By: Joe Pohoryles
Today, March Madness was supposed to be in full swing. Instead, the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has stopped the sports world in its tracks. NFL free agency is buzzing, but there are few leagues with actual gameplay to watch.
To stay in the spirit of bracket season, I have constructed a 32-team bracket built to determine the most popular athlete in DC sports. Separated into four regions, each making up the four major teams, a favorite athlete can be narrowed down. Combined with the Wizards region are the ‘Wildcards,’ representing athletes from the non-major teams. The Wildcards are with the Wizards because NBA rosters hold 12-15 players, which would give a disproportionate amount of spots to Wizards players, compared to the roster sizes of the other three teams. Since there are other athletes in DC more deserving of a spot than the eighth-most liked player on the Wizards, the Wizards and Wildcards each take up four spots in their own region.
In addition, the eighth-seed in the Wizards/Wildcards region is blank, allowing you to insert any DC athlete of your choosing if one of your favorites is not already featured on the bracket.
The seeding is determined by social media following, more specifically Instagram. (Any players that do not have Instagram accounts were substituted with Twitter.) To reiterate, the seeding is NOT based on my own personal opinion, but rather based on how popular the player is on social media. I find this to be a better form of initially ranking as opposed to just randomly seeding. It shows which players are generally favorited compared to others, and any “upsets” could rightfully be considered such, as your own opinion would differ from the consensus.
Below I will be breaking down my own personal selections, but I’d love to hear your opinions. Feel free to share your thoughts in a comment on this post, or reach out to me on Twitter (@Joe_Poho) or Instagram (@joepoho). I may even publish some of the submissions. Happy bracketing!
For the First round (Part 1) results, click here.
(1) Adrian Peterson vs. (8) Tress Way
Adrian Peterson will always be remembered as a Minnesota Vikings legend. It was in Minnesota where he made four All-Pro First Teams, won the 2012 NFL MVP award, and racked up 11,747 of his 14,216 career rushing yards. However, these past couple seasons in Washington have given fans something exciting to watch amid all the disappointment. After 2018 second-round pick Derrius Guice tore his ACL in his rookie preseason, the team signed a then-33-year-old Peterson to a one-year deal, where he proceeded to start all 16 games and rush for over 1,000 yards for the eighth time in his career. He re-signed for two more years, and rushed 898 yards in 15 games this past season, but still averaged an impressive 4.3 yards per carry. It’s fun seeing an all-time great do well this late in his career.
Tress Way is one of the best punters in the entire league. It’s a very Redskins-type of move to have their only league-best player at the punter position, but he deserves all the praise he receives. Way had a “perfect season” in 2018, in which none of his 79 punts resulted in a touchback. Way stepped his game up even further in 2019, where he averaged a career-high 49.6 yards per punt and earned Second Team All-Pro honors. As a punter, he does not receive much of the spotlight, but he’s one of the best at what he does, and seems to be a likable guy (based on when I met him once a few years ago… not to flex). Still, “All Day” has been one of my favorite players even before he signed with the Redskins, and he takes the cake here.
Winner: (1) Adrian Peterson
(4) Ryan Kerrigan vs. (5) Trent Williams
My first memory of Ryan Kerrigan was during the 2011 NFL Draft, where the Redskins held the 10th overall pick. After years of struggle at the quarterback position (well, I was 10 years old at the time, so I can really only remember mediocre play from Jason Campbell, followed by the revolving door of Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and John Beck; still, not pretty), I had my sights set on the QB to turn this franchise around: the one and only Blaine Gabbert. Before I could celebrate the arrival of our franchise’s savior from Mizzou, the Skins traded the pick to Jacksonville, where I saw the Jags scoop up what was rightfully ours.
The Skins landed at pick 16, where we took Kerrigan. “I guess he’s okay, too,” I thought to myself, “but still not a quarterback.” That aged well… Gabbert fell out of the league’s starter-tier rather quickly, while Kerrigan has quietly kept pace with 2011 draft classmates JJ Watt and Von Miller as one of the best front seven players in the NFL. Kerrigan is an iron man, not missing a single game in his whole career until just last season, his ninth. He has long been one of the few bright spots on the team’s defense, and quickly became a fan favorite.
