In discussing the importance of the NFL draft, we referred to the players selected as building blocks, as the essential components of the foundation.
Picture any structure absent the building blocks, minus the foundation.
Now look at the Redskins. Three consecutive last-place finishes in the NFC East and four in five years. An opening-day lineup in 2010 that featured only two drafted players on the offensive side (one of them a rookie) and six among the defenders (three in the secondary).
By contrast, the Green Bay Packers, who went on to win the Super Bowl, started 16 drafted players in Week 1 and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the AFC champions, started 17. Ten of the 11 offensive starters for both teams were draftees.
The simple fact of the matter is that a team cannot start drafted players if it doesn't have them. Therein lies the Redskins' dilemma. The budding stars of tomorrow should have been drafted by now and maybe re-signed before hitting free agency. Instead, they were never acquired, as picks got traded for older veterans with little shelf life (guard Pete Kendall, defensive end Jason Taylor). Or the picks were traded for older players who simply never made it (defensive end Erasmus James).
The Redskins "have to start stockpiling draft choices instead of giving them up," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.
Tight end Chris Cooley, one of the Redskins' two drafted offensive starters, was acquired in the 2004 draft with a third-round pick. He's the only selection remaining. Safety Sean Taylor likely would be enjoying Pro Bowl status had he not been shot and killed in a bungled robbery of his Miami home in 2007.
The Redskins picked six players in 2005, including two in the first round. Cornerback Carlos Rogers has been serviceable and usually solid in coverage though his ball skills are often questioned. Six seasons, eight interceptions. Quarterback Jason Campbell, plagued by endless changes of offensive schemes and coaches, never really took root and was traded last spring to the Oakland Raiders for a fourth-round choice in 2012.
Ah, no first-round pick. Gone to the Denver Broncos for the choice used the year before on Campbell. Linebacker Rocky McIntosh is still around and so are defensive end Kedric Golston and safety Reed Doughty. All workmanlike, with not a Pro Bowl among them.
The Redskins chose five players in 2007. Safety LaRon Landry got off to a terrific start in the club's new defensive scheme last year but injured an Achilles tendon and finished on injured reserve, missing seven games. The only other player left from that draft is backup linebacker and special teamer H.B. Blades. He has never missed a game and has started seven.
In 2008, the Redskins traded out of the first round to cash in on second-round picks. The first of the three was receiver Devin Thomas, cut last season not only by the Redskins but the Carolina Panthers. He finished the year as a special teamer with the New York Giants. Malcolm Kelly, another receiver, injured a hamstring before training camp began and spent 2010 on injured reserve. He has 28 career receptions, none for toucdowns. Tight end Fred Davis, sandwiched between Thomas and Kelly in that now-infamous round, has made 72 catches, nine for touchdowns, and provides the Redskins with the ability to use formations involving two tight ends.
Later picks in '08 may still bear fruit. Safety Chris Horton, hurt last season, performed well as a rookie. Linebacker Rob Jackson, in some late-season action, showed a bit of a pass rush. Safety Kareem Moore's knee kept him out and slowed him down. Everybody loved Colt Brennan but he was let go and guard Chad Rinehart has bounced around the league after getting cut. Punter Durant Brooks was a disaster from his first snap.
Who is here from 2009? Linebacker Brian Orakpo, for sure. Twice a Pro Bowl selection. But the Redskins traded their second-round pick for Taylor, whose stay lasted one season comprised of eight starts, three missed games and 3.5 sacks. The fourth-round pick went in a trade for Kendall, another short-timer who played one season. Neither cornerback Kevin Barnes, the third-round pick, nor linebacker Robert Henson, a fifth-round selection on injured reserve in 2010, contributed as rookies, though Barnes started making a move this past season.
The 2010 draft yielded starting left tackle Trent Williams and special teamer Perry Riley. Three seventh-round picks who failed to make the initial roster eventually did so or stuck around on the practice squad. The number of choices was thinned by trades (a No. 2 pick for Donovan McNabb, a swap involving fifth- and seventh-round choices for defensive end Adam Carriker). The Redskins had already spent their third-round pick the previous spring in the supplemental draft on defensive end Jeremy Jarmon.
"You shouldn't get one or two kids out of a draft process, or at the most three or four," Kiper said. "That's kind of why they're in the predicament they're in right now."
Want a sound structure? Put the foundation in place. Draft, draft, draft. Over the last two seasons, the Redskins have selected 12 players. In 2010 alone, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted 13 (and 21 in the last two and 31 over three years). The Eagles have won the division twice in the last three years, made the playoffs three years in a row and four of the past five.
The message: Build. Build from the ground up. Build through the draft. Put one stone in place after the next, pack them in tightly and build.
Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.