The Washington Redskins have one of the most debated draft histories in all of football. Since Daniel Snyder purchased the Redskins in May of 1999, the team has gone through many different changes in image and philosophy.
Many people remember the early years of Dan Snyder's reign where draft picks and money were seemingly cast aside in favor of expensive veterans. There was no general manager in place, and the locker room was filled with rumors of Snyder usurping the head coach's authority. Needless to say, it was not the finest hour for the burgundy and gold.
Over the past three years a dramatic shift has taken place as Bruce Allen was hired as the general manager and Mike Shanahan was brought in as the new head coach. With the drafting of Robert Griffin III, a rejuvenated Redskins organization is ready to take the field this year.
In honor of this momentous occasion, let's look back at the 10 best draft picks during the Dan Snyder Era (2000 - present). As part of this project, I will not be including any of the 2012 draft class since they have not played yet (although I was very tempted to include RG3).
Ladell Betts is a former Redskin who does not receive enough praise for the service he gave. A second round pick in 2002 who spent years as the faithful back up to Clinton Portis, Betts was forced to play special teams and be ready when Portis needed a breather, but that was it for many years.
It was not until his fifth season when Portis was injured that Betts got his opportunity. After Portis went down racked up over 1,100 yards on just 245 carries and helped keep the Redskins competitive.
After Betts' impressive 2006 season, the Redskins signed him to a long term extension but he rarely saw the field again. With Washington coaches refusing to go to a running back by committee approach, Betts was forced back into his old role.
Betts was an underrated asset as he provided good running between the tackles, excellent pass blocking, and impressive hands out of the backfield. Not one of the sexier picks, but Ladell Betts has certainly earned the right to be on this list.
Rock Cartwright is similar to Ladell Betts in that he did everything that was asked of him just to get a shot. A seventh round compensatory pick, Cartwright was a running back who was drafted primarily for special teams. The Washington Redskins ended up getting one of the most consistent special teams players in the league for eight years.
Cartwright saw very little work in his first season and only gathered 107 carries during his second season. In 2006, Cartwright got his break as the lead return man on kickoffs and gave the Redskins much more than they expected. At 225 pounds, Cartwright was known as a short yardage back, but on special teams he averaged 24 yards per return and added a 100 yard touchdown.
Cartwright was not a dynamic player in any sense of the word, but he was the very definition of consistent. In a game where field position is so crucial, Cartwright guaranteed the Redskins a better start than the 20 yard line every season.
Though he has moved on to Oakland, Redskins fans should not forget what valuable addition Rock Cartwright was in Washington.
Ryan Kerrigan is only one season into his career but I think it is safe to say he will be regarded as one of the best picks in the Dan Snyder era. Kerrigan was the perfect selection for the Redskins in the first round last year as they were looking for a pass rusher opposite Brian Orakpo.
Similar to Orakpo, many analysts doubted Kerrigan's ability to transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. The dominant boilermaker was more than happy to prove critics wrong.
In his first game as a professional football player, Kerrigan delivered the play of the game by tipping an Eli Manning pass, intercepting it, and then running it for a touchdown. The play helped seal a 28-14 win over the eventual Super Bowl Champs, and place Kerrigan in the early running for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Kerrigan finished the year with 63 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles.
It may be a little early but I see no reason why Kerrigan will not build off a tremendous rookie season and put up even bigger numbers next season.
Fred Davis has had a slow maturation process but he is finally ready to break out and become and elite tight end in the NFL.
The first three seasons of Davis's career were rather pedestrian, averaging 24 catches, 284 yards, and three touchdowns a season. However, last year Davis emerged as a dynamic threat in Kyle Shanahan's offense with nearly 60 catches and 800 yards in just twelve games. Davis's season was cut short by a drug suspension but he is on track to deliver better numbers this season.
Davis is a receiving tight end similar to Owen Daniels but with better speed. With a mobile quarterback and vertical receivers, Davis is expected to match if not surpass last year's production.
While it has taken longer than expected, this is the perfect time for Davis to be his hitting his prime. Robert Griffin III will open up many more chances for Davis to make impact plays down the field.
It is still early in Davis's career and there is a reason the Redskins front office placed the franchise tag on him: they see the potential.
Fred Smoot is a name I did not expect to be putting on this list initially, but after looking at the numbers it was hard not to. Smoot was a risky selection for the Washington Redskins in the second round as he was known for being a diva, but he was worth it.
In his rookie season with the Redskins, Smoot intercepted five passes to lead a team that included Champ Bailey. Smoot would end up leading the team in interceptions three times over his career in Washington.
Smoot was not only known in Washington for consistent performance but also for his motivation. Smoot could always be heard on the sidelines motivating players and keeping fans riled up. Whenever he entered the stadium or made a play, a roaring "SMOOOOOOOOOT!" could be heard for miles.
Smoot would finish his career in Washington after seven seasons with 346 tackles, 18 interceptions, and 63 passes defended.
Lavar Arrington is one of two players in this top ten that appeared to have it all right from the beginning, and let it go too quickly.
As the second overall pick, Redskins fans were excited to have the Penn State standout as the captain of the defense. In 2001, Arrington appeared to be a player destined for greatness and in 2002 he appeared to have already reached it. At the end of the 2002 season, Arrington had logged 70 tackles, 11 sacks, and three fumble recoveries.
Arrington appeared to be the answer to the Redskins prayers on defense after winning three pro bowl nominations. However the wheels quickly began to come off when Joe Gibbs came back to coach the Redskins.
After six seasons with the Redskins, Arrington was released and only played one more season, with the New York Giants. Arrington appeared to have it all but a sense of entitlement and a lack of discipline derailed what could have been one of the greatest Redskins picks ever.
Chris Cooley was not supposed to be drafted by the Washington Redskins. He was not rated very highly by the team scouts and if it had not been for Joe Gibbs, he would not be a Redskin.
Heading into the 2004 draft Joe Gibbs was watching film on a safety playing against Utah State. In one clip a smaller tight end made a spectacular one handed turning catch that caught his attention. After that clip, Gibbs could not get the young man out of his mind and insisted on drafting him in the third round.
Since that day Cooley has been one of the most productive receivers for the Redskins. In his first four seasons, Cooley never had less than 6 touchdowns per year. In 2008, Cooley had one of his most productive years, hauling in 83 catches for 850 yards. All of this occurred during the constantly changing quarterback and offensive coordinator fiasco of the mid 2000's.
Cooley has been bogged down by injuries the last few seasons and is nearing the end of his contract. Hopefully the addition of Robert Griffin III can give Cooley a few more good seasons as he has been the most consistent receiving threat the Redskins have had in some time.
Sean Taylor is the second player for the Redskins who had all the talent in the world and gave it up too early. Unlike Lavar Arrington, Sean Taylor did not make the choice to leave football, the choice was made for him. On November 27, 2007 Sean Taylor was killed during a home invasion while trying to protect his family.
Taylor was an impressive player from the moment he was drafted and seemed to improve every year in the league. In 2007 he was in the middle of his greatest season yet with 42 tackles and 5 interceptions through just nine games. At the time, the Redskins had perhaps the most feared tandem of safeties in the NFL (Taylor and Landry).
After Taylor's tragic death, the Redskins played the Buffalo Bills, and for the first series played with only ten defenders on the field to honor number 21.
Not enough can be said about Sean Taylor and what he meant to the Redskins franchise. He was an emerging star in the NFL, who had turned his personal life around and appeared to have transitioned from prospect to role model.
To this day, Redskins fans wonder what the Washington franchise would look like if Sean Taylor was still alive.
Brian Orakpo was a pleasant surprise to see at 13 overall in the 2009 draft. After not having a first round selection in 2008, Redskins fans were desperate for a player to attach the future to, and they got one.
Expected to go in the top ten, Orakpo slid all the way to the Washington Redskins at pick number 13, and they wasted no time selecting him. Orakpo was brought in as a defensive end who had the ability to be a hybrid and also play outside linebacker, and he did not disappoint.
In his first season with the Redskins, the team varied between a 3-4 and 4-3 defense but Orakpo did not mind. Starting every game, Orakpo had 11 sacks and joined Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews in the hunt for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Cushing would go on to win but Orakpo has stayed a consistent producer on defense with no less than eight and half sacks in the last two seasons.
As the Redskins move toward perfecting their 3-4 defense, Orakpo has become the feared outside linebacker that fans love and quarterbacks hate.
This one should come as no shock to Redskins fans as Samuels was one of the most dominant left tackles in the NFL during his tenure. After picking Lavar Arrington with the second overall pick, the Redskins traded all the way up to number three to select a franchise left tackle. Samuels was the definition of what teams look for today when they select a left tackle in the top five.
In his ten seasons of play, Samuels started 141 games and was the most reliable offensive lineman for a decade. In those ten years, Samuels was voted to attend six pro bowls. For a team that changed quarterbacks and coaches almost every offseason, the left tackle position was a necessity.
Samuels allowed the Redskins to go through so much change because he provided such reliable pass blocking. While Samuels logged ten years of service, we were all hoping for more and but for two torn triceps we may gotten it.
This is clearly the best draft pick in the Dan Snyder Era.