On the night of April 24, as the first day of the 2004 NFL draft neared a conclusion, the commotion at Redskins Park generated by the fifth-overall selection of safety Sean Taylor had died down.
With the Redskins' only scheduled draft pick on the first day completed more than six hours earlier, most had gone home looking ahead to the draft's second day. As it turned out, the Redskins' first-day business was not finished.
Washington orchestrated a trade with the New Orleans Saints to garner the 81st overall pick and used it on H-back Chris Cooley. The move paid dividends through 12 games this season as Cooley has proven to be one of the Redskins' biggest scoring threats.
Cooley caught a six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Patrick Ramsey in the Redskins' 31-7 win over the New York Giants in Week 13. It was his second straight game with a touchdown reception.
Cooley was tied with wide out Rod Gardner through 12 games for the team lead with five touchdown catches. He ranked fourth on the team through Week 13 in both receptions (28) and receiving yards (245). Wide outs Laveranues Coles and Gardner and running back Clinton Portis were the only players with more catches and yards.
"I've been lucky down in the red zone," Cooley said. "There have been plays called where I run in the end zone and it's like, You get open and we're going to throw you the ball.'"
As Cooley began to make plays earlier this season, he solidified his spot in the starting lineup and earned much-welcomed confidence as a rookie.
"It felt so great to know that I'm going to be the type of player on this team that [the coaches] can trust to give the ball and make plays," Cooley said.
Cooley has become so reliable that Ramsey turned to him in the final moments of last Sunday night's game against Philadelphia. Cooley's 31-yard catch on third-down kept alive a potential game-winning drive. Later, Ramsey's pass that was intercepted by the Eagles was also intended for Cooley.
Said Ramsey: "I think you have to take out the fact that he's a rookie. If he was a third-year guy, he'd still be impressing me. He's got a great feel for the game. He knows how to get open and he catches the ball well. He's really developed into a weapon for us this year."
In terms of touchdown receptions, Cooley is having one of the best seasons ever for a tight end/H-back under head coach Joe Gibbs.
During Gibbs' first tenure with the team, he was known for incorporating H-backs into the passing game. As a result, H-backs such as Clint Didier, Rick "Doc" Walker and Terry Orr were memorable players on the championship teams of the 1980s and 1991.
Didier was Gibbs' most prolific touchdown-catching H-back. He caught 21 touchdowns under Gibbs from 1982-1987, including one during a 35-point outburst in the second quarter of Super Bowl XXII versus Denver. His five touchdown receptions in 1984 tie Cooley's 2004 total for the most ever by a Redskins tight end/H-back under Gibbs. Didier also managed four touchdowns in 1983, 1985 and 1986. Orr had four touchdown grabs for the Super Bowl team of 1991 as he caught 10 passes for 201 yards that season.
"He's not exactly like Clint Didier; he was more of a speed guy who was an outside receiver," Gibbs said of Cooley after the draft. "Terry Orr and Doc Walker&I think he kind of fits into that group. I don't know if he reminds me exactly of somebody we had, but certainly he fits the role with what we want."
Cooley, a native of Powell, Wy., can pass Didier's season high with one more touchdown catch in the Redskins' final four games. The rookie from Utah State has a long way to go, however, to break the Redskins' single-season touchdown record by a tight end.
Jerry Smith, one of the 70 Greatest Redskins and a member of the team from 1965-1977, caught 12 touchdowns in 1967 under head coach Otto Graham. That total stands as the team's single-season receiving touchdowns record for a player at any position. Also sharing that mark are 70 Greatest Redskins receivers Ricky Sanders (1988), Charley Taylor (1966) and Hugh "Bones" Taylor (1952).
Prior to draft day last April, the Redskins mulled over which University of Miami prospect to draft with the fifth selection: Taylor or tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr. Washington, of course, went with Taylor and then pulled off the trade to acquire Cooley in hopes of filling the need at tight end/H-back. The Redskins swapped fifth-round picks in 2004 with New Orleans in addition to giving the Saints their second-round pick in 2005.
"We felt like when we drafted him that he was very bright," Gibbs said. "We watched him play against Nebraska and other big teams--he made plays. We thought he was a very good receiver, which he is. He's a good blocker. I think he has had a heck of a year. He's a guy who you can go to for plays."
The decision has worked out well for the Redskins. Taylor has been a hard-hitter in the secondary, and his three interceptions through Week 12 tied for the team lead with cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot.
Cooley, meanwhile, has put up solid numbers and has shown his knack for hauling in touchdowns. He caught four of his touchdowns (those against Baltimore, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and the New York Giants) despite being in traffic and absorbing hard hits on the play.
Cooley's durability has impressed Gibbs.
"I don't think he has missed a play of any kind since he has been here, and that's important to me," Gibbs said. "When you are looking for core group people who you are going to build around long-term, you want guys who line up every down. That's really important as a coach for you to decide that this guy is going to line up every down and you can count on him.
"I think Chris is one of those guys. If you get the ball to him, he runs well after the catch. We probably should do a better job of getting more balls to him."
In one of the Redskins' most suspenseful plays of the season, Cooley caught a touchdown against Pittsburgh in Week 12 on fourth and goal from the Steelers' two yard-line. Washington's offense struggled to move the ball consistently when facing Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense, but the Redskins' defense kept the score close.
Trailing 13-0 in the third quarter, the offense had a chance to climb back into the game with a 1st-and-goal from the one. After getting stuffed on two running plays and missing a pass, quarterback Patrick Ramsey fired a touchdown throw to Cooley on fourth down that made the score 13-7. The Redskins went on to lose 16-7, but Cooley continued to make an impression.
"We just have to keep working hard," Cooley said. "Everyone on the team is willing to do it. Just keep working hard and we'll come out of it. We have guys who want to win and guys who want to work hard. No one's giving up."