The 2022 NFL Draft is less than two weeks away, and the Washington Commanders player evaluations, grades and big board are almost complete.
The brains trust of Ron Rivera, Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney will now be looking at their draft strategy, particularly at the top end of the draft.
As things stand, the Commanders hold the 11th pick in the 1st round, and it will be interesting to see if they choose to make that selection, or look to trade out of the slot. It seems unlikely that Washington will look to trade up, but the option of trading down is definitely a consideration, particularly as the Commanders currently don’t have a 3rd or a 5th round pick. In a draft that is generally considered to be light on elite, ‘blue chip’ talents, but deep in quality, starter level players, having more selections would seem to be a sensible approach.
However, by remaining at 11, the Commanders seem almost guaranteed to be in a position to select an immediate contributor in a position of need.
There also seems to be a view that draft boards around the league may vary significantly with their evaluations, so the perception of ‘value’ may be more subjective than ever.
With the options of staying at the 11th pick or trading down identified, let’s explore both of these routes in more detail.
The Benefits of Staying at 11
By sticking at 11, the Commanders can sit tight and see how the top 10 shapes up before finalising their pick. How that top-10 develops is anyone’s guess though, as predictions are all over the board and any number of players may be available. There appear to be around half a dozen ‘locks’ for the top 10 (Evan Neal, Ickey Ekwonu, Aidan Hutchinson, Travon Walker, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner), which doesn’t include any QBs.
Depending on who you listen to, there will either be an overdrafting of QB’s, which may see one or even two taken in the top 10, or they will slide well down the board into the late teens and twenties. Clearly for the Commanders, a couple taken in the top 10 would be advantageous with the result that potential targets would remain on the board.
Let’s sharpen the focus by looking at who the Commanders would like to see at 11. There can be no doubt that the offense could do with a shot in the arm having averaged only 19.7 points per game in 2021, in a league where offensive firepower is becoming increasingly important. This almost certainly would mean taking a wide receiver to provide more weaponry for new QB, Carson Wentz.
There are up to half a dozen receivers who may go in the 1st round but the general consensus seems to be that Garrett Wilson and Drake London will be the first two off the board. Looking at the top 10, the Jets and Falcons may look at a receiver, so it is possible that both may be gone by the time the Commanders are on the clock, but it seems more likely that one will be available. In the 10 draft simulations I carried out using the highly addictive PFF draft simulator, I was able to select Wilson six times, and on the four occasions he was off the board was able to take London. Now, the simulations should clearly be taken with a degree of caution, but it seems likely that either Wilson or London will be available at 11, and even if they’re not, the Commanders are thought to be very high on Wilson’s Ohio State teammate, Chris Olave. Therefore if it’s a receiver that’s the preferred option, then there are likely to be good options available.
Should the front office decide that a healthy Curtis Samuel, teamed with Terry McLaurin and potentially Dyami Brown negates the need to draft a receiver in the 1st round, the attention could turn to a cornerback. Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner is expected to be gone by this point, but the intriguing Derek Stingley could be available. Stingley was being touted as the next great cornerback after his freshman season in 2019, but two seasons disrupted by injury and inconsistent play have seen questions raised about his status. An impressive pro day seemed to re-assure many observers and should Stingley be available at 11, he must receive consideration.
Should Wilson/London and Stingley be available at 11, the choice will rest with the direction that the front office wishes to prioritise. Having invested heavily in the defense in the 1st round in recent years, the time should be right to invest in the offense to support the investment in Carson Wentz.
So it’s simple at 11, Wilson or London, right? Hold on a second, stop the presses and hold the front page. The major caveat on the offensive focus will be if Kyle Hamilton is available. Once considered a certainty for the top-five, Hamilton’s stock has taken a knock recently, largely due to his relatively slow 4.59 combine 40 time (and 4.7 at his pro day). Added to that is the notion of safety not being considered to be a premium position, leading to some draftniks predicting a drop out of the top 10 for the former Notre Dame talisman. This piece isn’t a scouting report on the individual players but Hamilton’s intelligence, instincts and pre-snap diagnostics appear to make the 40 time largely irrelevant.
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Safety would not seem to be a desperate need for the Commanders, but with Landon Collins gone, Hamilton’s all round skills, versatility and leadership could see him being used in multiple ways which could be a real boost for a defense that underperformed so badly last year. Is it worth missing out on a potential generational talent to draft a wide receiver, when there are likely to still be several good receivers available when the Commanders pick again at 47? That’s the discussion that will have to be had before a final decision is made. Opportunity cost should always be considered and it’d be fascinating to be a fly on the wall in the Commanders war room if they’re on the clock and Hamilton/Wilson/London and Stingley are all still there.
Should Washington Trade Back?
