Football fans develop some curious habits when their team hasn’t given them much to cheer for on the field for three decades.
For example, just about every offseason, following a disappointing finish, the fans on Hogs Haven engage in annual ritual of projections showing how the various improvements to the roster in free agency and the draft, along with a few UDFA hopefuls, will lift the team from the doldrums of the Snyder era and deliver a ten-win season or better. When you consider that the team has had three winning seasons in the last decade, it becomes apparent that most of the time this is just wishful thinking.
Readers who are familiar with my articles and comments on Hogs Haven might have noticed a certain tendency to rain on the hype parade. Well, that is all about to change. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something feels different about this season. Maybe it was the vow I took, after losing it over the Carson Wentz trade, to not say anything negative about our starting QB before week 16.
Maybe I just don’t want to be left behind when the bandwagon pulls out of storage en route to an 11-win season and a deep playoff run. Whatever it is, I have turned over a new leaf and have decided to embrace the best case scenario.
In that spirit, I give you my All-Hype 2022 Washington Commanders roster projection. Rather than the usual, boring position-by-position evaluation of which returning player or newcomer has the best chance of becoming the starter, in this article I will focus on one or a few hopeful scenarios at each position group.
Obviously, most of these projections will not come true, but a few of them might. And those player outcomes will be a lot more fun and exciting to watch as the preseason unfolds than Charles Leno and Cole Holcomb simply holding down their starting jobs. To make this a little more fun, I will venture beyond a simple opening-day roster projection in places and throw in some season predictions along the way.
Starting Quarterback – Carson Wentz 4,600 yds, 35 TD, 7 int
Barring injury or some kind of miracle, Carson Wentz has the starting QB job locked up. No hype there. The reason he makes the All-Hype Team is that, having learned the lessons from the past and now armed with the best set of weapons in his career to date, he will ball out, forcing the Commanders to take up the next two essentially voidable years of his contract. Washington finally has a top-ten starting QB locked up for three years with a manageable cap hit.
I have previously expressed my views about the risks and opportunity costs associated with the Wentz trade. There is no place for that sort of negativity in the All-Hype team. We’ll see how this looks by Week 16.
This was the most challenging part of the projection. Washington’s current offensive line is nearly a hype-free zone, with Chase Roullier’s quiet ascendence to becoming one of the best centers in the league, Charles Leno playing well above his cap hit at left tackle and two aging former Pro Bowl ex-Panthers who should be solid, if unglamorous, additions at guard. Very few of the recent draft picks or UDFAs seem poised to do much of anything. There are only two real hype-worthy candidates.
Starting Right Tackle – Sam Cosmi
Like Wentz, Cosmi doesn’t have any real competition for the starting job. My All-Hype projection is that Cosmi continues to build on his impressive start and emerges as one of the league’s top right tackles this season, prompting speculation of a switch to left tackle in 2023. Cosmi got off to a great start before getting injured in his rookie season, posting the third-highest run block win rate in the NFL (behind leaders Tom Compton and Orlando Brown). However, he still has some things to clean up in pass protection. Another offseason under John Matsko’s tutelage will lift him to the next level.
Third String Backup Left Guard – Chris Paul
Paul has about as good a chance of any of this year’s late-round draft picks to edge past a depth player and earn himself a spot on the final 53-man roster. The biggest advantage in Paul’s favor is the cast of nobodies currently backing up presumptive starter Andrew Norwell on the left side. Using Bill-in-Bangkok’s depth chart as a guide, he only has to beat out camp bodies Nolan Laufenberg and Willie Beavers to earn a roster spot. Ahead of them, Saadiq Charles has done nothing in two seasons to show he belongs in the NFL, but he’ll probably stick around another year as an experienced backup.
Paul also has a few things going for him as a developmental prospect. He has great athleticism for a player his size. He also has the position versatility, intelligence and leadership qualities that Ron Rivera covets. And finally, he has the personality to endear himself to become a favorite with fans and the locker room.
