Redskins Roundtable: Draft Pick Potential?

Posted May 4, 2011

Matt Terl and Gary Fitzgerald debate a Redskins topic. This week: Which Redskins 2011 draft pick has the most upside? One vote goes to West Virginia nose tackle Chris Neild.

Welcome to Redskins Roundtable, in which managing editor Gary Fitzgerald and senior writer and blogger Matt Terl discuss and debate a Redskins question each week. (Stay tuned for guest contributors in future Roundtables.)

Question: Which Redskins 2011 draft pick do you think has the most upside?

GARY: The Redskins’ first pick, pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan, has the most potential to be a star in the Brian Orakpo mold. Third-round wide receiver Leonard Hankerson follows close behind. But I’m going to say the Redskins’ last pick, nose tackle Chris Neild, has the most upside.

Neild, 6-0 and 313 pounds, started the last three years at West Virginia. His draft bio, distributed to reporters after the Redskins selected him, suggests that he was “the pulse of the defense, the unquestioned locker room leader and a role model both on and off the field.”

Okay, that’s just PR talk. But you can’t ignore that the Mountaineers were second in the nation in rush defense and sacks recorded last year and Neild – who posted 35 tackles and a career-best three sacks – was a significant contributor to those stats.

MATT: You hit on this in your answer, but what does upside even MEAN, really?  If it’s potential bonus value over expectations, then yes, Neild seems like a good pick.  A high-motor guy taken in the seventh-round at a position of need has the potential to really excel well past what you’d need to justify that late of a pick.

But I think the guy who actually has the greatest upside is running back Roy Helu, Jr. Leaving aside the fact that he’s a one-cut runner in the classic Mike Shanahan mold, he’s got upside simple from the fact that he’s fast.

On his first carry as a Redskin, Clinton Portis took the ball 64 yards for a touchdown; that was in 2004, and it remained his longest carry in a Redskins uniform until 2009. So it’s safe to say that breakaway speed hasn’t been a characteristic of the Redskins backfield in a looooooooooong time, and that’s a dimension that I suspect will change with Helu. Which, in turn, will free up the rest of the offense and give some of the other new guys (like Leonard Hankerson) a chance to shine.

GARY: Helu’s a fine answer, but he faces significant competition just to earn playing time. There’s Ryan Torain, Keiland Williams, James Davis, Andre Brown and fellow draft pick Evan Royster all alongside him at running back. Oops, I forgot Chad Simpson, who returned kicks last year but is listed as a running back as well.

How the Redskins’ running back situation sorts itself is one of the top storylines heading into training camp.

Neild could actually see playing time as a rookie despite his seventh-round status. If it’s true that second-rounder Jarvis Jenkins is to play primarily defensive end in the Redskins’ 3-4, that means Neild is probably going to compete with Anthony Bryant and possibly Ma’ake Kemoeatu at nose tackle. (Let’s not even put Albert Haynesworth in the mix, at this point.)

That’s not much competition. I like Neild’s chances to make an impact.

MATT: Five of the running backs you mentioned are holdovers from last year. Torain has looked very good when healthy but rarely stays healthy; Keiland Williams seems to be establishing himself as a third-down specialist. The other three all seem like nice guys, but if any of them had shown signs of establishing themselves as regular contributors, Shanahan and Allen wouldn’t have traded UP to lock down Helu.

I expect Helu to see playing time even while Torain is healthy, and if Torain’s bad luck with injuries persists, Helu could very well establish himself as a legitimate starting-caliber NFL back.

Don’t get me wrong: I like Neild, and I completely agree about his chances to play. I just think that the running back position offers Helu a chance to really excel even as a rookie; nose tackle is going to take a bit more time to adjust to.

Why are we both overlooking Ryan Kerrigan, though?  Is it just that his early selection minimizes his upside?

GARY: Ryan Kerrigan certainly has great upside, but I didn’t want to be “Captain Obvious” by choosing him. So I decided to play “Captain Chaos” and go with Neild.

As the penultimate pick in the NFL Draft, Neild does not have Kerrigan’s great expectations. If he makes the roster and eventually becomes a starter, it’s going to be a great story – perhaps a greater story than if Kerrigan becomes a Pro Bowl linebacker.



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