By Ronald Guy
After the Denver Broncos selected Knowshon Moreno with the 12th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Brian Orakpo fell in the lap of the ‘Skins. It was a pick so obvious, so stress-free and such a perfect confluence of available talent and team need that then Veep of Football Operations Vinny Cerrato couldn’t screw it up. Still, Cerrato managed to rescue some awkwardness from his first round gimme. Instead of playing it cool and waiting a few minutes to see if the phone would ring with an offer he couldn’t refuse, the ‘Skins turned in the selection of Orakpo with the giddiness of a school boy with the prom queen on his arm.
Orakpo, like his selection on draft day, was the most obvious choice for defensive players on notice in 2013 (hopefully I turned in my “Orakpo” card more gracefully). At 6-4, 260 pounds and with slightly less body fat than a swimsuit model, ‘Rak looks the part of that increasingly valuable edge pass rusher. But four years into his NFL career, his numbers haven’t matched his visual promise. After recording 11 sacks as a rookie, he managed only 8.5 in 2010 and nine in 2011 — not the trend line the team hoped for. Last season Orakpo tore a pectoral muscle (for the second time) in Week 2 and missed the rest of the season.
Orakpo is the one player on defense that the opposing offense needs to “find” every snap; it’s an accounting exercise that puts their other pass rushers, primarily fellow OLB Ryan Kerrigan, in more favorable situations. The ‘Skins ranked 23rd in sacks last year, and a healthy Orakpo represents the only real hope of that ever-important statistic improving. The ‘Skins need him to remain healthy and deliver his best pro season. In addition to professional pride, Orakpo has quite the incentive to deliver: He’s in the last year of his contract. Next spring, Dan Snyder would be thrilled to celebrate Orakpo’s career year by inking the team’s prized pass rusher to lucrative extension … well, as thrilled as anyone can be about spending tens of millions of dollars.