When the Redskins drafted Sean Taylor instead of Kellen Winslow Jr., many Redskins fans thought that the hope of getting tight end help in the draft seemed bleak. But in a late first day trade, Washington swapped their 5th round pick (139th overall) with the Saints 5th round pick (151st overall), and gave up their 2005 2nd round pick in order to grab New Orleans’ 3rd round pick in 2004 (81st overall). The Redskins then selected tight end Chris Cooley from Utah State. “It’s a big challenge,” Cooley said of being drafted by Washington. “After I met Coach Gibbs and his staff, I was hoping the Redskins would draft me. I’m just totally excited about this opportunity. I’m really thrilled.”
While Winslow may have been the most talked about tight end of this year’s crop, Cooley actually led the nation in statistics for tight ends. His 62 receptions for 732 yards (11.8-yard average) were not only tops in the nation, but they were the best ever for a TE at Utah State. In fact, it was the first time someone other than a receiver had led the team in receptions since 1983. With 6 receiving touchdowns as well as 1 rushing touchdown, he was no stranger to the end zone either. But perhaps Cooley’s greatest goal-line attribute is his blocking. Perhaps it comes from the fact that Cooley was only converted from a defensive end about three years ago.
After seeing only reserve action on the defensive side as a true freshman, Chris suddenly found himself being used in a utility role on the offense in 2001. He not only played ten games that season, but he got starts at tight end, H-back and fullback. While he only caught three passes for a total of 21 yards that year, he showed enough that Utah State started thinking about him for the starting tight end job the following year.
In 2002, Chris started to come into his own. While he was not very productive early in the season (registering only 9 catches in 7 games), his blocking was spectacular. He would win the recipient of the Golden Helmet award that year — presented to the team’s hardest hitter. His receiving skills and perhaps more importantly, his confidence, began to rise as the season wore on. Chris got into a groove late in the year and managed to pull in 22 catches in the last 4 games. So despite only really contributing for the last 1/3 of the season, Chris finished third on the Aggies in receptions with 31 (for 502 yards – 16.2 average). He was also quickly becoming a team leader.
When the 2003 season opened, the young boy from Powell, Wyoming had been replaced by a man. A team leader that would have the best season of any tight end in the country. A season that would see him as a finalist for the Mackey Award that is given to the nation’s top tight end. A season that would also see him named to the All Sun Belt Conference first team. A season that would see him named as co-winner of the offensive MVP award at Utah State.
It was a great senior campaign all around for Cooley. So it was a little surprising that ALL of the draft hoopla surrounded Winslow Jr. and to a lesser extent Ben Troupe and Ben Watson when it came to tight ends.
Enter Joe Gibbs and the H-back position.
“Chris was a really good fit for us,” said Gibbs. “He’s an exceptionally bright young man, and we know he’ll come in and be ready to compete. He certainly fits the role with what we want.”
And so it was done. The Redskins made the aforementioned trade with the Saints to gain the 3rd round pick, and drafted themselves a bona fide contender for the H-back position. It may not have been the sexiest pick at the position, but it may have been the smartest choice. Less flash – more grit.
Donnie Warren and Doc Walker would surely approve.
Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Mark Solway