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Evaluating the WFT’s 2021 draft through the lens of the Draft Commandments

Time for a reckoning

2021 NFL Draft Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In the week leading up to the 2021 draft, I published 6 Draft Commandments, essentially guideposts by which I think good teams can make solid decisions as they move into and through the NFL draft. Now, in the hangover period after the draft is over, I’d like to take a look at how our new front office may have applied (or not) each of those commandments to their draft this year. A brief refresher is below:

The 6 NFL Draft Commandments:

  1. Thou shalt not draft offensive skill positions (other than QB) in the first round.
  2. Thou shalt always be looking to accumulate more picks, particularly on Day 2.
  3. Thou shalt attempt to draft the best player available.
  4. Thou shalt not draft (primarily) for need.
  5. Thou shalt build trust relationships with other franchises.
  6. Thou shalt draft with the future in mind

Let’s look at how the Washington Football Team did, shall we?

  1. Thou shalt not draft offensive skill positions (other than QB) in the first round.

Ron Rivera and his crew had no trouble adhering to the cardinal draft commandment, using their first round pick on linebacker Jamin Davis. Did they have an offensive skill position lined up behind Davis? It’s impossible to tell, but they wisely used their second round pick on tackle Sam Cosmi, another, more valuable position than RB/TE/WR. By the time they did pick an offensive skill player, Dyami Brown, it was in the third round, where the pick was considered by many to be a steal.

I was tickled, too, to see that The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia is noticing the trend as well. Give it a few years, and it will eventually be conventional wisdom:

You can wait and still find really talented wide receivers. There’s nothing wrong with drafting them early, but I suspect there will be guys who were taken on Days 2 and 3 who end up outperforming first-rounders. For example, Washington took North Carolina’s Dyami Brown in the third round. He ran 4.44, caught 123 balls in college and averaged 18.7 YPR. It’s just become such a loaded position in the draft year after year. It’ll be interesting to see if the available young talent discourages teams from spending big on wide receivers in the years ahead.

The front office nailed the first commandment.

2. Thou shalt always be looking to accumulate more picks, particularly on Day 2.

The Washington Football Team did not trade back at all during the draft. From the draft day rumors, it sounds like they may have been open to it, but the right deal just didn’t materialize. They did “accumulate more picks” though, except that it was effectively from “trading up” from the 5th round of the 2022 draft into the 6th and 7th rounds of the 2021 draft. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it, but the GM explained why they did it.

Someone else (I think it was Bill), also advanced an interesting theory: That because of COVID and relatively poor scouting on players, the UDFA class this year would be a very mixed bag (presumably worse, or at least harder to pin down, than usual), so there’s an advantage to grabbing the guys you want in the late rounds with a couple of extra picks, rather than being at the mercy of the UDFA process. Meanwhile, in the 2022 class, once scouting is back to normal, late picks won’t be quite so valuable because there’s a better chance of finding a diamond in the rough (based on better intel) among the UDFAs. Whether things play out that way, we’ll have to see. In any case, as of publication, the WFT has signed only a single UDFA, Jaret Patterson (RB) (which may be among the easiest positions to be comfortable with).

Special Recognition: Dave Gettleman, who had never traded back until this year, finally did, grabbing an extra 5th rounder, 2022 first, and 2022 4th from a first round trade back with the Bears. Congratulations to Gettleman for entering the 21st century, and congratulations too for breaking the first commandment by drafting WR Kadarius Toney at #20. May you continue making good decisions in the service of bad ones.

3. Thou shalt attempt to draft the best player available.

This - and the subsequent commandment - always seem to be among the most nebulous, turning even the most rigid-thinking football fans into talent evaluation relativists each time it’s discussed. When the Head Coach and General Manager tell you their first round pick was “the top rated defensive player on their board” that’s close enough to ironclad BPA for my purposes.

Was Jamin Davis, objectively, the best player available? We’re probably not going to know that for a decade. But he was (or was very close to) THEIR best player available, which is what matters.

Subsequent picks get more speculative, but it’s certainly not hard to imagine that Sam Cosmi or Dyami Brown were among the best players available when Washington selected them in the second and third rounds, respectively, given their reviews from outsiders.

Third round pick Benjamin St. Juste is an interesting case, and I’ll discuss him in a later commandment. Kudos to Ron and his crew for doing a pretty solid job of abiding the third commandment.

4. Thou shalt not draft (primarily) for need.

Like commandment three, this one gets lots of people spun around the axle. After all, virtually every team has “needs” of some sort all over the roster. In Washington’s case, it could have reasonably been said every position but defensive line was a “need.” In that, most hardline of cases, then, we can be assured that the 7th round picks of William Bradley-King and Shaka Toney weren’t “need” picks. But, some might even object to that characterization, as they initially appear to be depth behind the defensive ends, which many would describe as a “need.”

In any case, all of Washington’s picks fill a “need” of one sort or another, primarily because the team has so many needs. That having been said, none of the picks - but one - appear to have been primarily for need. Some might try to make that case for Davis, but I think the board positioning discussion above mutes that. Was Cosmi a “position of need?” Sure, eventually, but not immediately, and they took him in the second, where he was a perfect pairing of BPA and need.

The one spot where the team - unequivocally - drafted primarily for need, was in the late 6th round for long snapper Camaron Cheeseman. The team went into the draft without a long snapper, and they had to get one. That need precipitated both a trade up AND passing on better available talent - frustrating the hell out of me at the time. When it comes down to it, it’s not the end of the world, but it is a perfect illustration of the maladaptive contortions that teams can go through when they’re drafting primarily for need. The Cowboys were a second, great, case study in that this year as well, as they fumbled over themselves trying to draft a cornerback.

5. Thou shalt build trust relationships with other franchises.

This process is almost entirely behind the scenes and shielded from the public, so it was amazingly cool when we got a small glimpse into some of that during the draft this year.

Evidently, Washington was entertaining calls to trade back from #74 (good work!) and they turned down a few offers. Once they selected cornerback Benjamin St-Juste there - considered by some to be a “need” reach - apparently one of the teams previously trying to trade up made - what I can only assume to be a highly unusual - call back to tell Washington that St-Juste had been the guy they were targeting.

That action seems to nail two commandments with a single phone call: 1) It gives credence to the notion that St-Juste very well could have been BPA (Commandment 3) where he was taken, and 2) It shows an incredible amount of rapport between Washington’s new front office and whoever it was who made the call. I would think the list of reasons why you wouldn’t make such a call, at least from a draft strategy perspective, would far outstrip the reasons you would, but clearly at least one front office out there is close enough to Ron and company that they found value in sharing this tidbit with them. I find that very edifying.

I doubt Bruce received similar calls.

6. Thou shalt draft with the future in mind

For Rivera and his merry men, it’s pretty clear that the future is now. But not “now” in a destructive “trade all your draft capital for three years to move up for QB3” sense. “Now” in the sense of building a roster that has competition from top to bottom and has the right players in the right places to succeed in a sustainable, durable way. It’s doubtful that more than 2-3 players from this draft will have starting roles on the team at the beginning of the season, but all 10 will have a shot at being important pieces of this team for years to come. We know the odds are that several won’t make it, but some will, and those guys will be the future of this team that Rivera and Mayhew can continue building upon in future drafts. Let’s hope they continue to stay on the pious path.

Poll

How strictly do you think Ron and the front office adhered to the commandments?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    They’ve achieved ultra orthodox status.
    (51 votes)
  • 85%
    Their piety is firm, but flexible.
    (474 votes)
  • 3%
    They’re E&C drafters.
    (19 votes)
  • 1%
    They’re heretics.
    (11 votes)
555 votes total Vote Now