The Redskins needed help in the secondary. They hope they got some with their first pick in the NFL Draft, selecting North Carolina State corner David Amerson.
Washington chose him with the 51st overall pick and with several other corners and safeties still on the board. The Redskins clearly liked what Amerson brings: size, speed and playmaking ability. He also was burned for a number of big plays as well. If they can correct those flaws, the Redskins could have found a corner who will help for some time. Though some experts said he could play safety, Amerson said the Redskins have only talked to him about corner.
“Amerson has really played well the last couple years,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “He’s done a great job getting interceptions and he’s a guy we feel we can play in different coverages. He has some length. He’s a very sharp player, very smart player.”
Amerson led the NCAA with 13 interceptions in 2011 and followed that with five picks this past season. But he also was burned more often than in the past, leading experts to question his game. NFL Draft expert Russ Lande, the college scouting director for the Montreal Alouettes, said Amerson might have been projected as a top-10 pick had he come out the previous season. Lande also thought he might fit better at safety, but Amerson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds — speed that teams like at corner.
One longtime NFL defensive coach said recently he was not a fan of Amerson because of the big plays allowed.
“When you average it out it’s an anomaly,” the coach said. “Give me a guy that gets four or five picks a year and doesn’t give anything up than a guy that has one big year and every other year gives up big plays.”
The coach also said, “He makes plays but he’s an all-or-nothing guy. He’s going all in every time. He’s sitting up with a poker hand bluffing but if you keep anteing up he’ll take the bait every time.”
But Shanahan wasn’t worried about the plays Amerson allowed in college. His rationale: Amerson is a playmaker with good measurables who can be helped by NFL coaching.
“We’ll coach him the way we want to coach him. He’ll fit in our system,” Shanahan said. “We do think he has athletic ability to make plays. Anytime you’re in that 4.4 range and you’ve got length and you have the ability to play off and bump, we do a lot of different things with our secondary. We can give him some opportunities that he hasn’t had in the past and we’ll look forward to working with him. … We’re happy he was there.”
Amerson said he understood why those plays occurred. He said he was trying to make every play, attempting to live up to the previous year.
“I was trying to make every interception, jump every route,” he said. “I started to sit on every route, eyes in the backfield. There was a lot of me beating myself more than getting beat by other receivers. That’s something I had to eliminate. That was hurting my team and myself….I guess you could say I was trying to top off last year, trying to excel past that. Just trying too hard and losing sight of the basic fundamentals.”
But the Redskins also have to like his ability to make plays. He said it stems from preparation, knowing when to take chances and when not to.
“I can change the game,” Amerson said. “It turns games around and seals the game as well. That’s something I try to pride myself on.”
Amerson played a variety of coverages in college, but said he likes man to man best — “It eliminates the mental aspects of playing football. Man to man is probably the easiest coverage.”
The Redskins’ corners will play man, zone and off-man coverage.
Amerson watched the draft unfold at a house in Raleigh, N.C., joined by draft prospect Keenan Allen, who played at Cal but hails from North Carolina.
“When I got that call, all the hard over the years…” Amerson said. “Obviously it’s been a dream since I started playing as a kid. It all hit me at once. It’s one of the best feelings ever. It’s hard to explain.”
The Redskins still have a need at free safety. Tanard Jackson can’t be reinstated until Aug. 31 at the earliest and they view Reed Doughty as a backup capable of filling in when needed. But the Redskins do have versatility with Amerson and players such as DeAngelo Hall, who has moved to safety on occasion. He plays strong safety in certain packages, but Hall’s time at free safety usually comes on run downs, allowing the other two safeties to position themselves near the line.
“The great thing about DHall is that he has the ability to play any position on your team,” Shanahan said. “He can play outside, he can play inside, which gives us some advantage especially with what offenses are doing nowadays. He can play free safety, he can play strong safety. A lot can’t play it because they don’t have the skills and they don’t want to hit. DHall is not afraid to hit and he’s very bright, so he gives us a lot of flexibility. But you have to have depth at corner. Now we feel we have depth.”
Ourlads general manager Dan Shonka, who worked in the NFL for 16 seasons, emailed his scouting report on Amerson:
“Junior entry. Three-year starter with 18 career interceptions. He set a single season ACC record as a sophomore with 13 picks. A big corner who may project as a safety for some teams with his ball hawking ability. A physical corner who supports the run well and has good ball skills. Will body block or wrap up tackle. Questions were answered at the Combine about his flat out turn and run speed. Built more like a safety with some hip tightness in his turns. Was taken to school by speed receivers at Tennessee and Clemson. Those receivers for the Vols and Tigers are NFL prototype pass catchers. Fluid for a big man. Must play more disciplined if he is to have success on the next level. Stepped up big in the Wolfpacks’ bowl game where he snatched two passes, one he returned for a touchdown. His confidence was shaken in the early losses, but regained his poise and finished out the season with intensity. An eventual starter who will contribute on special teams.”