WR1 Terry McLaurin – 1,400+ yards, 10 touchdowns
What is Terry McLaurin doing on the All-Hype Team you ask? Well, Terry has averaged 1,030 receiving yards per year in his first three NFL seasons catching passes from Dwayne Haskins, late-career Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke. For the first time in his career he gets the opportunity to play with a good starting QB. As an added bonus, he now has a legitimate WR2 and a host of other offensive weapons to keep defenses honest. He will become Wentz’s go-to target on intermediate and deep routes and shred defenses on his way to the first of many Pro Bowl appearances.
WR 6/Return Specialist – Jequezz Ezzard
The release of DeAndre Carter left a gaping hole at return specialist and 5’9”, 194 lb Jequezz Ezzard is the perfect player to fill it. Ezzard has game-breaking vision and explosiveness in the return game, and averaged 13.6 yards per punt return over his final three years in college. He has added value as a slot receiver, where posted an impressive career average of 22.4 yards per reception and 33 TDs on 154 receptions. Ezzard is quite simply a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. I have no doubt that the freakish skillset that allowed him to dominate the FCS will translate directly to the NFL level.
Brian Robinson – 1,100 yards, 6 touchdowns
The word on Robinson among Washington fans seems to be that he is a short yardage specialist who was brought in to free Antonio Gibson from pounding it between the tackles. I have no idea where that came from. Robinson was stuck behind Najee Harris in Alabama’s rushing lineup in 2019 and 2020. With Harris’ departure to the NFL, Robinson seized the opportunity as lead back in 2021, exploding for 1,341 yards on 271 carries (5.0 yd average) and 14 TDs, and added 296 yards and two TDs on 35 receptions. Robinson runs with great vision, burst to hit the hole, and is difficult to bring down. He is also excellent in pass protection, which will help to keep him on the field.
As the lead back in Scott Turner’s revamped offense, with multiple weapons preventing defenses from stacking the box, Robinson is poised to explode onto the NFL scene as a rookie.
Antonio Gibson - 150 carries, 845 yards, 5 TD; 65 receptions, 475 yards, 4 TD, 0 fumbles
Don’t cry for Antonio losing all those between the tackle carries to Robinson. Robinson’s addition to the lineup allows Scott Turner flex Gibson out, utilizing him more on passing routes out of the backfield and scheming to get the ball to him in space on running plays. The change in role results in a significant increase in yards per touch, netting about the same total yards from scrimmage as 2021 on fewer touches. The lower rushing workload also allows Gibson to stay healthy and hang onto the ball.
FB/HB Alex Armah
Much like the Washington Commanders, the fullback position has fallen on hard times since its glory days. Between 1938 and 1957, the Redskins drafted six fullbacks in the first round. The greatest running back in NFL history, Jim Brown, was a fullback. The greatest Redskins’ running back, John Riggins, was also listed as a fullback (technically only from 1971 to 1979).
What better way to kick off Washington’s return to glory than bringing back the fullback/H-back?
There are a few reasons I believe that Armah will make the final 53-man roster. First, he has the position versality that Scott Turner and Ron Rivera covet, with the ability to play running back and H tight end. Second, as a time warp to the first Gibbs era, he provides an extra blocker in the back field to pick up blitzing linebackers, such as Micah Parsons who we now face twice a year. Third, he played for Rivera in Carolina.
TE2 - Cole Turner, Commanders third leading receiver
Carson Wentz has a well-established affinity for big receivers. Throughout his time in Philadelphia, his top targets included TE Zach Ertz (6’5”), WR Jordan Mathews (6’3”), WR Alshon Jeffery (6’3”), and TE Dallas Goedert (6’5”). In Indianapolis, he continued the trend, relying on 6’4” WR Michael Pittman as his preferred target.
With 6’6” TE Logan Thomas likely out of action for the start of the season, the equally statuesque Turner will get an early opportunity to gel with Wentz. I expect the converted wideout to make the most of it, connecting with Wentz on seam routes and using his size and propensity for athletic catches to Washington’s advantage in the red zone. The Wentz-Turner connection will be good for 600 yards and 4 TD.
