8 NFL Draft picks the Washington Commanders gave up on too soon

What might have been...
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Keenan McCardell

  • Wide Receiver | 1991 NFL Draft

Up until now, the players mentioned were all traded by the now-Washington Commanders. Keenan McCardell is the best draft pick the team ever simply gave up on and released.

On the one hand, Washington still had the sensational trio of Art Monk, Gary Clark, and Ricky Sanders at wide receiver during McCardell’s rookie season, which he spent on injured reserve. On the other hand, all three would be 30 years old or above in 1992, so the franchise needed some new blood.

They decided McCardell was not the player to assume the mantle. Over the next few seasons, they signed veteran Tim McGee. They drafted Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard. In 1992, they cut McCardell loose.

McCardell would play for four other teams before finally returning to the club that drafted him for his final season. In all, his career spanned 16 seasons and included a couple of Pro Bowls. He ended up catching 883 balls in the NFL for more than 11,000 receiving yards. He scored 63 touchdowns.

Had McCardell produced those numbers in Washington, he would rank second - just behind Monk - on the team’s all-time list for catches and receiving yards, and third, behind Monk and Charley Taylor for receiving touchdowns.

Desmond Howard

  • Punt Returner | 1992 NFL Draft

It’s not hard to see why the now-Washington Commanders gave up on Desmond Howard after his third season. He arrived with much fanfare - the No. 4 pick in the 1992 NFL Draft. He was supposed to be the heir apparent to the team's great receivers of the 1980s. Unfortunately, it became clear early on that as a receiver, he simply wasn’t good enough by NFL standards.

Howard had trouble getting off the line of scrimmage against bigger cornerbacks, and his speed wasn’t quite enough to allow him to run away from them either. He produced virtually nothing for the team during his first three seasons. When they had to choose players to leave unprotected in the 1995 expansion draft, he was on the list. The Jacksonville Jaguars grabbed him.

He didn’t produce much for the Jaguars in his one season there either. But then he landed with the Green Bay Packers - where he was a first-team All-Pro and Super Bowl MVP in 1996.

The thing is, it wasn’t as a wide receiver. What Washington failed to realize is that Howard was just about the best punt returner in the entire league during the 1990s. In 1996 alone, he took three punts back for scores and returned a kickoff 99 yards against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.

To be fair, Washington had their own pretty good return man that year in Brian Mitchell. But he didn’t score any touchdowns that year, and his 11.2 punt return average - though certainly respectable - was five yards less than Howard’s.