With less than two weeks until the 2021 NFL Draft, head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew addressed the local media via Zoom to discuss how the Washington Football Team plans to attack the three-day event.
Here are five things we learned from the joint press conference:
1. Expectations for the No. 19 pick
When Washington drafted Chase Young second overall a year ago, it expected him to be an immediate standout. He turned out to be even better than advertised, not only winning Defensive Rookie of the Year but also becoming a captain and the team's emotional leader.
The No. 19 pick carries a different set of expectations, Mayhew admitted during Friday's media session.
"When you're picking a guy in the top 5, top 10, you expect that immediate impact," Mayhew said. "At 19, pretty much everybody that you're looking at at that spot, there's going to be something that they need to work on that's pretty significant."
With that said, Mayhew believes a mid-first-round pick should be a player that fits into the offensive or defensive scheme, showcases "the right football character" and is someone the team expects to be around "for a long time." (Check out who draft experts having Washington selecting in the first round, HERE.)
Added Rivera: "The way I look at it is, no matter where we pick or who we pick, hopefully they contribute."
2. Trading up vs. trading down
Washington can afford to give itself some flexibility when deciding what to do with its first-round pick. It can take a player from a position of need or even the best available. It can also choose to trade up or down, and there are a bevy of factors to consider with those decisions.
"Anytime you look at moving up or down, it's really about, 'Can you create value making that move?'" Mayhew said. "If you can move up and get a player you really like and not give up a whole lot, that's what you want to do. If you can move back, [you want to] get a lot in return for moving back. So it's about the value that exists there either way."
Mayhew went on to explain why it would make sense for Washington to move ahead or back from its original position of 19th. Perhaps there is a player the team is set on picking, but there is concern another might take him. Or maybe there are a large pool of players available at a certain position in later rounds, in which case it could consider trading back.
All of that is fluid, Mayhew said, which is partly why the team wants to be aware of what teams picking ahead and behind them are looking for. That is also why it helps to reach out to other teams ahead of the draft to get an idea of if they're willing to make a trade and what it would take.
"Obviously that can change while you're on the clock," Mayhew said. "But that's part of the normal draft process for me."
For Rivera, "all our draft picks are capital," and there needs to be attention on how the team spends them. For example, if Washington wanted to trade up using a fourth-round pick, then whoever it ends up drafting has to be worth it.
"People look at it and say, 'Oh, you wasted it or traded it.' No. You use that as capital to gain a player," Rivera said. "So, I look at [our picks] as they're valuable. I would love to have all of our draft picks and get everything we need out of them. But sometimes that doesn't happen. Sometimes you go up, sometimes you go back to get more. Again, we'll react to the 18 teams in front of us."
A photo compilation of various league experts' predictions about what Washington will do with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
3. "It's really about getting the right quarterback."
To Rivera, finding a franchise quarterback is all about the right fit. Whether it's through the draft, via trade or in free agency, the signal-caller must fit within a set of circumstances, which vary for each team.
As far as looking for a quarterback in the draft, Rivera said Washington will react to what happens in front of them. Mayhew made sure to point out that "we do feel very comfortable with the quarterbacks on our roster right now," but he also noted one of the benefits of the draft is that other teams don't know what traits get him excited about each prospect. If those match the desired characteristics of the other front office members, and that player just so happens to be available, then discussions would have to be had about what it would take to get him.
"It's a very difficult position," Rivera said. "As everybody knows, where you're being picked is no guarantee of success. A lot of it has to do with who you pick. A lot of it has to do with that person's makeup. A lot has to do with your team. Do you have the ability to protect that player, and do you have playmakers around that player? There are a lot of factors that go into it. It's a little bit of a crapshoot as well."
4. COVID-19 presenting new challenges when evaluating players
The sports world is about a year removed from being brought to a screeching halt because of COVID-19, but NFL clubs are still adapting to different ways of evaluating players. There have been fewer chances for Rivera and his staff to evaluate prospects with shortened or postponed seasons as well as the cancellation of the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Some players opted out for the entire season; others decided to opt back in. Mayhew said Washington has evaluated each situation differently. He doesn't foresee the pandemic having a dramatic effect on who the team picks because of the work the scouting department has been doing since last May, but it certainly is a factor worth considering.
"Every year, there is going to be different issues with players," Mayhew said. "Opting out can be looked at as a concern because of the time off. But by the same token, you can look at it as some of these guys who are excelling and playing at a very high level, there's not as much wear and tear on those guys."
Rivera brought up that when considering a player who opted out, the team is looking at film that is two years old. That challenge with that is he and Washington's front office have nothing to compare their growth, meaning they do not know if these players are taking the next steps in their development. Drafting a player who opted out, Rivera said, means you're hoping they have grown, based on what they have seen on film and during their Pro Days.
Although there are new rules in place that prevent face-to-face interactions with prospects, which Rivera and other members of Washington's front office prefer, one benefit is that teams can have up to five Zoom meetings with players. For someone like Rivera who believes including personal meetings with prospects as paramount to their evaluations, they are likely to take full advantage of this rule.
"I know we did," Rivera said. "If he opted out, you're going to use as many of those Zooms as you can to get as much information as you can from these young men."
5. Finding the right linebacker
Linebacker appears to be one of Washington's biggest draft needs, and its front office certainly has the expertise to pick the right one.
Just look at the draft histories of Mayhew, Rivera and executive vice president of football/player personnel Marty Hurney. In Detroit, Mayhew drafted Kyle Van Noy, Cliff Avril, DeAndre Levy and Tahir Whitehead -- all of whom have combined for 360 starts across 34 seasons (at least seven each). In Carolina, Hurney took eventual three-time Pro Bowlers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis Sr. Hurney and Rivera then combined to select Luke Kuechly -- Rivera called the selection a "no-brainer" -- before Rivera helped choose Shaq Thompson.
Both Mayhew and Rivera spoke about basing their decisions on who's available, and there should be some high-level playmakers still on the board at No. 19. Some names to consider: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame), Jamin Davis (Kentucky) and Zaven Collins (Tulsa).
They also discussed the importance of position versatility because, as Rivera said, "today's game does ask that." The "SAM," or strongside linebacker, in Washington's scheme has to also be able to play the "Buffalo nickel" on passing downs, while the "WILL," or weakside player, has to be stout against the run and also be able to play the "MIKE," or middle linebacker, if necessary. If that's the case, that linebacker will need to have strong leadership and communication skills to get the rest of the defense on the same page.
"The linebacker position on the defense has to have a lot of different skills," Mayhew said. "He has some skills that are similar to the guys up front and then the skills that the guys in the secondary have. The varied skillset is really important, and that was what was important with Levy and Tahir. But I think every scheme is different. Every player has an individual skillset that might appeal to us."