If Washington chooses to trade out of the 11th pick, the first requirement is obviously for someone to want to trade up into the spot. The most likely reason for that would be to land a QB, which potentially makes the Saints (16 & 19) and the Steelers (20) candidates. If the board develops in a direction where a move up to 11 would guarantee one of them the opportunity to take whichever QB they’ve identified, the Commanders could be in a position to move down to a position that is still in the middle of the round and pick up some additional selections. Using the PFF draft simulator again, I was able to pick up 2nd and 3rd round picks by swapping the 11th pick for the 19th pick with the Saints, and the 20th with the Steelers. Again, this is a draft simulator so the usual caveats apply, but picking up an extra 2nd and obtaining a 3rd to replace the one traded away in the Wentz deal, would be excellent business particularly in a draft considered so deep. Even a 2nd and a 4th would represent a solid return for a move down of 9 selections in the 1st round.
The 19th or 20th selections would still afford the Commanders the opportunity to draft an immediate contributor, and again I carried out 10 mocks on the PFF draft simulator. In 7 of the 10 mocks, Chris Olave was available at 19 and 20, and in the ones where he was selected, Treylon Burks was there each time. The receivers are all different flavours, and though the Commanders are said to be enamoured with Olave, he is similar in many ways to McLaurin, and taking the bigger body type of Burks (or London if the option is to stay at 11), might offer more variety, particularly if Curtis Samuel returns to full health. The wildcard here could be Jameson Williams who may otherwise have been the number 1 receiver but for his torn ACL in the National Championship Game. The 11th pick may have been slightly too rich given the injury, but if he happens to slide to 19 or 20 then the long term view must also be considered as Williams could be a genuine number WR1 receiver for years to come.
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Following the selection of Jamin Davis last year, it seems unlikely that another linebacker would be the option if the Commanders moved down to 19 or 20, but it can’t be ruled out, and Nakobe Dean was available in all 10 draft simulations, with Devin Lloyd still being there in 4 of the drafts. Lloyd will most likely be gone though which would leave Dean, should this be the direction that Ron Rivera and his charges choose to go down.
The temptation to strengthen the secondary may be there at 19 or 20, although Gardner, Stingley and Hamilton will almost certainly be off the board by then. That would still likely leave at least a couple of corners with 1st round grades, including Trent McDuffie, Andrew Booth and Kyler Gordon, as well as safeties Dax Hill, Lewis Cine and Jalen Pitre. The 10 drafts undertaken on the PFF simulator had McDuffie off the board by 19 or 20 in most cases but other than that, the secondary players were all available. It seems unlikely that the Commanders would take a safety other than Hamilton in the 1st round, but a corner can’t be ruled out, so McDuffie, Booth and Gordon could be in play in that area.
The obvious benefit to moving down in the 1st round is the acquisition of additional picks, and if the Commanders can engineer an extra 2nd and 3rd or 4th, it opens up a number of potential options.
Who Should Washington Target on Day Two?
The Saints 2nd round pick is the 49th overall selection and the Steelers the 52nd, so continuing the scenario that a trade is consummated with one of them, the Commanders could possess the 47th and either 49th or 52nd picks. Let’s work on the basis that the Commanders still take a receiver at 19 or 20, with two picks in the 2nd round, they could look at the other side of the ball with the first, for a corner like Gordon or even Kaiir Elam, one of the safeties, or even address the middle linebacker spot with the likes of Chad Muma, Quay Walker or Christian Harris.
The additional pick in the 2nd round could go in a number of directions. Would the Commanders take a QB, if say Desmond Ridder or Sam Howell was still there? It’s an intriguing thought. Is the 2nd round too high for a RB? Kenneth Walker and Breece Hall were still there in many of the 10 mock drafts on the PFF simulator. More likely would be an additional offensive lineman, particularly if the likes of Zion Johnson or Tyler Smith happened to drop to the middle of the 2nd round.
Conversely, if the 1st round selection was a defensive player, a wide receiver like Skyy Moore, Christian Watson or George Pickens would receive consideration in the middle of the 2nd round.
A pick in the 3rd round or an additional 4th could also provide a huge return on investment (see Terry McLaurin/Antonio Gibson), so any deal to move down that includes a 2nd and 3rd or 4th will receive serious consideration from the Commanders front office.
So there we are, stay at pick 11, or trade back a few spots to accumulate some additional picks. The front office will have gone through all the potential scenarios and weighed up the pros and cons and potential opportunity cost of each move, and a final decision may well not be made until the draft is in progress and the cards begin to fall. My hunch is that if an offer to move down to 19 or 20 presents itself, the Commanders will take it, particularly if there are a number of players with similar grades potentially still available as the draft begins to unfold. It’s going to be an exciting night either way!
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