The story goes that Ron Rivera was given the nickname Riverboat when he suddenly broke from his lifetime habit of conservatism on fourth downs and went for it successfully twice on Carolina’s first drive in a 35-10 victory over Minnesota on October 13, 2013.
I prefer to believe that one of the Carolina beat writers with a wry sense of humor took advantage of the occasion to give him an ironic nickname alluding to the fact that he is not very good at keeping his cards close to his chest. If he were ever to try his hand at riverboat gambling, I suspect that the other players would take all his money before everyone even got their drinks.
In this article, I would like to take advantage of the signals that Rivera and the Commanders have provided to attempt to deduce where they might be going in the 2022 draft. Specifically, I will use player visits, meetings and associated clues to see how much they can tell us about what the Commanders’ priorities might be in the 2022 draft, and how those might differ from fans’ perceptions.
Rivera has given enough away about what he is thinking in the first round that it should be possible to nail down the Commanders 11th overall pick to the level individual players and a just a few positions.
From the second half of the first round, it becomes difficult to predict what any team will do, regardless of whether their GM is a master poker player or a loose cannon, because of the increasing variance in different team’s evaluations of players, and the fact that each team’s next move depends on what the other teams ahead of them did. From the second round on, I will therefore limit my speculation to what positions the team might be prioritizing.
Before we get to the visit data, let’s have a look at the roster needs heading into the draft. I’ll try to rank them in order of priority:
1. Wide Receiver – Riverboat Ron lived up to his nickname by taking a gamble on signing Carson Wentz to his third starting gig in three years. To make that pay off, he has got to get his QB of the moment more weapons. The team is currently short one starting WR to line up opposite of Terry McLaurin. A risk taking GM might be comfortable to count on Curtis Samuel’s recovery from the series of injuries that hampered his debut season with Washington, but it might also be advisable to try to find a backup plan for slot WR before the season starts.
2. Safety – Washington has not been set at safety since Sean Taylor’s tragic death in 2007. The team has rising star Kam Curl to man one of the two safety positions, currently matched up with 5’9” nickel CB/S Bobby McCain. The team needs a rangy safety capable of covering the deep third of the field, either as a primary FS or splitting duties with the other two safeties.
3. Linebacker – Washington has two capable starting linebackers, which is enough to man their assignments for the > 90% of snaps when they are in sub packages. The problem is that their depth is so thin that when they are in their base set or a one of the two starters misses time they have to start David Mayo or Milo Eifler. They need at least one more linebacker.
4. Interior Defensive Line – The departures of Tim Settle and Matt Ioannidis had created a need for rotational pieces to bolster the depth at DT. Breaking news that the Commanders may not offer Daron Payne a contract extension elevates DT to a primary need.
5. Quarterback – Current backup Taylor Heinicke did a great job when forced to start last year, but demonstrated insufficient arm strength to function as anything but a spot starter. The current starter comes with significant risk and there is no plan B. The team should look to upgrade the backup QB position with someone with more upside than Heinicke.
6. Kick/Punt Returner – The departure of DeAndre Carter left a void at return specialist. It’s possible it could be filled internally, or with whomever is brought in to address the need at WR.
7. Tight End – If Logan Thomas returns to pre-injury form and second-year player John Bates continues to develop, the Commanders are in pretty good shape. They do need a third TE to replace the departed Ricky Seals-Jones.
I would rate the first four needs as pressing, and the next three as secondary needs. The position groups where the Commanders do not have immediate needs are OL, DE, CB and RB.
Now let’s have a look at what the team has signaled its priorities might be and see how well they align with their current needs.
Riverboat Ron has shown his cards to everyone at the table. Rivera personally attended two Pro Days this year: Ohio State and nearby Cincinnati. During his time in Carolina, he only traveled interstate to attend three Pro Days: 2011 Auburn featuring Cam Newton, 2011 LSU, and 2017 Stanford featuring Christian McCaffrey. Two of the three featured players he drafted, and I’d be willing to bet he wanted to draft Patrick Peterson who was featured at LSU. Rivera and the Commanders have shown interest in Desmond Ridder, but there is simply no way they are picking the Bearcats’ QB in the first round while they have Carson Wentz as their starter.
Rivera lavished attention on WRs Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson at the Ohio State Pro Day and had both players in for top-30 visits. It is almost certain he will pick one of the two 11th overall. Of the two, Olave might be the favorite.
