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Casting Judgement on the Commanders’ 2022 Draft: Days 1 and 2

Did Ron and the Martys find amazing steals or reach too far?

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2022 NFL Draft - Rounds 2-3 Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

The surprise discovery that I fit the profile of the greatest draft expert, Mel Kiper Jr, made me really get into the spirit of the NFL draft season this year. In the lead up to the draft, I released my 2022 Little Board, and I followed that with my 2022 Bold Draft Predictions. At some point, I’ll have to do a 2012 re-draft, in which I will have the Redskins select Bobby Wagner 6th overall and pick up Russell Wilson in the second round.

But before I get to that, it must be time to issue my 2022 instant draft grades. It takes me a while to put these articles together, though, so I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for almost timely draft grades.

Of all the annual draft traditions, grading draft picks before the players have taken a single snap in the NFL has got to be the stupidest. We should all know by now that the real surprises happen when the draftees take to the field for their first camp, right through to the ends of their rookie contracts, rather than on draft night when a player is taken much earlier than expected or unexpectedly slides.

Nevertheless, if I am going to play the part of an NFL draft analyst, tradition demands that I issue snap judgments on the Commanders draft class before I have collected a single relevant fact. However, I’m not really satisfied with the usual approaches of eyeballing how well the draft picks addressed the team’s roster needs or how well they aligned with my own personal draft board.

To make this a little different, I have based my grades on two criteria, their potential to improve the team and the value for draft capital.

Potential to Improve the Team

This grade has two components: what the team hopes to achieve with the pick and the probability of that being successful. I have also calculated the probability of each drafted player becoming an immediate or eventual starter, depending on where they were drafted to help readers calibrate their expectations for the newest Commanders.

Teams seek to get better through the draft in a variety of ways. Filling immediate needs is one. As you will see, though, the chance of finding an immediate starter drops to around 20% by the end of the third round. That really limits the opportunity to fill starting roster vacancies to about the first round or two. Somewhere around the second round, teams start to shift their attention to the future, adding new dimensions and building roster depth. Therefore, I will give my best guess about what the Commanders were hoping to achieve with each draft pick and estimate the chance of that being successful based on past draft results.

Value for Draft Capital

This grade also had two components: draft position relative to expectations and other players available at the pick. I also had to factor in the contributions of draft-day trades and prior trades affecting this draft.

Value for draft capital was quantified for each pick by calculating the Reach/Steal percentage, based on the difference between the pick number where the prospect was selected and his expected draft position. Draft projections were obtained from The Athletic’s NFL Draft Consensus Big Board. The Consensus Big Board compiles input from 82 leading draft analysts to produce consensus rankings of the top 300 prospects in the NFL draft. It has been shown to do a better job of predicting draft outcomes than any individual draft expert. It therefore provides the best available estimate of where a prospect is expected to be selected in the draft.

The Reach/Steal percentage is the difference between the player’s actual pick number and his consensus rank, expressed as a percentage of his consensus rank:

Reach/Steal % = 100*(Pick Number – Consensus Rank)/Consensus Rank

For example, if a player expected to go at pick 100 is drafted 50th overall, the team reached by 50% relative to expectations. If, instead, they drafted him 150th, then he was a steal by 50% relative to expectations.

The Value for Draft Capital grade also included comparison of the player selected to the other players who were available at the pick. A player might seem to be good value if he was selected where he was expected. But his grade could drop if he was drafted over much better players.

Grading System

Last of all, my grading system might be different to what you are used to. Value of each draft pick was graded relative to expectations at that pick number, rather than on an absolute scale. C grades mean that the Commanders achieved the expected value from their pick. This is not a bad grade. An A grade means that the team achieved exceptional value.

Grade explanations:

A: Outstanding value, roughly top 12 out of 262 draft picks

B: Above expectations

C: Met expectations

D: Below expectations

Cerrato: It would be hard to get less value from the pick (not awarded in 2022)


2022 Commanders’ Draft Grades

NFL Combine Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Round 1 – Pick 16: Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State

Overall Grade: C-, slightly below expectations

Potential to Improve the Team: C

This pick addresses the major need for a third starting-level wide receiver to join Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel. The next WR on the depth chart is Cam Sims (2021 stats: 15 rec., 200 yds, 2 TD). Dotson has good speed with great athleticism and catches everything thrown his way, but his play strength has been questioned. Like his new teammates, he has the versatility to play from the slot or outside.

Probability of Success: 0.615

The Commanders were aiming for a first-year starter with this pick. In the decade from 2012 to 2021, eight out of 13s WR drafted within five picks either way of #16 started eight or more games as rookies. The estimated probability of success is: 8/13 = 0.615.

