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Commanders fans want Jahan Dotson to be targeted more, but are they right to think so?

Survey results!!

Arizona Cardinals v Washington Commanders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

When Jahan Dotson was targeted only once in the Week 6 win over the Falcons in Atlanta — a ball that he dropped — alarm bells went off. Things weren’t going as expected. Dotson had started off a bit slow in ‘23, and many had expected him to ‘get right’ against the Falcons.

Jahan Dotson started off his rookie career red-hot, with 4 touchdowns and 152 yards in his first 4 NFL games. He had also finished strong, with 3 TDs and 344 yards in his final 5 games. In between, he had been on IR or limited by injury.

Ahead of this season, Dotson was a trendy pick for fantasy football owners, who expected Eric Bieniemy and Sam Howell’s strong right arm to prove a double-boon to the receiver’s production. For the first five weeks, fantasy owners were mostly disappointed as Dotson’s production lagged well behind his rookie season. Through 5 weeks of the ‘23 season, Jahan Dotson had scored only a single touchdown and accounted for only 140 receiving yards.

Getting shut out of the box score in Atlanta last week was too much. The hue and cry went out for the Commanders to do something. Jahan needed more targets; they had to throw him the ball!

It turns out that they have, in fact, already been throwing him the ball more often this season than they did last season; he was targeted 25 times in the first 4 games of this season compared to 22 targets in his first 4 games as a rookie prior to his injury.

The difference is more stark if you look at six games: 31 targets this season compare to 25 targets in his injury-affected rookie year.

Jahan has been targeted, but the targets in Eric Bieniemy’s offense with Sam Howell as the triggerman haven’t turned into the kind of yards and touchdowns that Han Solo produced in Scott Turner’s system with Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke throwing to him.

Some have attributed this, at least in part, to Scott Turner seeing Jahan as a red-zone threat, which doesn’t seem to be as true of EB.

Others have suggested that weak offensive line protection this season has meant that the team simply hasn’t been able to effectively target Jahan on longer-developing deep shots. There may be some statistical evidence to support this theory.

Under Eric Bieniemy, Jahan’s average depth of target (ADOT) has dropped from 13.5 yards in 2022 to just 8.1 yards in 2023. Additionally, His yards before catch per reception have fallen from 11.0 last year to 6.3 this year, and his yards after catch per reception have dropped from 3.9 to 1.9.

The fact is, Jahan hasn’t been particularly unsuccessful as a receiver this season, and that may be scheme-related. Still, he’s been getting targets and he’d been contributing to the offense prior to last week.

  • Here is a list comprising his longest reception in each game for the first 5 weeks of the season: 14 yards, 15 yards, 18 yards, 10 yards, 14 yards.
  • He has also converted 7 first downs on 17 receptions.
  • Prior to the Atlanta game, Dotson had been targeted at least 4 times in every game, and had a catch rate of 56.7%.

Honestly, if he’d caught his only target against Atlanta, which hit him in the hands about 25 yards downfield with 2 yards of separation from the chasing defensive back, it seems unlikely that anyone would be questioning Dotson’s usage. But he didn’t catch it, and here we are.

In this week’s Reacts survey, we asked Hogs Haven readers a simple question: should Jahan Dotson be targeted more often?

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More than 4 out of 5 fans who responded said ‘yes’.

A similar question was put to Ron Rivera at one of his media sessions this week, and he tried to make the point that Dotson’s scarcity of targets against Atlanta wasn’t due to any lack of confidence, but Ron did so in his usually clumsy way:

It’s just one of those things that sometimes guys will be targeted more. I promise you back in the day when [Former Washington WR’s] Gary Clark, Art Monk and Ricky Sanders were out there for [Former Washington Head Coach] Coach [Joe] Gibbs you guys were probably wondering how come he only got three balls and everybody else got six or seven? It’s going to happen. When a guy’s not getting the balls right now, it is just a matter of time. I think that’s the thing we all have to be patient with.

On his website, Bullock’s Film Room, Mark Bullock broke down some film of Jahan Dotson in an effort to understand and explain the 2nd-year receiver’s lack of production through six games:

Jahan Dotson has grabbed the attention of Washington Commanders fans and media this week due to his lack of production so far this season. Much was expected from the 2022 first-round pick entering his second year in the NFL after a promising rookie season and encouraging signs of a strong relationship developing between him and Sam Howell during training camp and preseason. Some even went as far as suggesting he could catch more passes than star receiver Terry McLaurin this year.

However, through six games so far this season, Dotson has just 17 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown. That puts him closer to running backs Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson in terms of pure production than his fellow receivers Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel. This was further highlighted by the fact he had zero catches and only one target in the Commanders victory over the Falcons this week. So what exactly is going on with Dotson?

(If you’d like to read Bullock’s entire analysis of Jahan Dotson, you can do that. He has made this post freely available to everyone, so you don’t have to be a subscriber to read it beginning to end. Click here to read)

Bullock, as a result of his film review, offered much the same conclusion as Ron Rivera had, though Mark was a bit more organized and detailed in his reasoning. In his article, he enumerated several issues:

  • Dotson hasn’t regressed from last year in terms of on-field skills such as route running
  • Howell might be going to a different receiver due to pre-snap matchups and leverage
  • Howell might be throwing to a different receiver due to coverage reads
  • Howell might make some mistakes, and miss Dotson when he should throw to him

In the end, Bullock’s message to Commanders fans is much the same as the one that Aaron Rodgers made famous a few years ago: R-E-L-A-X.

[Jahan Dotson] hasn’t regressed; his route running is still strong and he’s able to create separation when he needs to. Sometimes he’s just not the first read in the progression. Sometimes he’s winning routes but Howell looked to McLaurin or Samuel first because he liked their matchup slightly more.

We’ve seen Dotson win routes only for the pass to get deflected at the line of scrimmage or for Howell to make a mistake and not throw it to him. There are times where Dotson is just unlucky that an isolated defender opts to cover him instead of the other receiver in the area and sometimes it’s just Dotson’s turn to be occupying coverage and opening things up for others.

Ultimately there’s a ton of factors that go into why a receiver may or may not get the ball on any given play.

With so many weapons the offense doesn’t have to force it to just one or two guys because they’re all capable of making big plays. Dotson’s turn will come and I’m sure it will be sooner rather than later.