Heading into a critical year three, Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera needed an impactful NFL Draft after two consecutive losing seasons to begin his tenure in Washington, and now it’s time to review the results. After subpar quarterback play for the past two seasons, the Commanders acquired Carson Wentz in exchange for a third-round pick, a conditional third-round pick, and a swap of second-round picks. However, outside of this, Washington has had a relatively uneventful free agency, losing star right guard Brandon Scherff and rotational defensive lineman Tim Settle.
Despite the various holes on both offense and defense, Washington entered the draft with just six picks, after losing a third-round pick in the Carson Wentz trade and a fifth-round pick in trading up for long snapper Cameron Cheeseman in the 2021 NFL draft. General Manager Martin Mayhew foreshadowed the potential of acquiring more picks as he said, “I doubt we’ll end this draft with those same six picks. I believe there’ll be some movement” in his pre-draft press conference. The Commanders did just that, trading out of the 11th overall slot to pick 16 and trading back one again in the fourth round. All in all, Washington Commanders ended the NFL Draft with the following eight selections.
- First Round, 19th Overall: Jahan Dotson, Wide Receiver, Penn State
- Second Round, 47th overall: Phidarian Mathis, Defensive Tackle, Alabama
- Third Round, 98th overall: Brian Robinson Jr., Running Back, Alabama
- Fourth Round, 113th overall: Percy Butler, Safety, Louisiana
- Fifth Round, 144th overall: Sam Howell, Quarterback, North Carolina
- Fifth Round, 149th overall: Cole Turner, Tight end, Nevada
- Seventh Round, 230th overall: Chris Paul, Offensive Guard, Tulsa
- Seventh Round, 240th overall: Christian Holmes, Cornerback, Oklahoma State
Washington Commanders 2022 NFL Draft Review Grade: 8/10
Washington Commanders 2022 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Jahan Dotson
On the clock at pick 11, Washington had an opportunity to draft two premier receivers in Chris Olave and Jameson Williams to help out an offense that needed an injection of weapons following the arrival of Carson Wentz. However, Washington traded back with the New Orleans Saints, who then drafted Olave, to get an additional third and fourth-round pick. At pick 12, the Lions made an aggressive move to jump up from pick 32 up to pick 12 to pick Alabama star Jameson Williams. With Kyle Hamilton off the board, Washington chose Jahan Dotson 16th overall to be the weapon opposite of Terry McLaurin. Dotson had an incredibly productive career at Penn State, posting over 2,700 receiving yards, including 1,182 in his senior season on 91 receptions. During this tenure, Dotson battled subpar quarterback play and had three offensive coordinators over the past three seasons.
At 5’11, Dotson offers exceptional speed and quickness out of both the slot and on the outside. He ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine, which has directly translated to tape.
— PedroSchmith (@PedroSchmithYT) April 29, 2022
Dotson is not only a viable deep threat for Carson Wentz, but he could be a weapon on third down out of the slot position with his plus route running abilities.
However, perhaps Dotson’s best trait is his hands. Dotson was regarded to have the best hands in the draft, making multiple unbelievable catches at Penn State, including an unreal one-handed catch against Ohio State. Last season, Dotson received 137 targets and dropped just two passes. His 1.5% drop rate was the lowest in college football.
Despite the size concerns, Dotson was one of the premier contested-catch receivers in college, catching 81.3% of contested balls.
New Commanders WR Jahan Dotson in #ReceptionPerception:
– Best hands in the draft – lowest drop rate and ranked 4th in contested catch rate (81.3%)
– Best zone-beater in the class with a 96th percentile success rate
– Doug Baldwin comphttps://t.co/a25x5BrXg3 pic.twitter.com/zO0NInettZ
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) April 29, 2022
While many may have preferred a bigger-bodied receiver, like Treylon Burks, Dotson offers smooth route-running and unbelievable hands, which will surely be an asset for Carson Wentz and the Commanders’ offense.
The Head-Scratcher: Phildarian Mathis
The biggest head-scratcher in the Washington Commanders NFL Draft review is the Phildarian Mathis selection. After losing Tim Settle, releasing Matt Ioannidis, and the pending uncertainty of DaRon Payne’s contract, the Washington Commanders had a definite need at defensive tackle. However, the second round seemed rich for a player who will be a rotational player in the 2022 season with Jonathan Allen and DaRon Payne slated as the projected starters.
With safety Jaquan Brisker and linebacker Nakobe Dean (and others like Chad Muma) on the board, the Commanders went back to the Alabama pipeline and drafted Phildarian Mathis. Mathis is a four-year contributor at Alabama and logged an impressive 9 sacks in his senior season. While Mathis is an immediate plug-and-play player, which Washington needed after losing Ioannidis and Settles, he was projected to be more of a run defender at the next level, which dropped him below Travis Jones and Demarvin Leal in prospect rankings.
