Skip to main content

News | Washington Commanders -

Brian Orakpo Recalls The 'Dream Come True' Of Being Drafted By Washington In 2009

Washington Football Team defensive end Brian Orakpo leaves the field after the NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Landover, Md., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009. Washington won 16 - 13. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Washington Football Team defensive end Brian Orakpo leaves the field after the NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Landover, Md., Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009. Washington won 16 - 13. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Brian Orakpo set the bar high for himself during his college career. He knew he had the ability to play in the NFL, and with the University of Texas producing so many high draft picks -- 71 players from the program have been drafted since 2000 -- he figured he might as well add his name to that list.

So he worked hard during his senior year, led the Longhorns in sacks and won one defensive award after the other in an attempt to make a lasting impression on scouts. It was enough to get Washington's attention, as the team nabbed the pass-rusher with the No. 13 overall pick.

It ended up being a wise decision for Washington. In six years, Orakpo recorded 40 sacks, 255 tackles, an interception returned for a touchdown and three Pro Bowls appearances. The road to all that success started with Orakpo's belief he was a first-round talent, and when his phone rang on draft night, it validated all his hard work.

"It was a dream come true," Orakpo told senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson. "It jump started my career, being in such a great organization, and it's something you'll never forget."

Orakpo, who won the Nagurski Trophy for being the top defensive player in college football, had an easy time impressing scouts. His film proved he could make short work of getting past offensive linemen, and his combine metrics, which included a 4.63 40-yard dash time and 31 reps on the bench press, showed he was a talented athlete. Draft analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. both had Orakpo as the best pass-rusher available in the 2009 draft.

"I view Orakpo as a 4-3 defensive end who also could play on his feet in a 3-4 as an attacking outside linebacker," Kiper said at the time. "He's super athletic and incredibly strong."

It made sense to Orakpo that Washington would be a possible destination for him. He knew the team needed a pass-rusher, and the coaches liked him. The problem was that Washington was picking around the middle of the first round, and the coaches kept telling him that they did not think he would be available when it was their turn.

"They kept saying it and kept saying it," Orakpo said, "to where they started to believe it."

But as the draft unfolded, it became more and more apparent that Orakpo was going to fall to Washington. The Kansas City Chiefs were the first to take a defensive player in Tyson Jackson with the No. 3 pick. He was followed by Aaron Curry to the Seattle Seahawks at No. 4, B.J. Raji to the Green Bay Packers at No. 9 and Aaron Maybin to the Buffalo Bills at No. 11.

The Denver Broncos, who had the pick ahead of Washington, chose to address their offense by taking Knowshon Moreno, meaning Orakpo was there for Washington to take.

"I said, 'That has to be my destination,'" Orakpo said. "And then...I got the call with a Virginia area code, and it was all said and done. I was in the Washington franchise. Like I said, it was a dream come true."

Orakpo said he talked to team owner Dan Snyder and other members of the organization before a private plane came to pick him up from New York City hours later. It was a red carpet experience, he said, and all the moments from that night, whether it was getting the phone call from Washington, getting his name called or taking photos with commissioner Roger Goodell, remain fresh in his mind.

Orakpo went on to create plenty more memories, not just for himself, but for the entire Washington fanbase. He tied defensive end Andre Carter for the team lead with 11.0 sacks -- a career-high -- in his rookie season. That, along with 50 tackles and a forced fumble, earned him his first Pro Bowl selection, making him the first Washington rookie since Tony Brown in 1978 to receive the honor. He recorded at least eight sacks in four of his six seasons with the team.

One of the best moments came during the 2012 season, when Washington won the NFC East and made the postseason for the first time in five years. While Orakpo was on Injured Reserve and only played two games that year, he still enjoyed seeing his teammates finally earn a playoff berth.

"Definitely [a] favorite memory was seeing all the fans and everybody just loving the team, just so much excitement that was going on because we finally got over that hump," he said.

Orakpo eventually moved on to other teams and unique ventures -- he started a cupcake company with former Texas and Tennessee Titans teammate Michael Griffin -- but he is quick to say how grateful he is to have received that call on draft night from Washington.

"I got instilled into a great scheme, a great organization, a great game plan for myself," Orakpo said. "It catapulted my career."