Thanks to their trade for the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, the Redskins don’t have a first-round choice this year or next.
The deal with St. Louis for the selection that became Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III was well worth it even if the standout quarterback isn’t ready to return from knee surgery for the 2013 opener. However it also means that Washington’s coaches, executives, scouts and medical personnel can only window-shop the top prospects at this week’s scouting combine in Indianapolis. The actual drafting of those players will be done by other teams.
After choosing quarterback Griffin, Pro Bowl outside linebackers Brian Orakpo (2009) and Ryan Kerrigan (2011) and Pro Bowl offensive tackle Trent Williams (2010) with top-13 selections during the past four drafts, the Redskins don’t have a pick this year until No. 51. So only three men shy of an entire 53-man roster of NFL talent will be off the board before coach Mike Shanahan can finally add a player.
The last time that Washington didn’t have a first-rounder was in 2008 when then-front office boss Vinny Cerrato opened an awful 10-man draft by choosing never-was receiver Devin Thomas with the 34th overall selection. By 2011, tight end Fred Davis (48th pick) and outside linebacker Rob Jackson (242nd) were the only players still on the roster.
However, not having a first-rounder doesn’t have to spell disaster. In 2006, coach Joe Gibbs and Co. landed linebacker Rocky McIntosh, who would become a six-year starter, with the 35th overall pick and found safety Reed Doughty and defensive end Kedric Golston, who combined to start 91 games over the past seven years, in the sixth round.
Washington’s previous draft without a first-rounder, 2003, featured another Cerrato–chosen dud of receiver Taylor Jacobs at the top, but included guard Derrick Dockery, a six-year starter, in the third round.
Five years before that, general manager Charley Casserly picked tight end Stephen Alexander, a Pro Bowl player in his third season, 48th overall. Casserly did even better when he didn’t have a first-rounder in 1990, choosing linebacker Andre Collins, a five-year starter, 46th overall.
That 1990 draft was the 19th in 22 years in which Washington had traded away its first-rounder. Let that sink in for a moment. The Redskins didn’t choose in the first round in 19 of 22 drafts from 1969-90. So they had more first-round picks the past four years than they did during that entire 22-year span. Of course, it helped that two of the three first-rounders, receiver Art Monk (1980) and cornerback Darrell Green (1983) became Hall of Famers and that the other, guard Mark May, was a nine-year starter.
Despite the dearth of first-rounders during those 22 years, Washington won two Super Bowls, four NFC Championships, made the playoffs 11 times and recorded 17 winning seasons. Its worst record was 6-10 in 1980, the finish that prompted coach Jack Pardee’s firing and Gibbs’ hiring. Not coincidentally, the Redskins coaches during 18 of those 22 years were Vince Lombardi (1969), George Allen (1971-77) and Gibbs (1981-90), all of whom are enshrined in Canton
During the 22 years before Lombardi’s arrival in 1969, Washington chose a player in the first round in all but two (1958 and 1965) but managed just two winning seasons (1953 and 1955) and never reached the playoffs. In 1960-61, the Redskins hit rock bottom at 2-21-3. Most of the first-rounders contributed little and only one, Hall of Fame receiver Charley Taylor (1964) was a major star.
During the past 22 years, the Redskins picked a player in the first round in all but four (1998, 2003, 2006 and 2008) but won a lone Super Bowl (1991), made the playoffs just six times and recorded only eight winning seasons while posting 10 seasons with no more than six victories. Top picks Champ Bailey (1999), LaVar Arrington (2000), Sean Taylor (2004) combined for eight Pro Bowl selections during their 15 seasons in Washington, but they couldn’t make the Redskins champions.
The bottom line is that while hitting on a first-rounder like Taylor, Monk and Green can change the direction of a franchise, terrific coaching and astute personnel decisions in the lower rounds and in free agency are often just as pivotal. So don’t fret about not having a first-rounder this year or next, Redskins fans. Remember that if Washington had those picks, Griffin would be performing his magic elsewhere.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin