- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ever hear of Walt Barnes? Almost certainly not. The defensive lineman from Nebraska was the last player the Washington Redskins took with the 21st pick in the NFL Draft. Barnes, who started his first two seasons and was gone after his third, was chosen in 1966, back when No. 21 came midway through the second round.

Barring a trade, the Redskins will pick 21st Saturday for the first time in 32 years. Drafting has become much more of a science than it was when teams chose later-round players from reading about them in college season preview magazines or watching them on videotape. But selecting the right player remains very much an art.

The Redskins, for example, chose Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green with the final pick of the first round in 1983 but took a player who never played a regular season down, offensive tackle Andre Johnson, in that spot in 1996. Patrick Ramsey, their No. 1 quarterback for 24 starts, was also the last pick of the first round in 2002.

In an age in which dozens of college games are televised a week and NFL teams watch players’ highlight packages, finding an obscure impact player as the Redskins did with fifth-round defensive end Rich Owens in 1995 is difficult.

“My first draft was 1978,” former Redskins and Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly recalled. “We didn’t even have our own copy of the Senior Bowl film. [A player report] would simply be one scout’s word against another’s. It’s a much more accurate process now.”

And yet, Casserly whiffed on three of his four top-five picks in the 1990s (receivers Desmond Howard and Michael Westbrook and quarterback Heath Shuler) while finding gems such as kick returner Brian Mitchell and guard Mark Schlereth on the second day of the draft.

In the seven drafts run by executive vice president Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins have done well at the top of the draft with linebacker LaVar Arrington, offensive tackle Chris Samuels and safety Sean Taylor all making multiple Pro Bowls, but not so well with Ramsey. Cerrato has yet to make a first-round pick between Nos. 10 and 31.

“It was a lot easier last year when we were picking sixth because there [were] so few guys that could go in front of you,” Cerrato said. “At 21, you have to sit back and try to figure out what’s going on. It seems like it changes all the time on guys who may be there, may not be there.”

Casserly, who picked 17th in both 1993 and 1997,is familiar with that uncertainty.

“At 21, what you’ve got to fight is need vs. best player on the board,” Casserly said. “The best player might not fill a need, but two years from now he might start where the need pick you forced might not be good enough to fill that need.

“You’ll have a list at each of your positions of players that have first-round value, but as that list begins to fall apart [as players come off the board], do you want to trade up and make sure you get first-round value at one of those positions? Or do you [trade down and] take a late first-round value or a second-rounder and get an extra pick?”

Cerrato traded up in the first round in 2000 and 2005 and down in 2002.

“We’ll look to take the best player that’s available because if you get to 21 and you say we have to have this position and that position is gone, you might be taking a late second-round pick where at another position you’re getting a guy who’s valued at 21,” Cerrato said. “In the long run, you’re much better getting the value for the player then reaching for the guy.”

The last 10 players chosen 21st include studs Randy Moss and Nate Clements and duds Sylvester Morris and Matt Jones.

Such are the rewards and risks of being 21, a prize that’s much better in blackjack than in drafting NFL-worthy talent.

A SPOTTY SELECTION

The Washington Redskins have the 21st pick in Saturday’s NFL Draft. Washington has chosen this low in the first round only twice since landing Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green with the final first-round selection in 1983. Here’s how the Redskins have done with their top picks since:

PICKS 1-10

Hits: CB Champ Bailey (1999), LB LaVar Arrington (2000), OT Chris Samuels (2000), S Sean Taylor (2004).

Misses: WR Desmond Howard (1992), QB Heath Shuler (1994), WR Michael Westbrook (1995).

Incomplete: CB Carlos Rogers (2005), S LaRon Landry (2007).

PICKS 11-20

Hits: DE Kenard Lang (1997).

Misses: DT Bobby Wilson (1991), CB Tom Carter (1993), WR Rod Gardner (2001).

PICKS 21-32

Hits: CB Darrell Green (1983).

Misses: OT Andre Johnson (1996), QB Patrick Ramsey (2002).

Note: The Redskins didn’t choose in the first round in 1998, 2003 and 2006.

David Elfin


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