Other players with first round projections that Washington has visited with include:
Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame – Top 30 visit
Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida – Top-30 visit
Drake London, WR, USC – Top-30 visit
Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas – Zoom meeting due to scheduling conflicts
Trevon Walker, DE, Georgia – Offsite meeting
Malik Willis, QB, Liberty – Washington contingent attended pro day, minus Rivera
I’d say there’s about a 90% chance the Commanders take one of the two OSU wideouts. I’d further break that down to 50% Olave and 40% Wilson. That leaves around 10% chance it’s someone else, around 5% going to Kyle Hamilton and 5% split evenly between WRs Treylon Burks, Jameson Williams and Drake London.
In the first round, the Commanders appear to be largely focused on positions of pressing need, specifically wide receiver.
After the first round, I am reduced to reading tea leaves from the visit schedule. To make my projections from Round 2 to the end of the draft, I have done my best to match the round projections of the players that the Commanders have met with to picks the team currently holds.
Prospect round projections for the second and all further rounds were made by scouring draft profiles from a variety of sources. Where a Hogs Haven draft prospect profile existed, I went with the writer’s round projection, with a single exception. I disagreed with gavalon55’s late first to second-round projection for WR Treylon Burks and gave him a first-round projection only. When a Hogs Haven profile was not available, I sought a consensus projection from sources including NFL.com (Lance Zeirlein), Sports Illustrated, The Draft Network, ProFootballNetwork, DraftWire and even BleacherReport, CBS Sports, WalterFootball and PFF when I got desperate. Where there was disagreement, I weighted Zeirlein’s projections most heavily because he is one of the best at predicting both draft order and player outcomes.
For purposes of this projection, any player with a late-first to second-round projection, such as RB Breece Hall or OLB Christian Harris, was projected to the second round, since I have predicted that the Commanders will not move back in the first.
Here are the players with second-round projections who met with the Commanders:
There is some alignment of the player visits with the Commanders’ listed needs. Seven of the 15 players were in positions of pressing need: S, LB, WR and DT. However slightly more than half were not. These included two RBs, three QBs and three OL.
There is a slight preference for offense (9 players) over defense (6 players) in this group. Probably nothing to write home about.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that the Commanders will draft a player they have not had an official visit with in the second or any other round. However, using player visits as an indication of where their attention is focused, as early as the second round, they appear to be drifting away from a focus on positions of immediate need toward the types of players that are often described as “luxury picks”.
Since I am predicting that the Commanders will not be picking in the third round, any players they have met with who have a third-round projection (e.g. QB Carson Strong) were projected into the fourth round. Also, any players who have broad day 3 projection or a 4th-5th-round projection appear here, along with any players with a simple 4th-round projection.
By the fourth round, there are no players in positions of major need at all. There were even two DE/Edge players in for visits who project to early day three. Eight of the 11 players in this range play positions with no immediate need (DE/Edge, OT, RB) and three play positions of secondary need (QB, TE).
Only two of the players the Commanders have met with in this range are on defense. The other nine are on offense.
Sixth and Seventh Rounds
Last of all, I have grouped the sixth and seventh rounds together because, by this point in the draft it is hard to distinguish prospects by round. This includes quite a few players with broad day 3 projections: DE Michael Clemons, Edge Rusher Cameron Thomas, RB Ty Davis-Price, and TE Chigoziem Okonkwo.
Finally, at the end of the draft order, we see two pressing need positions reappear, DT and LB. But most of the players with late-round projections the Commanders visited with play positions of lesser need (TE, RB) or no immediate need (DE/Edge). There were so few players in this range, the more or less even split between offense and defense might not mean much.
To the extent that player visits provide an indication of where the Commanders might be heading in the draft, after the first round the team’s draft priorities do not appear to be heavily influenced by immediate roster needs.
In the second round, slightly more than half of the players the Commanders have shown interest in play positions of secondary need (QB) or no immediate need (RB and OL).
By day 3 of the draft, the team seems to be focused on players who add depth for the future, with little indication that immediate needs are guiding player interest at all.
While the team does not appear to have immediate needs at RB or OL there are strong indications from the player visit lists that they will be drafting players in those position groups later this week. Conversely, based on the numbers of players brought in for visits, it appears that linebacker is less of a focus than I would have expected and return specialist appears to be an afterthought.
Last of all, there seems to be an overall emphasis on building the offensive roster in this draft.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to James Dorsett for editing all my articles, and to all the Hogs Haven readers who contributed predictions in the comments section of my Dozen Bold Predictions article, even those who didn’t realize that’s what they were doing.
What position will the Commanders draft in the second round?
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None of the above
In what part of the draft will the Commanders select a running back?
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Day Two (Rounds 2 & 3)
Late Day Three (Rounds 5 to 7)
None, they have more pressing needs elsewhere