- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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To survive in the NFC East, you usually must have the "go-for-it’’ mentality.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder usually goes for it in free agency or trades. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is always willing to go for the home run. The Eagles are consistently aggressive. The Giants have a great flair for personnel.
But NFC East teams were safer, maybe smarter, in the 2011 draft. The Cowboys and Eagles took offensive linemen in the first round. Both were safe, solid picks. The Eagles, in fact, passed up the chance to gamble on Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith, who has off-the-field issues, for the safe selection of Baylor guard Danny Watkins. The Giants drafted to the ratings on their board instead of reaching for players at need positions.
If that wasn’t enough, the Redskins kept trading down and acquiring picks. The NFL may be struggling through the "Year of Living Dangerously" on the labor front, but the NFC East played it safe for three days.
The NFC East was starting to become Jurassic Park for offensive linemen. The Redskins and Cowboys let their offensive lines get too old and paid the price. The Giants are on the verge of doing the same. The Cowboys made the best moves, taking Tyron Smith, the 6-5, 307-pound offensive tackle from Southern Cal in the first round, and Missouri State guard David Arkin in the fourth. Smith’s selection was the best. Outsiders thought the Cowboys would jump at the chance to fix last year’s problems at cornerback, but Jones rightfully looked at 2010 as off seasons for talented cornerbacks Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick. Whether Dallas plays Smith at left tackle or right is irrelevant. The Cowboys are younger at tackle with Doug Free, their top priority for re-signing, and Smith. It also helps that offensive line coach Hudson Houck comes from USC and knows how to take young, talented blockers and turn them into stars. Kudos to Jones for not being cute and trading down for more picks.
The New York Giants' decision to wait until the fourth round to take their first offensive line prospect, tackle James Brewer from Indiana, is a big risk. Brewer isn’t a sure bet. He’ll take time. There is no faulting the decision to take cornerback Prince Amukamara in the first round. The Giants, according to sources, liked Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder, who went two spots before their pick in the first round. They didn’t have grades on offensive tackles Anthony Castonzo and Gabe Carimi that matched the 19th pick. Amukamara was considered a top-11 prospect. In the second round, they got defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who had a low first-round grade. Teams shouldn’t go against their draft boards, but at some point, the Giants need to get an offensive lineman who will start as a rookie. We’ve seen this too often in the NFC East, and now the Giants might have to scramble in the free-agent market for help, and that will be tricky.
MOST SURPRISING MOVE
The Redskins skipped the chance to draft a quarterback even though they are going to move Donovan McNabb and don’t have Rex Grossman signed to a contract. Here’s why: John Beck might be their quarterback in 2011 unless something opens up in free agency or a trade. That’s right, John Beck, the former second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins who is 0-4 as a starter in the NFL. When Beck came into the league in 2007, he was considered a Kurt Warner-type quarterback, but like Warner, he’s already well-traveled. (He's with his third team.) There is a belief in Redskins Park that they don't need to rush into a quarterback as they did last year in making the McNabb trade. Knowing they weren’t drafting a quarterback, the Redskins worked on getting bigger players to fit their 3-4 defense.
FILE IT AWAY
The Redskins made five draft trades that enabled them to increase their number of draft choices from eight to 12, an unusual strategy for a franchise that loves to go for splash and flash. So file away the names of the players acquired and watch whether they become valuable role players or potential starters down the line. Ryan Kerrigan (left outside linebacker) and Jarvis Jenkins (defensive end) could be starters in the 3-4 defense, and third-rounder Leonard Hankerson is an interesting receiving prospect. The key name to file away is halfback Roy Helu from Nebraska, a fourth-round pick whom the Redskins actually traded up to get. The other names to file away are safety Dejon Gomes, wide receiver Niles Paul, running back Evan Royster, wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, cornerback Brandyn Thompson, guard Maurice Hurt, defensive end Markus White and defensive tackle Christopher Neild