ASHBURN, Va. — Mike Shanahan is very familiar with the No. 51 pick in the NFL draft.
Three times in a row, he was in that position with the Denver Broncos. The 2001 and 2003 selections were utterly forgettable, but no one has as problem recalling his choice in 2002.
“Sometimes when 51 comes up, you have your guy,” the Washington Redskins coach said. “One of those guys was Clinton Portis.”
Shanahan chose right. Portis had a pair of 1,500-yard rushing seasons with the Broncos and finished his career with nearly 10,000 yards.
Shanahan can only hope to choose as wisely Friday when the Redskins are on the board in the second round of this year’s draft. The team was set to be a spectator for Thursday’s first round — barring what Shanahan joked would be a “one in a million” trade to move up — so 51 holds a bit more importance than usual.
Finding someone with Portis-like motivation would help.
“In fact, he actually got mad at us because we picked him at 51,” Shanahan said. “He wanted to go in the first round. I said, ‘Clinton, don’t get mad at us. We picked you.’ He said, ‘You should’ve picked me in the first round.’
“It was that type of confidence he had that he was going to be a football player. And he says, ‘I’m going to make you very, very happy.’ That’s the kind of mindset when you do pick a guy in the second round, that he feels like he’s a first-round guy and he’s going to prove to everybody that he can play. So hopefully you get that kind of value.”
Shanahan didn’t get much value the other two times he ventured into Area 51. Remember Paul Toviessi? Of course not. The 2001 pick had knee problems in college and again in the pros. He never played a down in the NFL.
Terry Pierce at least got on the field, but the 2003 Broncos selection appeared in only 18 games — all as a backup — in his two seasons in the league, far below the expected return on the investment.
Shanahan said one thing he’s learned as he’s reviewed his past drafts is not to “reach for a player” by taking him too early, thus undoing all the work that went into making the plans that go up on the team’s draft board.
“The lessons I’ve learned through the years is that you’ve got to be true to your board,” he said.
There are certainly no regrets with last year’s initial pick. Robert Griffin III, taken at No. 2 overall, was the league’s offensive rookie of the year and led the team to its first division title in 13 years. So far he’s been well worth the price of not having a first-rounder this year or next, part of the package the Redskins gave to the St. Louis Rams to move into position to take the Heisman Trophy winner.
“Any time you have your quarterback position solved, you feel much more comfortable as a coach,” Shanahan said with a chuckle. “I can tell you that for sure.”
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