL NOT REST until that happens.”

That kind of philosophical change is long overdue at Redskins Park. It’s all well and good to hire the World’s Largest Coaching Staff – or to have an offensive coordinator with a playbook thicker than a blocking back’s neck – but nothing is more crucial to the long-term health of a franchise than a steady flow of talent from the draft. The Redskins have never had that in the Snyder Era. In fact, they’ve tended to regard the draft as a mere supplement to free agency, rather than the other way around (and have traded away many of their picks). It’s gotten them nowhere, of course.

Every week in the NFL, rookies are the difference between winning and losing. And plenty of these rookies are drafted after the first round – if they’re drafted at all. Consider some of Sunday’s heroes:

– Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots (second round, 42nd pick): Caught two touchdown passes at Buffalo to help the Pats lock up the first seed in the AFC playoffs. Gronkowski now has nine TD receptions. Only one rookie tight end in pro football history has had more (Mike Ditka, 12, ’61 Bears).

– Mike Williams, WR, Bucs (fourth round, 101): Kept Tampa Bay’s postseason hopes alive by scoring twice in a 38-15 blowout of Seattle. Williams is having one of the greatest seasons ever by a rookie wideout drafted later than the third round.

– Carlos Dunlap, DE, Bengals (second round, 54): Had two sacks as Cincinnati upset San Diego and eliminated the Chargers from playoff contention. Dunlap now has seven sacks in his last five games.

– Jacoby Ford, WR, Raiders (fourth round, 108): Returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against Indianapolis, the third time this season he’s run a kickoff back for a score – tying him for the most in the league.

– Dane Fletcher, LB, Patriots (undrafted): Intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble in the Pats’ 34-3 pasting of the Bills.

– LeGarrette Blount, RB, Bucs (undrafted): Rushed for a season-high 164 yards in the win over the Seahawks. Needs 59 yards to become just the fourth undrafted rookie to hit the 1,000 mark.

I could go on, but you get the point. The question is: Do the Redskins? They almost never stumble across players like this. It’s time they started to.

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