There were mixed feelings among fans when the trade back was announced and the Commanders selected WR Jahan Dotson #16 overall last Thursday night in the opening round of the NFL draft.
I think the initial response was enthusiasm about the trade-back, especially since a lot of people assumed that the Saints were moving up to take a quarterback, which would work in the Commanders’ favor.
But that enthusiasm started to wane quickly as the names that every mock drafter had been focused on for the previous two months disappeared from the board in quick succession. WR Drake London had already been picked at #8 by the Falcons, which may have been instrumental in convincing the Washington front office to pull the trigger on the trade.
But New Orleans confounded fans and TV talking heads by selecting WR Chris Olave out of Ohio State at #11 — the spot Washington had vacated. Olave had been one of the betting favorites as the Commanders’ selection, and a lot of betting tickets got torn up when the pick was announced.
When Jameson Williams’ name was called at #12 to the Lions, it triggered another blast of frustration among fans who had hoped Washington would be taking a receiver at #11. Many saw Williams as the receiver with the highest upside; his draft position was affected by a torn ACL in the national championship game, but he will likely prove to be a shrewd long-term investment for the Lions.
The air really went out of the room, however, when safety Kyle Hamilton was taken by the Ravens at #14 despite the fact that Baltimore already has veteran Marcus Williams on the roster. Mock drafters, who tend to focus on team needs, hadn’t expected the Ravens to snatch the versatile DB off the board, but GM Eric DeCosta showed once again that the best NFL teams understand the value of the ‘best player available’ philosophy.
Even by the time the Texans were on the clock at #15, Commanders fans’ enthusiasm about the trade back was withering. With all of the mock draft targets gone that had been the subject of so much discussion for so long, it seemed as if no one was left.
When former Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson’s name was called by the Commissioner, there was a general furrowing of eyebrows and foreheads. Surely, the commissioner was mistaken. Dotson hadn’t been in any of the mock drafts. He was too small. He was supposed to be drafted later. He wasn’t supposed to be a Commander!
It was a shock to the system. Trading back 5 spots in the first half of the first round means a total change in focus in terms of which players the team targets. Most Commanders fans weren’t quite ready for that reality.
It took some adjustment, but as the team’s fans got more of a look at Dotson and his skillset, and as they began to absorb the impact of the trade in terms of the two other players it allowed the team to draft, perceptions began to reshape themselves.
A week later, fans seem pretty positive about the decision to trade down.
A common theme in evaluating the trade has been to look at the difference between the team’s actual pick, Jahan Dotson, and the two receivers that the team passed on by trading down, Olave and Williams, and ask which is more valuable, one of those two receivers (Olave or Willisms) or the three players selected with the draft picks acquired from the Saints: Dotson, RB Brian Robinson Jr., and QB Sam Howell?
When you add the fact that the trade was extended and that the pick at #120 acquired from the Saints was part of the trade with Carolina that made it possible to grab TE Cole Turner early in the 5th round, the value of the trade to the Washington roster became even more apparent. Washington had, with the value of the 11th overall pick + a late 6th rounder, acquired a first-round receiving talent, a pro-ready running back from Alabama, a developmental quarterback with plenty of upside, and a tight end likely to see the field and increase the offense’s red zone capabilities in 2022.
The biggest argument against the trade is that Washington’s eventual first round selection, Jahan Dotson, was over-drafted. He was seen as a guy who would go in the latter part of the 1st round or even in the early 2nd round. But that was before the NFL adjusted to the explosion in wide receiver salaries.
Six wide receivers came off the board between Pick #8 and Pick #18. No top tier receiver would have been left for Washington to select if the Commanders hadn’t pulled the trigger when they did. The next wide receiver wasn’t taken until the Packers, known to be hungry for a receiver, took Christian Watson with the second pick in the 2nd round — and they passed up on Watson at #22 and #28, where they selected a pair of defensive players.
In fact, that figure of 6 wide receivers acquired in the span of 11 picks rises to 7 receivers if you include the Eagles trade for veteran AJ Brown — a player drafted in 2019 whose production on his rookie contract has been comparable to that of Terry McLaurin, who was taken in the 3rd round of that same draft. The need for receivers is so great across the league at the moment that the Eagles traded Pick #18 and gave Brown a $25m per year contract extension! Now that’s an expensive acquisition.
Dotson wasn’t going to get past the Packers at #22 overall; if the Commander wanted him, they had to take him when they did. Of course, many people argue that the team picked the wrong guy — they say that the right move would have been to take the 6’2”, 225 pound receiver out of Arkansas, Treylon Burks. We won’t know who was right until a few years have passed, but the Washington front office clearly preferred Dotson since they had their choice, and went for the Penn State receiver.
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Depending on what happens in the careers of Dotson, Robinson and Howell in particular, and the fortunes of the Commanders more generally, as fans take their seats in the new stadium at the start of the next decade, they will likely look back at the 2022 first round draft trade and see it as a turning point for the Commanders franchise. Whether they will bemoan what could have been or celebrate the success that followed is a story that has yet to be written, but at the moment, 76% of Washington Commanders fans who responded to the NFL Reacts survey this week liked the first round trade.