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Redskins Greats Reflect On Their Draft Memories

May 16, 2014 02:47PM ● By Jake Russell

Former Redskins (left to right) Reggie Branch (bottom left), Raleigh McKenzie, Earnest Byner, Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic, Rich Milot (top left), Jim Lachey, Joe Jacoby, Ricky Sanders, Ed Simmons and Clarence Vaughn. Photo by Jake Russell.

With the 2014 NFL Draft behind them and rookie minicamp beginning today, the Washington Redskins are continuing the annual process of evaluating their newest and youngest talent.

The team entered last weekend’s draft with six selections and concluded with eight, having drafted a linebacker, offensive guard, offensive tackle, cornerback, wide receiver, running back, tight end, and kicker. The Redskins also signed of 10 undrafted free agents, players who are looking to prove why they were worthy of a draft selection.

Last night, Redskins legends from varied draft backgrounds converged at the 10th Annual Mickey Steele Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament at Fisherman’s Crab Deck in Grasonville. There the legends of yesteryear shared stories of their playing days and caught each other up on what they’re doing nowadays.

Super Bowl XXVI MVP Mark Rypien, who was with the Redskins from 1986 to 1993, hosts the poker tournament each year.

While his career was ultimately successful, having thrown for 18,473 yards and 115 touchdowns over 11 seasons, his draft experience did not meet his expectations.

Coming out of Washington State University, Rypien had seen projections placing him in the second or third rounds of the 1986 NFL Draft. However, Rypien was criticized for not playing in a pro-style offense and he slipped into the sixth round, where the Redskins drafted him 146th overall.

“The draft itself was disappointing,” Rypien says. “It’s not a fun thing to go [through]. The highs and lows and the expectations didn’t meet what [I] preferred.”

With Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams and Jay Schroeder on the roster, Rypien did not play a regular season game until 1988.

“To be a pro and be as fortunate to play as many years as I did with a great group of guys,” Rypien says, “I was ready to accept the challenge and put away any bitterness that [I] had about what [I] thought where [I] should go.”

Joe Jacoby, who played offensive tackle for the Redskins from 1981-1993, didn’t even see his name called when the draft took place. Jacoby was a bruising lineman coming out of Louisville but did not garner enough attention to be selected in any of the 12 rounds of the 1981 NFL Draft.

Once the draft reached the late rounds, Jacoby preferred to go undrafted so he could ultimately decide his fate rather than get locked in to one team. He got his wish. Following the draft, Jacoby received calls from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks, and the Washington Redskins. He chose Washington because they had shown the most interest throughout the draft process from January through April.

“I was leaning towards that way, hoping for a phone call from them. They did tell me if they did draft me it would be the 11th or 12th round, if not they wanted me as a free agent.”

Where he went in the draft didn’t matter to Jacoby. All that mattered was getting that one chance to make an NFL roster.

“It didn’t upset me. It didn’t anger me. I knew where I was at,” Jacoby says. “I knew where I fell in [that] realm and where it was [best] to make my opportunity and I was just going to make the most of it. That’s what I told myself when I went to camp.”

One of the famed members of The Hogs, Washington’s famed offensive line in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Jacoby carved out 13-year career as one of the best offensive lineman in team history. His career featured four Pro Bowls and three Super Bowl titles. He has been named a Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist four times.

Raleigh McKenzie, now a northeast territory scout for the Oakland Raiders, spent 16 years as an NFL offensive lineman, the first 10 with the Redskins.

An 11th-round pick by Washington in 1985, McKenzie now relishes his current role in evaluating college talent. He was instrumental in Oakland’s selection of University of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack at fifth overall last Thursday night.

Being picked fifth overall is a far cry from the 290th selection where McKenzie was taken out of the University of Tennessee. McKenzie, a self-described “homebody” spent the days of the draft at home with his family in Knoxville. His brother Reggie, now the general manager of the Oakland Raiders, was selected one round ahead of him. Raleigh received a call at 1:15 a.m. saying the Redskins would like to sign him as an undrafted free agent should he not get selected.

McKenzie held no grudges about where he was drafted. He was just excited to become a member of The Hogs.

“I got drafted in the 11th round. That means they think I’ve got a chance,” McKenzie says. “That’s all I needed. At that time I said ‘I’ve got a chance of becoming a Hog.’ It’s tough to go into any offensive line but I went to an established offensive line. If I could make this team it will just set my whole career.”

And it did. McKenzie played in 227 career NFL games, 144 of which were with the Redskins. He played in 83 games with the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and Green Bay Packers from 1995 to 2000.

Former Redskins wide receiver Ricky Sanders, who played with the team from 1986 to 1993, took an indirect route to the NFL.

Coming out of Division III Southwest Texas State (now known as Texas State), Sanders was originally drafted into the defunct United States Football League (USFL) by the San Antonio Gunslingers in 1984 and was traded to the Houston Gamblers. Sanders, who didn’t even know a USFL Draft was occurring, was playing basketball with a college teammate when he found out the Gunslingers had selected him.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Sanders said. “They said San Antonio drafted me. Next thing I know they’re flying me to Houston. I’m like ‘what’s happening here?’ That was one of the biggest positive moves that could have happened.”

His move to Houston catapulted his career and allowed him to play with future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. Sanders caught 101 passes for 1,378 yards and 11 touchdowns in the 1984 season. He was selected in the first round of the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft by the New England Patriots. After the USFL folded in 1986, he reported to the Patriots but was traded to the Redskins for a 1987 third-round selection, a move that he relished.

With the Redskins, Sanders crafted a memorable career alongside Art Monk and Gary Clark. He caught 414 passes for 5,854 yards and 36 touchdowns. In January 1988 he set single-game Super Bowl records with 193 yards, two touchdowns and an 80-yard reception when the Redskins defeated the Broncos 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII.  

Stories such as those of Rypien, Jacoby, McKenzie and Sanders prove that no matter how a player arrives in the NFL, anyone can make an impact when given the opportunity.