TE3 - Curtis Hodges
The TE competition is full of surprises this season. The other TE who has been attracting attention early in training camp is UDFA Curtis Hodges. At 6’8” he’s even a bigger target than Turner. Carson Wentz will be spoiled for choice.
DE – Chase Young, NFL Comeback Player of the Year Runner Up
The real concern with the former Defensive Rookie of the Year, coming into his third NFL season, is not the recovery from the ACL tear that ended his 2021 campaign. It’s the fact that he only recorded 1.5 sacks in the nine games before he was injured, and showed little sign of developing the pass rushing techniques to make the most of his raw talent in his second season.
Well, you can put those worries to bed. The former best player in college football will come back strong when he returns from the PUP list in week 5, recording 12 sacks, four tackles for loss and four forced fumbles in the final 13 games of the season.
DT – Phidarian Mathis
I have to admit, I thought Mathis was reach in the second round. I must have overlooked how disruptive he was in his final season at Alabama, posting 9 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, 2 passes defended and a forced fumble. No one will be able to overlook the talented rookie when he makes the case to be Da’Ron Payne’s eventual replacement, posting 45 combined tackles (25 solo), 2 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 5 QB hits and two batted passes as a rotational DT.
LB3 - Shaka Toney
One of the great mysteries of the Commanders’ 2022 offseason thus far is what they are planning to do at linebacker. Sure, the team only plays with two linebackers on more than 90% of their defensive plays. But are they really planning to enter the season relying on 2021 disappointment Jamin Davis to come up to speed for the NFL, with David Mayo as the primary backup? What happens if Cole Holcomb twists an ankle?
It turns out the answer has been staring us in the face, but only Mark Tyler could see it. At 6’2” and 238 lbs, Toney is well undersized for a 4-3 DE, but he is the perfect size and has the right athletic profile to be an outside linebacker, with added value as a situational pass rusher. The switch to SAM linebacker in training camp will pay off, and Commanders’ fans will breathe a sigh of relief when Mayo is finally released at roster cut-downs.
Buffalo Nickel – Darrick Forrest
The other defensive position with no established starter/primary option heading into camp is the poorly understood Buffalo Nickel. Really, this is just a big defensive back or speedy linebacker who lines up on tight ends in the slot, with the ability to cover running backs coming out of the backfield.
The primary options heading into camp are LB Khaleke Hudson, S Darrick Forrest and S Percy Butler, with a resigning of Landon Collins looming as an outside option. Hudson would seem to have the edge, since he played the position in college. However, in two years with the team he has never managed to stake a claim on the position and is mainly used on special teams. If the team was thinking of trying him at Buffalo Nickel it would have happed by now.
At 6’0”, 194 lbs, Butler is undersized to cover tight ends and running backs for a living. He also might offer better value at FS. I’ll get to that in a minute.
That leaves second year safety/special teamer Darrick Forrest. At 6’0”, 200 lbs, Forrest is only slightly heavier than Butler, but has impressed when given snaps at Buffalo Nickel minicamp and has continued to draw positive attention in the first week of training camp. I am projecting him to seize the opportunity in training camp and earn primary duties as Washington’s big nickel defender throughout the season.
Buffalo Nickel Darkhorse Candidate - Ferrod Gardner
If someone emerges from obscurity in camp to make a claim on the Buffalo Nickel position, my money’s on 6’1”, 215 lb Ragin Cajun safety Ferrod Gardner. There is very little written about Gardner, but he has the ideal size and appears to have the athletic profile for the role. Gardner cracking the roster at Buffalo Nickel would be the ultimate Hype scenario. Simply earning a spot on special teams with backup duties on defense would be a great outcome for an unheralded UDFA.
CB5 – Christian Holmes
I have seldom heard a head coach say less about a draft pick than what Ron Rivera had to say about 2020 7th round pick, Christian Holmes. There was very little written about the fifth-year CB out of Oklahoma State in the lead up to the draft, except that he has impressive measurables.
