Washington Redskins: Ahmad Dixon

Offseason needs: Safety

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
3:05
PM ET
If the Redskins' defense wants to improve, they must do so in the back end -- not just with coverage skills, but with consistent tackling. That's why safety -- free and strong -- will be at or near the top of their to-do list.

Why it’s a need: Well there were some issues as you might have heard. But along with that their main starters, Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty, are free agents. Even if one or both are re-signed, the Redskins will still have a need at this position. Doughty is still best used as a backup and key special teamer -- I'd bring him back for that season -- while Meriweather should only be a short-term solution.

In house options: That’s the problem; the Redskins lack a strong alternative. I liked where Phillip Thomas was headed as a rookie, though I don’t know if he would have become a starter. The problem is, he had Lisfranc surgery and that can be difficult to overcome. Will he be able to push off with the same power? It’s an injury that can be tougher for skill position players because of how they must cut. He’s a smart player, but it’ll be tough to expect him to be able to start. Bacarri Rambo showed that he’s not ready to start. Jose Gumbs will return, but he’s a special teamer.

Free agent options: The top safeties available are Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd and Cleveland’s T.J. Ward – who play free and strong, respectively. Byrd is terrific, thanks to his ability to read quarterbacks so well and anticipate plays. He broke up passes from spots that I haven’t seen any safety break up here in a while. Byrd is excellent in the deep middle and rarely played up near the line of scrimmage, as much a function of scheme as ability. He’d allow the Redskins to use a lot more eight-man fronts and man coverage. Buffalo won’t re-sign him and he will be expensive. Ward is more an in-the-box safety, but he can play deep as well. Cleveland ran the same 3-4 style of defense Washington uses, so Ward would be a good fit if the Browns let him walk. Carolina’s Mike Mitchell is on the Redskins’ list. He’s not as accomplished as the other two, but is coming off his best season. The Panthers’ defense played better when he was moved to free safety. But was last year a fluke or the start of something; at times he can get too high on his tackles. He also was fined five times last season for hits and can be a bit talkative. But the Panthers consider him a priority to re-sign.

Draft options: Finding a veteran is a must because of what’s needed to learn about this position in the NFL. It’s a tough transition for safeties, especially those chosen after the first round. But there are good options for a team that could use a good young safety. My favorite (without doing a ton of draft prep) for the second round is Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward. I like how he runs through players when he tackles. He’s aggressive with good coverage skills; that versatility always works well. Other safeties who should be around in the middle rounds: Virginia Tech’s Antone Exum; USC’s Dion Bailey (who played some strongside linebacker in college) and Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon, a physical in-the-box player. I don’t know if he’d be able to play both safety spots, however.

In case you missed it:

Monday: Receivers

Tuesday: Linebackers

Redskins combine prep: safeties

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
8:20
AM ET
The Redskins selected two safeties last spring, but one (Phillip Thomas) missed the entire season with a foot injury and the other (Bacarri Rambo) did not look ready for a starting job anytime soon. That’s why they’ll have to take a serious look at the safeties in this draft, with a good chance to do so at the scouting combine over the next week.

Here are four safeties to watch:

Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois): He’s only 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, which is why he’ll still be around in the second round. ESPN's Mel Kiper wrote of Ward that he “isn’t a big player but is a very good one and looks as if he can start early. Likely a second-rounder.” He intercepted seven passes this past season. Ward played well at the Senior Bowl so another good showing at the combine obviously will help him. Ward plays aggressively and showed good coverage skills; he runs through the ball carrier when he tackles. Ward had to cover man (though he did not face great competition in the Mid-American Conference) and lined up at both safety spots. “I think he fits today’s NFL which is coverage ability,” Kiper said, “and the fact he’s around the action so much and makes so many impact plays.”

Antone Exum (Virginia Tech): He’ll be one to watch for any team seeking a safety in the middle rounds. Exum played both corner and safety at Virginia Tech so there’s some doubt over what he’ll play in the NFL. He missed most of last season because of a torn ACL. But he has good size (6-foot-1, 224 pounds) and could be a presence as a safety. Kiper rates him as the sixth best safety.

Dion Bailey (USC): He played both strongside linebacker and safety in college, but at 6-foot and 200 pounds, his NFL future is at the latter (it’s also where he played this past season). Kiper considers him the fifth best safety in the draft. It’ll be interesting to see how he does in coverage drills at the combine. Another player who should be available in the middle rounds.

Ahmad Dixon (Baylor): Kiper rated him as the eighth best safety. Dixon is projected by most as a fourth-round pick at best. Often played in the box at Baylor and played physical in this area. Dixon got in trouble for some hits and will need to fix this area to avoid fines (and penalties) in the NFL. After playing mostly zone (a lot of quarters coverage) in college, he has to show he can cover man and also move from free to strong. The Redskins like their safeties to play both spots.

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