ASHBURN, Va. -- Safety first.
Given the expected choice between tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. and safety Sean Taylor, coach Joe Gibbs sided with the defense in his first NFL draft in 12 years.
The Washington Redskins chose Taylor at No. 5 overall yesterday, the highest spot for a safety since Eric Turner was taken No. 2 by the Cleveland Browns in 1991. Taylor also was the first defensive player selected, following two quarterbacks, a tackle, and a receiver.
"Obviously, safety is a place where you say that has to be an unusual person there," Gibbs said. "But we felt like he was very unusual."
Either Taylor or Winslow, both from the University of Miami, would have filled a need for the Redskins, but safety has been a particularly bothersome revolving door in recent seasons.
At 6 feet 2 inches, 232 pounds, Taylor is projected as a rare game-changing free safety, a hard-hitting ball-hawk with the height, speed, and range of a cornerback. He will allow Matt Bowen to move to Bowen's natural position of strong safety, displacing Ifeanyi Ohalete, and will join cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot to solidify a defensive backfield that lost four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey.
"He'll be a very good fit for what we want to do on defense here, to keep the attacking principles going," assistant coach for defense Gregg Williams said.
Taylor is a first-team All-American who declared for the draft after his junior season. He had 10 interceptions last year and returned three for touchdowns. He also made 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Taylor's downside is a tendency to be overaggressive, the trait that has also plagued linebacker LaVar Arrington, and the Redskins certainly don't need those two key defenders playing out of control at the same time.
But Williams said he won't try to curb Taylor's drive.
"As a coach, I'll never want to slow them down," Williams said. "I've been all my life trying to speed them up. Those guys make fast decisions. They play passionately. They play aggressively. That's what you want as a coach. Those kind of guys don't need an awful lot of motivation."
Winslow would have been a perfect candidate for the H-back for Gibbs, who coached Winslow's father as an assistant in San Diego. The selection was a reminder that the offense-minded Hall of Fame coach won Super Bowls by taking care of both sides of the ball.
"I think they get the impression after a while how much I care about defense -- because I want to keep my job," Gibbs said.