1981 Draft Class Excelled Early, Often

NFL Draft coverage continues this week with a 31-year step back to 1981 where’s Chris Wesseling says the burgundy and gold got the biggest bang for their buck.

From top to bottom it’s easy to see why Wesseling picked the ’81 class—it’s a beauty.


Entering the 1981 season, the Redskins had their cornerstone quarterback in Joe Theismann and a brand new head coach in Joe Gibbs who was molded by Don Coryell and his potent Air Coryell scheme.

The Redskins just needed talent that could keep Theismann upright and thrive in Gibbs’ offense.

After their first two picks, Redskins brass checked protection off their draft checklist.

First, the burgundy and gold plucked Mark May from the prospect pool with their first round pick (20th overall). May was reunited with his University of Pittsburgh linemate Russ Grimm 49 picks later.

[Mark May in the 1989 Pro Bowl. (AP Image)]

Together the twosome, along with center Jeff Bostic and tackles Joe Jacoby and George Starke, made playing offensive line trendy and must-see TV in the 1980’s.

Contributing early (each played in at least 14 games in 1981) and often (263 combined appearances), May and Grimm propelled the Redskins to three Super Bowl victories and Grimm’s expert blocking set-up one of the greatest plays in Big Game history:

In the fifth round, Gibbs and Co. selected Oklahoma St.’s Dexter Manley. While his first season was played before sack stat collection, he started his campaign towards being anointed the franchise’s sack king in 1982 when he accumulated 6.5 quarterback takedowns.

(AP Image)

His impact on the Redskins’ D lasted through the decade, as he recorded 91.5 sacks in eight seasons to include 18.5 in 1986. Both remain No. 1 in the franchise record books.

There was quick and then there was Charlie Brown quick. Selected in the eighth round out of South Carolina St., Brown grasped the slot receiver role and ran with it.

While his stint with the Redskins lasted only three seasons, Brown’s impact on some of the 1980’s teams is everlasting.

(AP Image)

In just 26 starts, Brown accumulated 2,115 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns.

30 picks after Brown, the Redskins went in an entirely different direction, selecting 6-1, 269-pound defensive lineman Darryl Grant.

Grant was a solid contributor for the defense throughout the 80’s (139 appearances). From a numbers standpoint, his best season came in 1984 for he recorded eight of the franchise’s 66 sacks.

Finally, all the way at the tail end of the draft, Washington selected Portland St. tight end Clint Didier.

[Didier, No. 86, is mobbed by teammates congratulating him on his first NFL touchdown. (AP image)]

Similar to Chris Cooley (Utah St.), Didier was an afterthought due to his college selection.  But after a two-catch season in 1982, Didier burst onto the scene in 1983 with his first of four-straight four touchdown seasons.

He capped of his Redskins career in a way only few ever have—by scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl.


ABOUT THE REDSKINS: Headquartered at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Virginia, and owned by Daniel Snyder, the historic Washington Redskins Football Club has won five World Championship titles including the 1937 and 1942 National Football League Championship games, as well as Super Bowls XVII, XXII and XXVI. Founded in 1932 as the Boston Braves in Massachusetts, the team changed its name to the Redskins in 1933 and relocated to Washington, D.C., in 1937. Since then, the team has become one of the most recognizable professional sports franchises in history, featuring multiple Hall of Fame coaches, 19 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (with seven others who also were Redskins) and becoming the first team in the NFL with an official marching band and fight song, "Hail to the Redskins." The Redskins have been owned by Dan Snydersince 1999, and beginning in 1997, began playing their home games at FedExField in Landover, Md.