Now I realize that they’ve been keeping him quiet for a reason. Holmes has been tearing it up in the first week of training camp. OK, that might be taking the hype thing a little too far. Nonetheless, Holmes makes the All-Hype roster because he only has Troy Apke to beat for the fifth CB spot. A couple of good practices in camp should do it.
CB6 - Channing Stribling
Stribling went undrafted in 2017, perhaps because he lacks long speed (4.60s 40). He has spent time on eight professional teams in the NFL, CFL and USFL before signing with Washington a few weeks ago. Some players just take longer than other to develop than others. Stribling owned the USFL this past season, terrorizing quarterbacks with seven interceptions and 11 passes defended in only seven games played. Maybe he’s not the second coming of Darrel Green, but that level of production at the pro level tells me he’s got what it takes to pass Corn Elder on the depth chart, if not on the track.
FS – Percy Butler, DROY runner up
Have I saved the best for last? Perhaps. The Redskins/Football Team/’Ders have not been set at free safety since the tragic death of Sean Taylor in 2007. It is not for want of trying, either. Since 2008, Washington has invested thirteen Day Three draft picks on the position.
Well, friends, the drought is finally over. According to draft guru Chris Simms, Butler is the best pure free safety in the 2022 draft class. He has speed, he has range, he has ball skills, and he is a demon on special teams. That is good enough for me to anoint Butler as the All Hype Team Rookie All Star. Following hot on the heels of Washington’s 2020 late round steal, strong safety Kam Curl, the Ragin Cajun is going to claim the starting free safety position in camp en route to appearing on everyone’s 2022 All Rookie team.
Butler will miss out in DROY voting to an above-average rookie pass rusher or two. Hogs Haven readers will be full of righteous indignation that we have been robbed again.
2022 All Hype Opening Day Roster Projection
QB: Carson Wentz, Taylor Heinicke, Sam Howell
LT: Charles Leno, Cornelius Lucas
LG: Andrew Norwell, Saahdiq Charles, Chris Paul
C: Chase Roullier, Wes Schweitzer, (PUP: Tyler Larsen)
RG: Trai Turner, Wes Schweitzer
RT: Sam Cosmi, Cornelius Lucas
TE: John Bates, Cole Turner, Curtis Hodges (PUP: Logan Thomas)
WR: Terry McLaurin, Dyami Brown
WR: Jahan Dotson, Cam Sims
Slot WR: Curtis Samuel, Jequez Ezzard
RB: Brian Robinson, Antonio Gibson, JD McKissic, Jaret Patterson
FB/HB: Alex Armah
DE: James Smith-Williams, Bunmi Rotimi (PUP: Chase Young)
DT: Daron Payne, Phidarian Mathis
DT: Jonathan Allen, Daniel Wise
DE: Montez Sweat, Efe Obada
LB: Jamin Davis, Khaleke Hudson
LB: Cole Holcomb, Shaka Toney
Buffalo Nickel: Darrick Forrest, Ferrod Gardner
CB: Kendall Fuller, Christian Holmes
Slot CB: Benjamin St-Juste, Danny Johnson
CB: William Jackson III, Channing Stribling
S: Kam Curl, Jeremy Reeves
S: Percy Butler, Bobby McCain
KR/PR: Jequez Ezzard, Danny Johnson
P: Tress Way
K: Joey Slye
LS: Camaron Cheeseman
Acknowledgement: Thanks to James Dorsett for editing, even if he doesn’t quite understand hype.
Which longshot player has the best chance of sticking on the final 53-man roster?
This poll is closed
G Chris Paul
TE Curtis Hodges
WR/KR Jequez Ezzard
FB/TE Alex Armah
S Ferrod Gardner
CB Channing Stribling
CB Christian Holmes
TE Sammis Reyes
Who will be the most surprising roster cut?
This poll is closed
OL Saahdiq Charles
WR Alex Erickson
WR Dax Milne
RB Jaret Patterson
LB David Mayo
CB Danny Johnson
DB Troy Apke