There was a great AP story by Joseph White earlier this week about the Washington Nationals first overall draft pick coming up June 9th.
In the article White discusses the pressure of the number one pick, and how it can either rejuvenate a franchise like it has done for the Capitals with Ovechkin, or set them back like it did with the Wizards and Kwame Brown. It got me thinking however about how in the last several years Washington D.C has had a lot of first overall picks.
The Nationals have this years and will likely earn next year’s first overall pick making them only the second team in history to get the dubious distinction in consecutive years (The Rays did it in 2007 and 2008).
While we remember Kwame’s bust, and we all enjoy the fruit of the Ovechkin pick, I thought we should go back and remember the city’s number one picks.
1948 Washington Redskins: Harry Gilmer
Gilmer was taken by the Redskins after an outstanding career at the University of Alabama. Serving as a halfback for Alabama, Gilmer helped popularize the jump pass, which he used to great success for the Crimson Tide. His sophomore year he lead the nation in touchdown passes with 13 and he also ran for nine touchdowns. His total offense was second in the nation, and he also served as a punter and kick returner.
His junior year he helped lead the Tide to the 1946 Rose Bowl where they defeated USC 34-14. He earned the Rose Bowl MVP. During his tenure at Alabama he passed for 26 touchdowns ran for 24, passed for 2994 yards and rushed for 1673.
However despite his illustrious college career Gilmer’s pro career wasn’t quite as grand. While he made two Pro Bowls in 1950 and 1952, he threw for a career 45 interceptions with only 23 touchdowns. In 10 career starts at quarterback he went 0-10.
After retiring Gilmer went on to be the head coach of the Lions for two years. He was later inducted into the Alabama Sports and the College Football Hall of Fame.
Draft Grade: C
1962 Washington Redskins: Ernie Davis
Ernie Davis, subject of the 2008 major motion picture, “The Express,” was drafted first overall by the Skins out of Syracuse University but was immediately traded to the Cleveland Browns.
Davis has an illustrious college career for Syracuse before being taken first overall by Washington. In four years he won All American honors twice. His sophomore year he lead Syracuse to the National Championship with an undefeated season, beating the University of Texas at the Cotton Bowl.
His junior year he was third in the nation in rushing with 877 yards and set a NCC record of 7.8 yards per carry. In that same year the Orangemen won the Liberty Bowl, where Davis won the MVP.
His senior year however would be his claim to fame. Following the season he became the first ever African American to win the Heisman Trophy award. One of the first people to congratulate Davis after receiving his trophy was president John F Kennedy who had been a big fan of Davis throughout his career.
Davis however never played an NFL game as he died in 1962 of Leukemia.
Draft Grade: B+
1969 Washington Senators: Jeff Burroughs
Jeff Burroughs was drafted out of high school by the Senators in the 1969 draft. He was drafted as a hit first, field second player, known more fore his power and plate patience than anything else.
Unfortunately for Washington the Senators moved to Texas only two years into Burroughs career, and they never got to see him blossom.
He went on to have a solid but not spectacular MLB career. In 16 years he batted .261, slugged 240 home runs and drove in 882 RBI.
Burrgous earned all star honors twice and won the MVP in 1974, batting .301 with 25 homers and 118 RBI.
Draft Grade: C+
1974 and 1976 Capitals: Greg Joly and Rick Green
The Capitals had two first overall picks in three years.
Jolly had a nine year career between the Capitals and the Detroit Redwings, but never lived up to his first overall pick potential. He is now a sports insurance agent in upstate New York.
Draft Grade: D-
Green was a defensemen who also never fully lived up to his first pick potential. Green had a longer career than Jolly though, staying in the NHL for 19 seasons. Green stayed in Washington for six seasons, his best coming in 78-79 when he contributed 41 points.
Green won a Stanley Cup in Detroit in 1986.
Draft GradeL D+
2001 Wizard: Kwame Brown
In 2001 Michael Jordan made Kwame Brown the first high schooler ever drafted first overall in the NBA draft. It was easily the biggest failure of his spectacular career.
Brown came to Washington a hyper-athletic big man and never learned to play basketball. While he showed glimpses of promise, his motivation on and off the court constantly seemed lacking.
In Browns first year with Washington he only started three games and averaged four points and three rebounds. His second year he only improved to seven points and five rebounds. Finally in his third year it looked as if he may be developing into more than a career reserve, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds.
The next year Brown regressed however. Falling to seven points and five rebounds a game. The same year Brown refused to sign a contract extension saying he wanted to test free agency. The press and the fans immediately began to turn on the former number one overall pick, and he was essentially booed out of Washington.
Since leaving D.C, Brown has bounced around as a reserve forward around the league, often receiving flack wherever he went as a lazy player who is only still in the league for his size. Many consider him one of the biggest busts of all time.
On the bright side for the Wizards, they ended up with the best player in the 2001 Draft, Gilbert Arenas.
Draft Grade: F
2004 D.C United: Freddy Adu
Freddy Adu hit the nation by storm as national news caught light of him as a 12-year-old dominating amateur soccer. Soon he was considered a phenom and the was labled the future of United States soccer.
Adu was drafted by his hometown team, D.C United with the first pick when he was only 14 years old. In doing so, he became the youngest American athlete in over 100 years to sign a pro contract.
Adu never seemed able to live up to expectations however. Whether it was because fans expected too much too early out of a 14 year old, or because Adu was too confident to take the time to learn isn’t clear, but Adu never took off as a super star in Washington or the MLS.
Many claimed Adu was too small to be effective in professional soccer, that while his skills were honed, he couldn’t match up with grown men. Today at the age of 20, Adu is still only listed at 5’ 8”.
In 2006 D.C United decided they had enough of Adu and traded him to Real Salt Lake. In 2007 Adu gave up on the MLS and decided to move to Europe to play for S.L Benfica.
Draft Grade: C
2004 Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin
Alexander Ovechkin was drafted by the capitals in the 2004 Draft but didn’t get to make his debut until the 2005-2006 NHL season due to the lockout from the year before.
As soon as Ovechkin did get to play however, he took off. In his first year he won the Calder Memorial Trophy for Rookie of the Year, beating out supposed phenom Sidney Crosby. The next year Ovechkin led the NHL in goals (65) and point (112) earning him the Rocket Richard, Art Ross, Lester B Pearson Award and the Hart Memorial Trophy as the leagues MVP. He is the first player ever to win all four trophies in the same year.
He followed with an equally impressive 2008-2009 where he scored 56 goals and registered 110 points, leading the Capitals to one of the best records in the NHL.
Today, Ovechkin is widely considered one of the top players in hockey and has rejuvenated the Capitals into a force in the East. He has signed a 13 year, $124 million dollar contract with the club ensuring he will be in Washington for years to come.
Draft Grade: A