Trent Williams was drafted one year before Kerrigan in 2010, and has spent the past decade as a top offensive tackle in the league. From his third season in 2012 through 2018, Williams made the Pro Bowl every year. Like Kerrigan has been the best defensive player on the team, Williams has pretty much been the best player on the other side of the ball, making this early match-up a tough one. Williams held out for the entirety of last season due to unhappiness with the organization and medical staff, expressing he does not want to play in DC anymore, so he’s fallen out of favor with plenty of fans, and could very well be traded soon. I don’t hold that against him; one can only put up with dysfunction for so long. Still, I like Kerrigan’s attitude and production much better (even before Williams’ holdout).
Winner: (4) Ryan Kerrigan
(3) Dwayne Haskins Jr. vs. (6) Terry McLaurin
The two most recent stars of the offense — entering their second pro season out of The Ohio State University — have brought a new sense of hope to the team. Dwayne Haskins Jr., who played high school ball at Bullis, and even committed to Maryland before backing out for Ohio State, was the 15th overall pick in last year’s draft, and went through a bumpy rookie season. There is a lot of room for growth, and he showed improvement with every game he played last season. If he can become the QB to finally lead this franchise back to glory, he will become a favorite on every fan’s list.
Terry McLaurin came in with less hype as a third-rounder looking to aid a receiving corps that was in poor shape. McLaurin took that opportunity and quickly became a top three rookie receiver in the league despite the poor quarterback play. He has been a welcome surprise, establishing himself as an offensive building block much earlier than expected, and could become even better as both he and Haskins develop. There has been uncertainty with Haskins, but there has been no doubt McLaurin is a stud, and he’s been a joy to watch every single game.
Winner: (6) Terry McLaurin
(2) Landon Collins vs. (7) Jonathan Allen
Landon Collins began his career with the New York Giants, earning First Team All-Pro honors in 2016. After four seasons in the Meadowlands, Collins signed a six-year/$84 million deal with the Redskins to help bolster the secondary. Collins was among the generation of safeties who idolized the late, great Sean Taylor, and was excited to join the team Taylor played with. Collins was solid in his first season with the team, yet a far cry from his All-Pro season, and he has yet to play at that level since 2016. Hopefully, he can get close to that level, and become one of the league’s top safeties again.
Jonathan Allen was the best defensive player in the country in his final season at Alabama. It was widely projected that he would be a top five draft pick, but he had a shoulder surgery two weeks before the combine, hurting his stock. Still, Redskins coaches and fans were shocked and delighted that Allen fell all the way to the 17th overall pick, where they scooped him up. After three seasons, he is already a defensive captain and a headliner for what is shaping up to be a fearsome defensive line. I’ve been a fan of Allen since he was tearing it up at Alabama, whereas I just got used to Collins not being a rival.
Winner: (7) Jonathan Allen
(1) John Wall / (8) [insert your own]
Since I designed this bracket, all the players I would have wanted to choose from are already here, so there is not a particular player I feel should be inserted. I did consider placing Wayne Rooney in this region, but he is no longer on DC United (plus his global following means his 14.9 million followers dwarf would-be-two-seed John Wall’s 4.3 million, which could have skewed the match-ups a bit). I’ll just go with Rooney, who once starred for my favorite Premier League team, Manchester United, and reinvigorated my interest in DC United and MLS. Rooney turned the team around upon arrival, arriving to the worst Eastern Conference team, and lifting them to a playoff spot by the end of the season. He spent just one-and-a-half years with the team, and never reached the ultimate goal of an MLS Cup championship, but it was a fun run while it lasted.
Wall, meanwhile, reinvigorated my interest in the Washington Wizards. The Gilbert Arenas era is a bit fuzzy in my memory, and the aftermath of the infamous locker room run incident set the team back for a bit. When the NBA lottery ping pong balls gifted Washington the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Wall’s name was practically written on the draft card on the spot. It took a few years, but with the help of Bradley Beal, he led the Wizards back to being a consistent playoff team. He has been sidelined for over a year now, and at his age, Wall is not guaranteed to be as good as we remember, but it will be exciting to finally have the face of the franchise back nonetheless. Rooney’s stint in DC was exciting, but Wall is the truer DC athlete.
