An unconventional look into the Commanders’ drafting history

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 29: Quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins watch warmups before play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers August 29, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 29: Quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins watch warmups before play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers August 29, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) /
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Mandatory Credit: Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports /

The Quarterbacks

It’s no secret that the Washington Commanders have a disastrous track record when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. In 1937, they selected Sammy Baugh, and he remains to this day the only truly outstanding quarterback the franchise has ever drafted.

In fact, Baugh wasn’t even a quarterback – at least not by modern standards – when he was drafted. Washington, like most professional teams, ran a single-wing offense in which all four backfield players were largely interchangeable. Baugh technically played halfback, while Riley Smith lined up at quarterback. Of course, a few years later, when Washington transitioned to the more modern T-formation, Baugh would become ensconced as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Since 1937, Washington has drafted plenty of quarterbacks. Some, like Eddie LeBaron and Norm Snead, Jason Campbell and Stan Humphries, have been good players who probably would have fared better with more talent around them. But for the most part, Washington’s greatest quarterbacks – Sonny and Billy and Joe – came from other teams. Mark Rypien may be the best of the homegrown QBs, and based on what we have seen above, it should come as no surprise that he was taken in the 6th round of the 1986 draft, the 8th QB, picked after such notable names as Hugh Millen and Robbie Bosco.

But there’s one bit of trivia related to Washington, QBs, and the draft that is too good to ignore.

Since 1940, Washington has selected multiple QBs in the draft on eight occasions. In five of those drafts, they took two QBs, and in the other three, they took three. With one very minor exception, in every one of those cases, one of the quarterbacks taken second or third outperformed the quarterback taken first.

It begins modestly in 1940, when Washington picked three QBs. Two of them – 1st rounder Ed Boell and 22nd rounder Steve Sitko – did not play in the NFL. 5th rounder Roy Zimmerman had a short, undistinguished career, but at least he did play.

In 1945, the gap is much more obvious. First round draft pick Jim Hardy never played for Washington. Neither did 13th round pick Charlie Conerly, but Conerly did go on to win Rookie of the Year and MVP during a 13-year career for the Giants, that culminated with him being inducted into the Giants Ring of Honor.

Hardy did make it into the record books – throwing eight interceptions in one game for the Eagles – a record that still stands 72 years later.

In 1956, Washington picked Fred Wyant in the 3rd round. Wyant would have a long career as an official but a very limited playing career. In the 17th round, Washington took Eagle Day. Day had a very successful career in Canada before joining the NFL at the end of the decade. His time in Washington was short, but he did contribute as an effective all-around backfield player and as the team’s punter.

1958 was a black hole. None of the three players drafted as quarterbacks distinguished themselves. Of of the three, at least 5th round pick Jim Van Pelt won a championship in Canada as QB for Winnipeg, which is more than Dan Nolan (4th round) or Ken Ford (13th round) managed. (I feel the need to point out that my definition of success in this article is restricted to professional football. I do not wish to offend Dan Nolan, who went on to become a priest.)

1959 was one of the most interesting years. Washington took Don Allard with the 4th overall pick, but Allard opted to go to Canada. He would also play in the upstart AFL before ending his career with the Atlantic Coast League – effectively, a minor league for the NFL and AFL. He never played in an NFL game. In the 18th round, Washington selected another quarterback who would initially go to Canada. But unlike Allard, Joe Kapp would become a star in Canada, and would eventually come to the NFL, as quarterback for Minnesota Vikings where he would make the Pro Bowl and win a conference championship in 1969.

1981 is the year that doesn’t fit. I cannot make the case that Phil Kessel, drafted in the 10th round, had a better career than Tom Flick, taken in the 4th. But I do have this work-around. Flick was not a good NFL quarterback. For his career, he had a 2:10 touchdown to interception ratio and a QB rating of 25.9. Still, that surpasses Kessel, who lasted for one year on the IR and then was out of the league. However, Kessel’s son, Phil Jr, has played in more than 1,000 NHL games, and scored almost 1,000 points. He has won the Stanley Cup twice. I know – it still doesn’t fit, but if we’re talking about sports-related success, Kessel wins.

1994 may be the most unlikely of them all. I imagine most fans older than 30 remember this pretty well. Joe Gibbs had retired. The team was struggling to find a new identity. That was supposed to come in the person of offensive wizard Norv Turner and his new prize QB Heath Shuler. Problem was, neither lived up to the billing. Veteran John Friesz was a better QB than Shuler, but when he struggled, the pressure was on to get the new toy onto the field. Shuler really was not good enough to be an NFL quarterback, but another QB, taken as an afterthought almost 200 picks after Shuler, Gus Frerotte, proved he could play. Though never a star, Frerotte started 93 games in his NFL career, and retired with a passer rating of 74.2.

I don’t need to remind you of the last time this happened in Washington. 2012 – RG3 in the 1st round. Kirk Cousins in the 4th. It looked glorious for one year. Then, some bad luck and some even worse decision-making doomed Griffin. Kirk continues to put up big numbers, if not big wins, in Minnesota.

All right – that’s it for the minutiae of Washington Commanders draft history. But I will leave you with one more bit of trivia from the dusty file cabinets of Washington football. Anyone who got the Brock Lesnar reference at the beginning of this piece may appreciate this.