Now that the dust has settled on Ron Rivera’s third attempt to push the needle past 0.500, it is time to revisit my Bakers’ Dozen Bold Predictions for the 2022 season. From the first game of the season, it became clear that it was going to be a roller coaster ride. But I am not sure anyone could have predicted how up and down it would turn out to be. Except maybe for any fans who had watched the 2021 season.
With the Commanders’ 2022 season officially in the rear view mirror, let’s see whether I was able to do what no Washington head coach has achieved since 2016: win more than I lost.
1. The Commanders’ leading rusher will be Brian Robinson
This prediction was made before Brian Robinson was shot. Even so, many readers at the time questioned my sanity for suggesting that the rookie from Alabama would supplant Antonio Gibson as Washington’s leading rusher. But I had read the tea leaves as far back as the pre-draft prospect interviews and was on to Rivera’s desire to move to a two-back system, with the power back leading the way.
After news of Robinson’s shooting broke, this prediction looked like a write-off. No one could have predicted how quickly Robinson recovered from gunshot wounds to the glute and knee and got back to practice. Even so, by midseason it was still no sure thing, as former offensive coordinator Scott Turner showed a wavering commitment to running the ball. What probably cemented it was the decline in utilization of Antonio Gibson in the running game from Week 12, as injuries began to take their toll.
The Commanders’ final rushing leaders were as follows:
- Brian Robinson Jr.: 205 attempts, 797 yards, 2 TD
- Antonio Gibson: 149 attempts, 546 yards, 3 TD
- Curtis Samuel: 38 attempts, 187 yards, 1 TD
- Jonathan Williams: 37 attempts, 152 yards, 0 TD
2. The Commanders’ rookie of the year will be Brian Robinson
The Commanders don’t always announce an official rookie of the year, and when they do it can come late in the offseason. So we may have to wait a bit longer to know for sure. Nevertheless, I think we can narrow this down to two possibilities.
According to Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders and Alex Vigderman from Sports Info Solutions, the Commanders had the 28th ranked rookie class in 2022. A lot of that might have to do with injuries and Ron Rivera’s preference for playing veterans over younger players. Nevertheless, only two of the Commanders’ draft class and first year UDFAs really stood out.
After missing the first five games while recovering from gunshot wounds, Brian Robinson established himself as the lead back in the Commanders’ ball-control offense. Despite battling a hamstring injury, which kept him out of five games, Jahan Dotson ended his rookie season as the team’s third leading receiver and the leading touchdown scorer among non-QBs.
As far as yardage production goes, Robinson finished third on the team with 857 total yards from scrimmage, while Dotson was fifth with 516 yards. Meanwhile, Dotson was second amongst non-QBs in scoring (after kicker Joey Slye) with 44 pts, while Robinson was sixth with 18 pts.
The consensus seems to be that Robinson was the most valuable rookie, but I could see the argument for Dotson.
Verdict: Probably correct
3. First-round pick, WR Jahan Dotson will exceed expectations.
Dotson was picked 16th overall, making him the fifth WR selected in the 2022 draft. Prior to the season, I published performance benchmarks for the Commanders’ rookie class based on historical performance of rookies at the same positions with similar draft pedigrees. That exercise established average performance expectations of 9 starts, 46 receptions for 627 yards, 4 TD and a 57% catch rate. Importantly, the benchmarks were not adjusted for time lost to injury, so there is no need to adjust for the 5 games that Dotson missed.
Dotson’s 2022 figures were: 10 starts, 35 receptions, 523 yards, 7 TD, 57.4% catch rate.
Compared to recent past WRs with similar draft status, Dotson was right on expectation for catch rate, slightly above expectation for starts, and below expectations for receptions and yards. The one area where he well exceeded expectations was touchdowns, where he was 75% over the average of his predecessors.
Another way to evaluate Dotson is to compare him to all the rookie WRs in his class. This time I will correct for injury time by using per game and per target stats. Dotson’s 2.9 receptions/game ranked 9th among rookie WRs, 43.6 receiving yards/game tied for 5th with Christian Watson, 8.6 yards/target ranked 6th, and 0.58 TD/game ranked 1st.
Dotson lagged many of his peers in catching the football. His 57.4% catch rate ranked 15th among 28 WRs in his draft class. While some of that may have to do with receiving passes from inaccurate QBs, his 9.8% drop rate was the seventh highest in the rookie class.
Summing up, Dotson had a good rookie season, which is what you expect of a WR selected 16th overall. He was right around or slightly below expectations in receptions and receiving yardage and exceeded expectations in scoring. His production stats could have been much better if he had done a better job of catching and hanging onto the football. It would be a stretch to say he exceeded expectations.
4. Terry McLaurin will exceed 1,400 receiving yards.
I let myself down on this one by buying into the pre-season hype that Carson Wentz would be a signficant improvement over last season’s accidental starter, Taylor Heinicke.
McLaurin finished the season with 1,191 yards, a full 209 yards short of my prediction.
How misguided was the belief that adding Wentz to the line-up would boost Terry’s receiving yardage? McLaurin averaged 56.0 yards per game with Wentz at QB and 80.6 yards per game with Heinicke. At that pace, if Heinicke had started all 17 games, McLaurin would have finished the season with 1,369 receiving yards, just 31 yards short of my prediction.
I really should have known better.
5. Cole Turner will have a big rookie season.
This prediction was a product of the fanciful belief that Carson Wentz would be a competent passer, combined the chemistry that he seemed to have with Turner in training camp. Turner finished the season with the forgettable stat line of 2 receptions on 9 targets (22.2% catch rate) for 23 yards. That receiving total is not actually as bad as you might think. It ranks 149th out of 283 first year tight ends who played at least one game since 2013, placing Turner close to middle of the pack.
