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History Shows No. 4 Picks Succeed--Sooner Or Later


We move the clock ahead two months. Flip the pages of that calendar (you can go back later and see which cheerleaders you missed). Forget about the rest of February and the whole of March, which comes in like the Lions and goes out like the Rams.

It is now Thursday. April 22. We are in New York for the NFL Draft.

We go to the Carnegie Deli for an overstuffed corned beef sandwich we can barely finish (or lift). We mosey over to Radio City Music Hall.

Biggest show in town that night. This is the first time the NFL displays the draft on evening television and turns it into a three-day extravaganza. We settle into our seats and anticipate the welcome from Commissioner Roger Goodell. Then we wait.

We won't wait long. Barring any trade of their No. 1 pick, the Redskins will select fourth. Behind the St. Louis Rams, Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. One spot ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Those names should sound familiar.

They were Redskins opponents in 2009 and the Redskins split with them, beating the Rams and Bucs at FedExField, losing on the road to the Lions and at home to the Chiefs. Each of those teams is in some stage of rebuilding but all started a year ago with revamped front offices and coaching staffs.

Now it's the Redskins' turn.

What do we know about the fourth pick? It certainly puts the Redskins in a prime position to get an outstanding college player. That, unfortunately, may be the limit of our wisdom. What happens after the selection depends on the player, the team, the coaching, stability and luck.

The team's history picking fourth is somewhat checkered.

In 1992, the Redskins traded up to get the young gentleman who loved to strike the Heisman Trophy pose – Desmond Howard. While he eventually became a Super Bowl MVP, it was long after he left the Redskins, deemed a flop as a receiver almost from day one.

In 1995, the Redskins chose Michael Westbrook and he did not exactly edit the record book. Seven seasons, once over 1,000 yards, 24 touchdown catches (nine of them in '99, when the team won the NFC East).

There's another fourth overall choice currently on the Redskins roster -- offensive lineman Mike Williams. Originally drafted by the Buffalo Bills, he lasted four years there and spent one year on injured reserve with the Jacksonville Jaguars before reconstructing his career here last season.

How about elsewhere? What happens with the fourth pick?

The Seattle Seahawks chose fourth a year ago. They selected outside linebacker Aaron Curry. He started 12 games, played in 14, had two sacks, missed the last two with an injury.

Seattle has a new coach in Pete Carroll and a new staff, including a new defensive coordinator and a new linebackers coach. Curry was an obvious college talent and now the Seahawks must find the best way to deploy him.


In 2008, the Oakland Raiders grabbed running back Darren McFadden. An explosive runner with injury issues and fumble problems (eight in 25 career games), he plays on a team that struggles offensively and rarely gets to run the ball late in games.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked defensive end Gaines Adams in 2007. A change of coaches and some impatience with the pace of his development led the Bucs to trade him to the Chicago Bears. Adams died of a heart attack in December at the age of 26. No one anticipates tragedy.

The New York Jets found one of the linchpins of a sturdy offensive line in 2006 in left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Fans thought he was a bust, or close to it, his first two years. He was named to the Pro Bowl last season. Playing next to a perennial Pro Bowler in guard Alan Faneca and with an outstanding young center in Nick Mangold helps greatly and his arrow points up.

Cedric Benson, the fourth pick in 2005, had a terrific season in 2009 though not for the team that drafted him. Personal and legal issues shortened his stay with the Bears but he matured with the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite three missed games, he rushed for 1,251 yards and the Bengals won the AFC North with a 10-6 record. In some ways his career has only just begun.

The New York Giants grabbed quarterback Philip Rivers in 2004 and promptly swapped him and a shopping cart of draft choices to the San Diego Chargers for Eli Manning. Rivers became the starter in 2006, led the NFL in touchdown passes with 34 in '08 and has twice been named to the Pro Bowl. Success, doctor.

If there's a general assumption to be made, it's that a player chosen in this spot should succeed. If not sooner, then later. If not in one place, then another.

A change of coaching staffs midstream can hurt, as it did Adams, or help, as Ferguson prospered in a run-based offense under coach Rex Ryan.

The player the Redskins acquire should enjoy some consistency with a veteran, proven coach like Shanahan.

It takes drive by the player and an ability to stay healthy. It requires patience and teaching by the coaching staff and a good example by veteran players to make this work. There's pressure on everyone involved.

A poor selection sets the franchise back. The right move, properly handled, energizes it and helps lay the foundation.

So the Redskins go forth. Picking fourth.

Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at and follow him on

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