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On One Of The Other Draft Suggestions

Posted by Matt Terl on February 22, 2010 – 1:53 pm

Over the course of this season, LaRon Landry was more-or-less constantly criticized for one thing: trying for the highlight knockout hit rather than wrapping up and form tackling.

For example, from John Keim’s season review for the Washington Examiner: “Landry was back deep to prevent big plays, yet he gave them up by being too aggressive or falling for double moves.”

Or this, from Steve DeShazo’s year-end wrap-up at the Free Lance-Star: “Free safeties have to be sure tacklers with good judgment. Landry tries for too many kill shots and makes some awful decisions. Find a free safety and put him back at his natural position.”

Here’s an outsider’s view of the issue, from Eagles reporter Gordie Jones writing on CSNPhilly.com: “[Eagles wide receiver Jason] Avant, who had 94 receiving yards in all, gathered in Donovan McNabb’s pass near the right hashmark, shrugged off an attempted killshot by Redskins free safety LaRon Landry at the Eagles’ 34 and continued to the Washington 44.”

(Jamie Mottram at Mr. Irrelevant also wrote about that particular tackle at the time: “We all know [Landry] can’t tackle, which is ridiculous given his position and physique, but the armless knockout whiff on Jason Avant that cost the team 22 yards was especially egregious.” This was part of a season-long Mottram Brothers frustration with Landry’s play. By early November, their post-game analysis of Landry went like this: “More of the same: missed tackles, poor angles, late hits.”)

Given all of this, there has been a small but vocal contingent of fans championing the idea that the Redskins should take a safety in the first round of this year’s draft and move Landry back to strong safety. The two names I hear suggested most often are Tennessee’s Eric Berry and USC’s Taylor Mays.

Personally, I think using another high draft choice on the safety position — after selecting the late Sean Taylor in 2004 and Landry in 2007 — is a terrible idea no matter WHO is available. And then I read Matt Hinton’s post on USC’s Mays at Yahoo’s Dr. Saturday blog, and “terrible” didn’t seem like an emphatic enough adjective.

The piece is entitled “Taylor Mays says taste for the knockout was just following orders,” and focuses largely on a recent radio interview in which Mays explained that “at USC, [he] was coached to deliver knockout shots.”

But even more worrisome than that is Hinton’s summary of the last year of Mays’ collegiate career:

By the end of last year, Mays’ reputation for the kill shot had so overwhelmed the rest of his game that he was cited on the floor of Congress as “a headhunter” during a Judiciary Committee hearing on preventing concussions in October. After passing up a chance to be a top-10 or even top-five pick after his junior season, his stock started to fall as USC’s defense tried to stave off total collapse over the second half of the season, and plummeted after a meh showing at the Senior Bowl, when questions about his agility, change of direction, hands, tackling and ability to do anything else that doesn’t involve tracking and decapitating receivers threatened to drop him into the second round (though he did end the week with a pick in the game itself).

And this is how Mays is regarded BEFORE even getting to the NFL. For comparison’s sake, here’s a post-draft review of the Redskins’ selection of Landry from USA Today at the time:

Widely considered the best prospect at his position and maybe the best defensive player. Could play anywhere in the secondary. Well-rounded athlete with great understanding of the game. Hits hard, accelerates quickly, breaks on the ball. Solid in coverage. A sound tackler and an aggressive hitter.

This raises some flags to me. Maybe Mays is even more aggressive than Landry, in which case replacing the latter with the former solves nothing. Maybe — as I believe — Landry can rebound to being the “solid tackler” he was considered to be coming out of LSU, in which case an additional highly-drafted safety is surplus to requirements.

No matter what, though, the more I think about this draft-a-safety-suggestion, the less I like it. (For those of you in the draft-an-offensive-tackle camp, here’s a good rundown of the top five OTs working out at the Combine this week.)

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