6. Injuries will take a toll.
Confession, time. I threw this one in to make sure I got at least one prediction correct. In 2022 the following starters and key role players missed significant time to injury:
- C Chase Roullier – 15 games
- DE Chase Young – 14 games
- LB Cole Holcomb – 10 games
- G/C Wes Schweitzer – 10 games
- RB J.D. McKissic – 9 games
- QB Carson Wentz – 8 games
- S Kam Curl – 5 games
- WR Dotson – 5 games
- CB Benjamin St-Juste – 5 games
- C Tyler Larsen – 4 games
- TE Logan Thomas – 3 games
- CB William Jackson – 3 games (addition by subtraction)
The biggest injury impact was felt on the offensive line, where the Commanders’ best starter, Chase Roullier, was lost for the season with an ankle injury in Week 2. Backup Wes Schweitzer then went down in Week 5 and third stringer Tyler Larsen went down in Week 13.
Cole Holcomb’s injury led to Jon Bostic and David Mayo seeing the field more than any fans would have liked; while injuries to Benjamin St-Juste and Kamren Curl contributed to the late season slide on defense from Week 15 on.
7. Tight ends and pass-catching running backs will continue to shred the defense.
Despite the failure to address linebacker in the 2022 offseason, the Commanders’ defense surrendered the fifth-fewest receiving yards to tight ends in the league (622 yards) and the 9th fewest TDs (5).
They were even better, in one sense, against receiving backs, giving up the second-fewest yards (384). However, they were tied with Pittsburgh, Miami and Arizona for worst in the league for allowing 6 receiving TDs by running backs.
Overall, the Commanders’ defense played very well against TEs and pass catching backs, in large part due to shifting the coverage load to the safeties, as well as Jamin Davis improving in coverage.
8. Quarterback controversy will become a thing.
I’ll keep this short. Carson Wentz was a four-alarm disaster, but that didn’t stop Ron Rivera from inserting him back in the lineup at his first, and thankfully last, opportunity. Backup Taylor Heinicke had the good fortune to start when the defense and running backs were winning games, but ultimately reminded people why he’s a backup. When we finally got a glimpse of Sam Howell in the last game of the season, people started asking why he wasn’t given a chance earlier.
9. CB Tariq Castro-Fields will surprise people.
I was surprised by how soon after I made this prediction he went on injured reserve for the season. Look out for him next season.
10. Season record: 7-10
Missed it by 1.5 games. As far as I’m concerned, a tie is a game you failed to win, which is no different from a loss, so I’m rounding that down to 1 game.
Verdict: Close, but no cigar
11. The Commanders will be 1-4 at Week 5
Ron Rivera’s slow starts are bankable.
12. Chase Young’s return will be anticlimactic.
In three whole games after his long-awaited return from injury, Chase Young recorded 3 solo tackles, 2 assists, 1 pressure, and 0 sacks. It was not quite the boost the defense needed to pull them out of their late season slide.
13. Jack Del Rio will be fired by the end of January.
My how things have changed since the beginning of the season. Through the first five weeks of the season, this was looking like a slam dunk. In actual fact, Del Rio had started making adjustments, culminating in the benching William Jackson III in Week 6, and the Commanders’ defense became one of the better units in the league for the next 7 weeks.
Fortunately for Del Rio, Scott Turner’s horrible offense and the drama at QB provided enough cover that no one seemed to notice the defense returning to early season form and even worse in the final three games of the season. Ron Rivera found a deserving scapegoat in Turner and both he and Del Rio should be safe until new ownership settles in and starts making decisions.
In total, I got 5 correct, 7 incorrect and 1 likely correct. If Brian Robinson is named Commanders’ rookie of the year, as expected, that would bring me up to 6-7, for a win rate of 46.1%, which puts me slightly ahead of Ron Rivera at 43.1% in Washington. I should be safe for another year.
I also added two midseason predictions:
1. Ron Rivera will start Carson Wentz as soon as he is ready to play.
I think I deserve partial credit on this one. Ron Rivera went back to his guy, as I predicted. However, he had to wait for his opportunity, or risk a locker room rebellion, since the team had rallied behind Heinicke. He didn’t have to wait long. When Heinicke committed two costly turnovers in a bad loss to the 49ers, he made his move. Those clever tactics pushed back Wentz’s return by one week, spoiling my prediction as well as the Commanders’ playoff chances.
2. NFL Coach of the Year: Pete Carroll
This one was looking pretty good in Week 9, when I made it, with a resurrected Geno Smith leading the Seahawks to a 6-3 record. Then they hit the skids in the second half of the season. To Carroll’s credit, he righted the ship in the final two weeks and got the team into the playoffs, where they were quickly dispatched by the 49ers. I still think it was pretty clever they way he dumped Russell Wilson on the Broncos and walked away with a treasure trove of draft picks, then breathed new life into Geno Smith. Since then other stories have emerged and Carroll has dropped well back from the lead pack.
Verdict: Almost certainly incorrect
Acknowledgement: Edited by James Dorsett
If you could rewrite one move in the Commanders’ 2022 season, what would it be
Draft QB Kenny Pickett at pick #16 (Luxury pick)
Draft C Tyler Linderbaum at pick #16 (Luxury pick)
Draft LT Tyler Smith at #16
Sign FA guards who had never played for Rivera
Attempt a field goal or go for it instead of punting on 4th & 12 from the NYG 34 in Week 13
Start Heinicke against Cleveland
Start Howell against Cleveland