Probability of Starting First Year: 0.615 (as above)

Value for Draft Capital: D

Consensus rank: 31

Reach/Steal: Reach by 48.4%

The Commanders traded back from 11th to 16th overall to make this selection and add more picks later in the draft. According to the draft experts this pick was a major reach. By selecting Dotson 15 picks ahead of his expected draft position the Commanders over-drafted Dotson by 48.4%.

To select Dotson where they did, the Commanders overlooked several higher ranked players at positions of equivalent need including WR Treylon Burks (rank 21) LB Devin Lloyd (rank 16) and S Daxton Hill (rank 26).

Alternative strategies available to the Commanders were selecting a higher ranked WR at #11 (Jameson Williams rank 13, Chris Olave rank 17), or trading back again at 16 to target best available players at positions of need in the first round and targeting a WR in the second round (George Pickens rank 46, Christian Watson rank 49, Skyy Moore rank 50) if no WR was taken in the first.

Value Gained Through Trades:

The draft capital transacted in making this pick was affected by the draft-day trade with the Saints and the Carson Wentz deal. The Commanders began the offseason with the 11th pick in the first round, and the 73rd pick in the third round. They dealt the 73rd pick to the Colts in the Wentz trade. The trade back from #11 to #16 with the Saints netted the Commanders additional picks in the third (98th) and fourth (120th) rounds.

The net change in draft capital through these combined trades in the 2022 draft was a loss of 54 points according to the Rich Hill trade value chart, equivalent to giving away a third round pick (#82) in this draft. There is an additional loss of draft capital in the 2023 draft. Of course, all of these losses could be more than offset if Wentz plays well.

As far as the 2022 draft goes, at this point in time, the net result of the Wentz deal and the trade-back appears to be a wash. We won’t really be able to judge until we see how Wentz plays in DC.

Summary of Grading:

Dotson is a talented wideout, who has a good chance of adding talent to the Commanders receiving corps. However, he was picked well ahead of his expected draft position and selected instead of several players who might have had greater impact for the Commanders. The trade back in the first round to select Dotson, combined with the Carson Wentz deal, resulted in a net loss of draft capital in the 2022 draft. I can’t give the Commanders bonus points for the trade back without acknowledging the fact that the additional picks they gained only partially made up for draft picks given away in the Wentz deal.


CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Round 2 – Pick 47: Phidarian Mathis, DL, Alabama

Overall Grade: D, below expectations

Potential to Improve the Team: D

This pick addresses the immediate need to replace departed rotational DL Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle. Mathis has further potential to develop into a starter, and could provide a succession plan for starting DT Daron Payne. However, it does not seem very likely that he will ever be an upgrade over current starters.

Probability of Success: 0.629

The Commanders are seeking a player with this pick who is ready to contribute as a rotational DL in 2022. 22/35 players listed as DT or DL who were drafted between the 37th and 57th picks in 2012 to 2021 played in at least eight games as rookies. The estimated probability that the Commanders achieve their aim with this pick is therefore 22/35 = 0.629.

Probability of Starting in 2023: 0.405

If Phidarian can take over the starting duties in 2020, allowing the team to move on from former first round pick Daron Payne, this pick could become a B. Only 15 out of 37 DL picked from 37th to 57th started eight or more games in their second seasons. There is around a 40% chance of that happening.

Value for Draft Capital: D

Reach/Steal: Reach by 30.9%

Consensus rank: 68

Mathis was selected 21 picks ahead of his expected draft position. While not as large a reach as the first-round pick in proportional terms, it was still a significant overdraft.

By selecting Mathis at pick #47 the Commanders overlooked several much higher ranked players at positions of higher or equivalent need including S Jaquan Brisker (rank 38), OT Bernhard Raimann (rank 39), LB Chad Muma (rank 54).

Summary of Grading:

I really like Mathis. He is on my 2022 Little Board as a player I would have liked to have seen him drafted in the third round. The selection addresses a significant need with a reasonable chance of success. What drops the grade to below expectation was selecting him in the second round. That was particularly sinful in this draft, which was loaded with talent on Day 2. The team passed up potential starting-level talent at S/Buffalo Nickel, OT, TE and LB to draft a player who is most likely to become a rotational lineman. What saves this from dropping to well below expectations is the potential for Mathis to eventually develop into a starter, providing a moderate chance of replacing Payne with a player on a rookie contract.


NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Georgia vs Alabama Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Round 3 – Pick 98: Brian Robinson Jr., RB, Alabama

Overall Grade: B-, somewhat above expectations

Potential to Improve the Team: B

This pick is more about improving the offense than addressing a need. The Commanders’ lead back, Antonio Gibson was the 6th leading rusher in 2021. He has a competent backup in Jaret Patterson. The Commanders didn’t need another running back. My tip-off that they were prioritizing the position, nevertheless, was the number of RBs invited for top-30 visits.

Robinson is a bruising back, who rushed for 1,343 yards against SEC defenses in 2021, averaging 5.0 yards per carry; he put up an additional 296 yds in the air. He is capable of taking a share of the first and second down rushing load, allowing Scott Turner to deploy Gibson in more of a flex role to diversify the offensive attack. At least that’s what I hope they are up to here.

Probability of Success: 0.536

The Commanders do not need to find a new starter with this pick, but they are probably looking to find an RB who can handle a minimum of 100 rushing attempts in his rookie season. Of 28 RBs selected in the third round from 2012 to 2021, 15 had 100 or more rushing attempts in their rookie seasons. Selecting Robinson here has around a 54% chance of paying off.

Probability of Starting in 2021: 0.214

What’s the chance that Robinson takes the starting job this season, either by outplaying Gibson or as an injury replacement? Six out of 28 RBs selected in the third round from 2012 to 2021 started eight or more games as rookies.

Value for Draft Capital: C-

Reach/Steal: Reach by 6.7%

Consensus rank: 105

The Commanders picked Robinson a mere seven spots ahead of his expert consensus rank. That difference is well within the margin of error of draft rankings, making this the first player they picked at around his expected draft position.

What drops this mark below expectations is the fact that this draft was loaded with talent in the middle rounds. By selecting Robinson at 98, the Commanders passed up two higher ranked players at a position of greater need, LBs Leo Chenal (rank 61) and Channing Tindall (rank 78). This choice signals to me that the Commanders were not prioritizing linebackers as highly as many fans expected, myself included. They also looked past higher ranked OT Daniel Faalele (rank 60) and TE Jeremy Ruckert (rank 82).

The Commanders got fair value by selecting Robinson at 98, but might have got better value by selecting a player at another position.

Summary of Grading:

I love the Robinson pick and am glad he is a Commander. His selection has potential to add a new dimension to the offense by allowing Scott Turner to make better use of Antonio Gibson’s diverse skillset in an offensive flex role. If that is where they are going, his selection might have greater total impact than a few of the higher rated players that they bypassed to select him. My enthusiasm is only tempered by the fact that, by the third round, the chance of that succeeding is only slightly above 50%.


Early Rounds Summary

Days 1 and 2 Overall Grade: C-, slightly below expectations

Much like their performance on the field, Ron Rivera’s team got off to a disappointing start by reaching badly with their first two picks. Jahan Dotson and Phidarian Mathis might both turn out to be solid players at their positions, but the Commanders bypassed a lot of potentially better players at positions of need to select them.

The trade back with the Saints to add more Day 2 & 3 picks has been widely praised. However, when viewed in the full context of the draft capital given away in the Carson Wentz trade, its value is diminished.

Ron and the Martys redeemed themselves by selecting underrated power back Brian Robinson in the third round to add a new dimension to their rushing offense. As much as I love this pick, though, I have to concede that they passed up some linebackers who might have had a greater impact than a running back.

In the second part of this two-part series we will see if the Commanders brain trust managed to turn things around by finding better value on the third day of the draft.

Acknowledgment: Thanks to James Dorsett for editing, although, quite frankly, he didn’t do much to this one.


Poll

What grade do you give the Commanders’ for Days 1 & 2?

  • 1%
    A: Outstanding, one of the best Day 1/2 hauls since Seattle 2012
    (7 votes)
  • 14%
    B: Above expectations
    (83 votes)
  • 46%
    C: Achieved fair value overall
    (257 votes)
  • 32%
    D: Below expectations
    (179 votes)
  • 5%
    Cerrato
    (31 votes)
557 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which early round draft pick is most likely to exceed draft day expectations?

  • 42%
    WR Jahan Dotson
    (208 votes)
  • 9%
    DL Phidarian Mathis
    (44 votes)
  • 48%
    RB Brian Robinson
    (234 votes)
486 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which early round draft choice is most likely to be one we would like to have back?

  • 22%
    WR Jahan Dotson
    (107 votes)
  • 69%
    DL Phidarian Mathis
    (326 votes)
  • 7%
    RB Brian Robinson
    (37 votes)
470 votes total Vote Now