The Washington Redskins on the last day of the draft Saturday addressed their most glaring need by selecting free safeties Phillip Thomas of Fresno St. in the fourth round and Bacarri Rambo from Georgia in the sixth.
Thomas and Rambo established themselves as pro prospects by finishing among college football’s leaders in interceptions at points during their careers. They, along with second-round pick David Amerson, a cornerback from N.C. State, establish depth and playmaking ability on a pass defense that ranked 23rd in the NFL in yards surrendered per pass last season.
“Usually the team that excels in turnovers, they win championships,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “If it’s not Super Bowls, it’s getting into the playoffs. That will always be an emphasis on offense and defense. These guys have come up with a lot of turnovers.”
When Amerson led the nation with 13 interceptions in 2011, Rambo ranked second with eight. Thomas’ eight interceptions last season led the country.
The two safeties headlined Draft Day 3 because the Redskins entered the draft without a true first-string free safety on the roster.
Thomas is well positioned to immediately contend for playing time. He comes to Washington from a defensive system similar to what the Redskins run, Shanahan said.
“I feel like I’m going to be the steal of the draft,” Thomas said on a teleconference.
Rambo sounded emotional during a teleconference with Redskins media moments after he was drafted. Two collegiate suspensions, including a four-game penalty last season for marijuana use, caused him to fall to the sixth round. Rambo failed a drug test during the 2012 offseason.
“It was a very selfish decision, but I grew from it,” Rambo said. “It just helped me put my priorities in order and just take every moment as it comes. It helped me be a better person and be mentally strong. I hit adversity, and I overcame it.”
The Redskins drafted five players Saturday. The depth those picks provide pleased Shanahan.
“We’re a better football team today than we were yesterday,” he said.
Here’s a closer look at each of Saturday’s picks:
FS Phillip Thomas, Fresno St.
Round 4, No. 119 overall
H/W: 5-11, 198
40-yd dash: 4.74
Thomas, a unanimous first team All-American, led the FBS last season with eight interceptions. He’s known for superb ball skills and instincts that compensate for less-than-elite athleticism and speed. Thomas grew up a Redskins fan in Bakersfield, Calif., and his favorite player was the late Sean Taylor.
Thomas, in his words: “Being in the 3-4 defense [at Fresno St.] that can create a lot of pressure and do a lot of different things, I was able to play just a little bit looser and use my instincts.”
“I’m great at getting the ball when it’s in the air, but also I did a lot of things as far as blitzing and playing in the box, so I feel like I can do both. I feel like I’m an interchangeable safety that can make plays in the box and can also play in the high hole and make plays in the air.”
Mike Shanahan’s take: “Great job adjusting to the football. A lot of interceptions. That was one key. The next key was he wasn’t afraid to hit people. So he would support the run. Had a good feel. He played a lot of different coverages that we play, and when we did meet with him, he was very quick mentally. We think he will adjust very quickly to our system, a very similar system he ran in college that we run.”
RB Chris Thompson, Florida St.
Round 5, No. 154 overall
H/W: 5-7, 192
40-yd dash: Sub-4.4 when healthy, he said
Thompson is a shifty back who would add speed and elusiveness to the Redskins’ option running game. However, he has a checkered injury history. While at Florida St., he suffered compression fractures of his T-5 and T-6 vertebrae, and he tore the ACL in his left knee on Oct. 20. Thompson hopes to be ready for training camp.
Thompson, in his words: “That offense…I could feel real comfortable there, being able to be in the gun and do those things like the read option that are real dangerous. I think with my speed and ability, it could be a real great option.”
Mike Shanahan’s take: “I think Chris is a guy that could excel against nickel defenses. He could be that third-down back. He’s got great hands. He’s got great elusiveness; averaged well over 7.5 yards per carry his last year. He’s the type of guy that I think can do it all. You always like to have a couple backs that complement each other, and I think he’ll complement a lot of our running backs and what they do.”
OLB Brandon Jenkins, Florida St.
Round 5, No. 162 overall
H/W: 6-2, 251
40-yd dash: Did not run/injured
Jenkins is a speed edge rusher who provides high-upside depth. He missed 13 games last season after suffering a left foot Lisfranc injury in the Seminoles’ opener. Jenkins was named first-team All-ACC in 2010 after he had 13.5 sacks at right defensive end. If healthy, he could factor at a position at which the Redskins face some uncertainty. First-string right outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is coming off left pectoral muscle surgery entering the last year of his contract, and second-stringer Rob Jackson is suspended for the first four games of the season.
Jenkins, in his words: “I’m bringing pass rushing dependability, great character on and off the field, and a hard worker. In high school, I played stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker on the left side. When I got to Florida St., I had my hand in the dirt. But then my sophomore and junior years, I did stand up and had my hand in the dirt, so it’s a little bit of both.”
Mike Shanahan’s take: “We had him ranked high, anyway. When he was there we couldn’t pass him up. I thought last season he played well. Whether he would have gone in the first round, second round [if healthy], I don’t know. But he was impressive.”
FS Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
Round 6, No. 191 overall
H/W: 6-0, 211
40-yd dash: 4.53
Rambo is known as a center field-type player who moves well and has good ball skills. He prefers playing deep against the pass than near the line against the run, which is not his strong suit.
Rambo, in his words: “I’m not scared to put my nose in and hit somebody, but I just like to play coverage better. I feel like I have pretty good ball skills, and I have enough speed to cover some receivers, so I’d rather play free.”
Mike Shanahan’s take: “Just the way he played the game. You could tell he was a tremendous athlete from a quarterback [in high school]. Just a guy that has a lot of intangibles. Made plays all over the football field, and I think his game will just get better and better.”
Shanahan on Rambo’s drug history: “If we don’t feel very comfortable with somebody, we don’t sign them.”
RB Jawan Jamison, Rutgers
Round 7, No. 228 overall
H/W: 5-7, 203
40-yd dash: 4.68
Jamison is known as a favorable fit for the one-cut zone running game coach Mike Shanahan is known for. He has experience in the zone running game. He lacks elite speed but is a good cutback runner and can make defenders miss. Jamison forewent his final two years of eligibility at Rutgers to earn a paycheck. His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer, and he wanted to help pay the bills, he said in a teleconference shortly after he was drafted. Jamison called his mother a “trooper” and reported she is doing well.
Jamison, in his words: “I can get down and get vertical very fast and read the blocks and set up the blocks. I feel like I do that well.”
“I didn’t give up, as I recall, any sacks this past season, and I catch on to the pass protections schemes very well and quick. I feel like I do a very good job at [receiving] because I know that being a running back isn’t all about just running the ball.”
Mike Shanahan’s take: “Jamison is a guy I thought would be gone much earlier. We weren’t really looking for that running back in that seventh round. When he was there, we just thought he was too good to pass up. We thought he could do a lot of the same things. Not only could excel in the nickel package, but he could be a first-down runner, as well. He’s only a little over 5-7, but he’s well over 200 pounds. He has had some big runs in his conference throughout his career.”