Winner: (1) John Wall
(4) Rui Hachimura vs. (5) Cardale Jones
Rui Hachimura has not been in DC long, but he is already one of the team’s better players and should be a valuable piece for years to come. The former Gonzaga star entered the NBA after his junior season, so he is more physically mature than most of the 2019 lottery picks, and his great combination of size and skill make him feel like a steal even as the ninth overall pick. The Wizards are at a low point this season, but expect “Japanese Jordan,” to help bring them back to relevancy.
Cardale Jones was once considered a future NFL franchise savior, garnering “Fail for Cardale” posters at some NFL stadiums after the Ohio State quarterback replaced injured starter JT Barrett at the end of the 2014 college football season to lead the Buckeyes to the first ever College Football Playoff championship. By the time he eventually reached the NFL, however, following the 2015 college season, he was a fourth-round pick, and bounced around the league as a backup before becoming a headline player for the new XFL. As quarterback for the DC Defenders, Jones got off to a hot start, getting “MVP” chants from the DC home crowd in Week 1. He came back down to Earth from there, and even got benched in the middle of Week 5, but unfortunately the cancellation of the rest of the season will prevent us from seeing what happens to him until next year. The XFL never got a chance to get off the ground yet, so I never really got to fully embrace Jones like I did Hachimura.
Winner: (4) Rui Hachimura
(3) Elena Delle Donne vs. (6) Dāvis Bertāns
Elena Delle Donne is arguably the best player in the WNBA. She certainly was in 2019, where she earned league MVP honors, became the first woman to join the 50-40-90 club — which marks a player going a full season averaging at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line — and won the first WNBA championship in franchise history. Only seven other players are in the 50-40-90 club:
- Larry Bird
- Stephen Curry
- Kevin Durant
- Reggie Miller
- Malcolm Brogdon
- Mark Price
- Steve Nash
- Dirk Nowitzki
That is elite company for Delle Donne, and it’s even more impressive to be the first woman to ever crack that list. As much as the WNBA gets ripped on, Delle Donne is undeniably great and fun to watch. She even has more of a following than Hachimura, who has the entire nation of Japan supporting him in the NBA, which says more about Delle Donne’s impact than anything else.
Dāvis Bertāns can shoot, and he has been a great addition to the team since joining this offseason. His contract is not long, and he has been mentioned in trade talks, so there’s doubt as to whether he will remain in DC for a long time. Regardless, he has been one of the team’s best players all year. He has not been in DC for that long (and isn’t a homegrown player like Hachimura), so I don’t really have that built-up connection yet, whereas Delle Donne’s greatness makes her much-watch basketball, and she brought yet another championship to the city of Washington.
Winner: (3) Elena Delle Donne
(2) Bradley Beal vs. (7) Anthony Cowan Jr.
Beal came just two years after Wall as the third overall pick in the 2012 draft and became the perfect backcourt partner to bring the franchise back to the playoffs. For the better part of two seasons, Beal has had to carry the team himself with Wall sidelined, and while his numbers have soared, the team has not, but with the lack of supporting cast, it’s hard to blame him. Beal has claimed he wants to stay with DC for his whole career, so hopefully he can help lead the team to some more winning seasons, and maybe some day a championship, but there’s a long way to go for that.
Anthony Cowan Jr. has been a star for the Terps since his freshman year, and as a senior was supposed to lead Maryland on a deep March Madness run. Unfortunately, we’ll never know if he was able to do it, but Cowan still made his mark as one of the great Maryland basketball players of recent history. His NBA future is uncertain, but he can hang his hat on the fact that he led the Terps to their first ever Big Ten regular season championship. (Maryland joined the conference in 2014.) Cowan will always have his piece in Maryland history, but college players last four years maximum, so it’s difficult to cultivate the same type of fandom as you can with your favorite NBA players, who can stick around for 10-20 years if they’re a franchise face, so Beal takes it here.
Winner: (2) Bradley Beal
After one full round, 16 players remain, and the decisions will get even harder. Make sure to check back in tomorrow for the full Sweet 16.
(Cover Photo Credit: WNBA YouTube)