Heading into the 2022-23 NFL season, the Washington Commanders are at somewhat of a crossroads.
The team heads into year three of the Ron Rivera regime, and the organization’s direction is constantly in question.
It’s not like the team has been horrible under Rivera, but it has largely been mediocre and non-competitive in the grand scale of the NFL. With a record of 14-19 over the last two seasons, the team needs to take a step forward.
Compounding to this feeling of apathy, is the calculated, but somewhat boring moves put into effect by the front office this offseason. The managing duo of General Manager Martin Mayhew and Vice President of Player Personnel Marty Hurney seem content on watching their rookie class develop alongside their previous acquisitions over the last few seasons.
They are simply hoping for “bounce back” seasons from their stars to be the biggest force of change to their success. No major free agent acquisitions, and risk-adverse draft selections that filled needs on the roster as opposed to high ceilings.
Is that the right call? We won’t know until the season kicks off, and live action comes into play. But for now, I examine five Commanders who must improve in 2022 for the team to be successful.
For, barring a surprise cut over the summer, this roster is almost fully intact and the one who will take the field competitively on September 11th against the Jaguars.
Quarterback, Carson Wentz
It goes without saying, but an NFL quarterback is the most important position on the field. Washington acknowledged this, and shipped two third-round picks to the Indianapolis Colts for Carson Wentz’s services. On paper, it appeared to be a low-risk maneuver, but with an escalator clause that elevates next year’s third to a potential second-round pick, the deal becomes less appealing. The team also fully absorbed the rest of his contract, which amounts to three years, and roughly 81M dollars.
We’ll see if the acquisition was a prudent one. But the deal epitomizes where both the player and organization stand. The Commanders, were in dire need of an upgrade, and had limited viable options to add to their roster. Wentz was now being jettisoned from his second team in two years. Is he still viewed as an attractive option around the league?
It’s now time for Wentz to prove his worth. If he can not string together a top-16 performance this season, his career as a starting quarterback will be in jeopardy. There have been whispers around the league that Wentz struggles to assimilate in a locker room, and that he can be hard-headed in terms of coaching.
This may be his last opportunity to dispel those rumors, and prove that he is capable of commanding a team.
The quarterback must prove that he is capable of working within a system, and takes the check down. He must avoid his perceived hero-ball antics and stay away from bone-headed plays. An efficient and clean season would best serve Wentz, and the team would be better off because of it.
Offensive Coordinator, Scott Turner
Going into his third year as the offensive coordinator, Scott Turner has a lot to prove this season. Under his tenure, the Commanders have largely under-performed and lacked creativity. In 2020, the team’s offense ranked 30th in terms of yards gained, and improved slightly to 21st in 2021.
Many claim that he lacked the proper tools to thrive in his time in Washington, and he lacked offensive a dynamic quarterback the last two years. This is true, and should not be discredited. It is hard to succeed with a developing Dwayne Haskins, a recovering Alex Smith, and a limited Taylor Heinicke at quarterback. Let alone a fill-in appearance by Garrett Gilbert.
But this year, there are no excuses for the play-caller. Washington has emphasized an offensive rebuild this offseason and has given Turner ample weapons to use at his disposal. Wentz is a marked improved over Heinicke, and should provide enough zip and arm strength to implement Turner’s vertical passing game.
The team also added wide receiver Jahan Dotson with the no.16 overall selection in April’s draft, as well as running back Brian Robinson Jr. and tight end Cole Turner as ancillary pieces who can contribute. The cupboard should be full this season in terms of talent, especially if Curtis Samuel and Logan Thomas return to form and in good health.
Therefore, Turner should be feeling pressure to perform this season. Anything less than 25 passing touchdowns and a scoring average of 24 points or more should feel like a disappointment. And if that’s the case, Rivera needs to revisit his staff.
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Defensive End, Chase Young
When you’re the number two overall pick in a draft class, expectations are different. Chase Young underperformed last season, and that isn’t a criticism of his character, it’s a cold-hard fact.
The “can’t miss” prospect of the 2020 draft class had a season to forget last year. Over the course of nine games, the face of the franchise had 1.5 sacks. A pedestrian number that most layman edge rushers could achieve if given starting minutes.
The Buckeye superstar has a lot to prove this season, for his career, endorsements, and overall league reputation is in the balance. Is Young one of the premier up-and-coming talents in this league? Or is he a bust of a draft selection?
Anything less than double-digit sacks would be a disappointment for the Commanders. The team had envisioned Young as a game-changing prospect of the ilk of Von Miller and Khalil Mack. Ten sacks should be a low-bar for Young to clear, and realistically we should be talking “teens” in terms of his sack numbers.
This year is important for Young, and he has a lot to prove. Washington is depending on him to elevate their defense.
Wide Receiver, Curtis Samuel
The Commanders signed Curtis Samuel to a three-year, 34.5 million dollar contract in 2021. In return, they got 84 offensive snaps, six catches and 27 yards.
It was a horrific opening season for Samuel in DC, marred by a groin injury and a “mysterious” surgery. Both sides are looking forward to a reset and a clean bill of health in 2022.
Needless to say, Samuel has to prove that last season was an aberration and he is more of an up-and-coming player as opposed to one on the decline. At age 26, he should still be entering his prime and providing a spark to the Commanders offense.
While in Carolina, he improved incrementally over his four seasons, amassing 114, 494, 627 and finally 851 yards over four seasons. Washington envisions the receiver as a swiss-army knife, capable of playing the slot and Z position, in addition to carrying the ball out of the backfield.
A respectable stat line for Samuel should include over 700 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. He needs to prove he is healthy and capable, or he may be a dead-cap cut after this season.
Jamin Davis better do better too
Yeah, I agree. I considered adding him to the list. But I left him off due to him being so young. But yes, he was a disappointment last year.