51st pick in NFL draft is hit or miss

51st pick in NFL draft is hit or miss
February 21, 2013, 10:15 am
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The NFL Combine gets rolling in Indianapolis this week and the most important task at hand for the Redskins is to identify some players they would like to pick when their first selection comes around. That pick comes in the second round, the 51st overall. A look at the history of players taken with that pick in the draft tells you that while the Redskins should be able to get a good player there, there is no guarantee.

The Redskins last had the 51st pick in 2008. The selection was Oklahoma wide receiver Malcolm Kelly. In two seasons he caught 28 passes for 365 yards. The 6-4 Kelly did not catch a touchdown with the Redskins. He has been out of football since the Redskins released him with an injury settlement just before the start of the 2011 season.

They did better the previous time they used the 51st pick. They took linebacker Greg Jones out of Colorado in 1997 and he started 27 games in four years, including 15 starts for the 1999 NFC East champions. 

Those are the only two modern-era players the Redskins have taken with the 51st pick. In 1953 they took back Nick Carras and in 1945 it was end John North. But the Redskins have had other players taken 51st play for them.

The most notable is Clinton Portis, who was the 51st pick of Mike Shanahan and the Broncos in 2002. After back-to-back 1500-yard seasons in Denver he was traded to the Redskins, where he became the team’s second-leading all-time rusher. 

Everybody knows Portis but only aficionados of the early Joe Gibbs-era Redskins remember Pete Cronan. The Seahawks took the Boston College linebacker 51st in 1977. After Seattle released him during the 1981 season, the Redskins picked him up and he was the designated special teams demon for their 1982 and 1983 Super Bowl teams.

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was the defensive rookie of the year after the Bills took him with the 51st pick of the 1979 draft.

But not everyone taken 51st has an impact, as we saw with Kelly. Seven players who were taken in that slot are active in the NFL. The best of the bunch and the only one who was a full-time starter right off the bat was Bills guard Andy Levitre. After Buffalo drafted him in 2009 was the starter at left guard there (replacing free agent bust and former Redskin Derrick Dockery) from the first game and has started 64 of 64 games in four years there.

The others have had careers that are either up and down or, in some cases, just getting started. DT Dwan Edwards (Ravens 2004) has 60 career starts, C Ryan Cook (Vikings 2006) has 51, WR Steve Smith (Giants, 2007) has 27, RB Toby Gerhart (Vikings 2010) has six, DE Da’Quan Bowers (Bucs, 2011), has six and DL Jerel Worthy started four games as a rookie for the Packers last year.

The 51st pick with the most starts, and the only Hall of Famer in the group, is Saints linebacker Ricky Jackson (1981) with 225.

Mike Shanahan has had a decidedly mixed history with the 51st pick. It worked out that his Broncos had that pick three years in a row, from 2001-2003. As noted, he hit a home run with the pick in the middle year with Portis in 2002. But in 2001 the Broncos took defensive end Paul Toviessi. He is one of just two 51st picks since the 1970 merger to not play a down in the NFL. Linebacker Terry Pierce was the pick in 2003; his stat line in two NFL seasons was 18 games, no starts, four tackles.

The lesson here is that the Redskins have a chance to get an impact player with their first pick but there is also a chance they will take a bust.