Undoubtedly, Mathis will play critical snaps on defense for the Commanders in 2022 as Matt Ioannidis played 59% of snaps in 2021. However, the question behind the pick isn’t necessarily the player, but it is yet another high selection of what many consider a “non-premium” position.
Another reason that this is seen as Washington’s most disappointing picks is that they are essentially patching a hole that they created. Tim Settled signed a two-year, $9 million contract with the Bills and if Washington wanted to move on from DaRon Payne in 2023, they could have re-signed Settle and picked a defensive tackle on day three of the draft.
The Surprise: No Linebackers added
While this was not a massive surprise, given the coaching staff’s trust in Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis, many expected Washington to select a linebacker on day two or day three of the draft. A potential MIKE linebacker would’ve allowed Holcomb to remain the strong-side linebacker and allow Davis to man the WILL role in base defenses. However, Washington primarily relied on two linebacker sets in 2021, which could eliminate a starting-caliber linebacker as a need.
However, Washington could have still added depth to a relatively thin linebacking corps with David Mayo and Khaleke Hudson, who is more of a tweener, as the primary back-ups. This could have been a potential day three option, but Ron Rivera and company chose to go another out. This is a roster spot that could potentially be addressed in free agency after signings no longer count against compensatory picks. Potential options include Joe Schobert and Alexander Johnson.
The Steal: Sam Howell
The selection of Sam Howell may be seen as not only the biggest draft steals for the Commanders, but one of the biggest draft steals in the entire draft. The former North Carolina quarterback was seen as a potential top ten pick entering the 2021 season and a day two pick entering the 2022 NFL Draft. Howell started three years at North Carolina and was especially impressive in his first two. He had 68 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions and threw for at least 3500 yards over his first two seasons with the Tar Heels. In his sophomore season, Howell also had an exceptional completion percentage, at 68.1%. However, in 2021, the Tar Heels lost numerous offensive weapons to the NFL. They lost running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter and wide receivers Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown, who was drafted in the third round by the then Washington Football Team.
With a lack of weapons and a struggling offensive line, Howell had a down 2022 campaign, but he continued to make plays in a new way: his legs. Passing for a career-low 3056 yards and 24 touchdowns, Howell rushed for over 800 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2022. But, his accuracy dipped, which eventually led to his stock dropping in the NFL Draft.
Despite these junior year struggles, Howell may have the best overall arm talent out of any quarterback in the draft with his plus deep ball accuracy and solid arm strength. With Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke cemented as the top two quarterbacks, Howell will be in a no-pressure situation to develop with the Commanders.
Most Likely To Turn Heads In Training Camp: Percy Butler
With the departures of Landon Collins and Deshazor Everett, Washington had a definite need at the safety position. They had multiple options to address this need. One option was to go for the prototypical center fielder that they have lacked over the past decade. Another option was to try to fill the vacated Buffalo Nickel role with a solid tackler. Ron Rivera selected Percy Butler out of Louisiana to help fill both of these needs. Butler is an exceptional athlete, running a 4.36 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. However, Butler is more than an athlete as some have deemed him to be the best pure free safety in the draft.
The @Commanders got the best pure free safety in the nfl draft in Percy Butler. Dude has tremendous range in center field. He is very good in all areas of coverage. Let alone he has 3 rockets up his butt and can fly. He is not all coverage he is a very good tackler too.
— Chris Simms (@CSimmsQB) April 30, 2022
At the very least, Butler will prove to be a valuable special teams player, but he could show to be thrust into a larger role in his rookie season. If he emerges as a potential free safety option, it could move Bobby McCain into the slot corner role. Ron Rivera was also hopeful of Butler as a Buffalo Nickel, which could be a possibility given his plus tackling.
Hey @ChrisKinard, Ron thinks Percy Butler could maybe contribute as a Buffalo Nickel. I know you were concerned about that
— Pete Hailey (@PeteHaileyNBCS) April 30, 2022
In the third round, the Commanders selected a running back for the second time in the past three seasons by selecting Alabama running back Brian Robinson. Robinson waited his turn at Alabama and had an exceptional 2021 season. He ran for 1343 yards with 14 touchdowns, showing off his power and bruising playstyle. The selection of Robinson could allow offensive coordinator Scott Turner to get more creative with Antonio Gibson.
After selecting Sam Howell in the fifth round, Washington went back to back on offense by picking tight end Cole Turner out of the University of Nevada. Turner is a big target at 6’7, who could immediately be a red zone threat for the Commanders, catching 10 touchdowns in his senior season.
Finally, in the seventh round, Washington added to its offensive line depth with the versatile Chris Paul, who played both tackle and guard at Tulsa.
With their final selection, the Commanders shored up their defensive backfield with the selection of Christian Holmes. Holmes is an experienced corner from Oklahoma who is an excellent athlete. This could help provide some depth on special teams after Washington lost Darryl Roberts and released D.J. Hayden.
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