Sunday’s disappointing road loss to the Los Angeles Rams marked another milestone in the first season under new ownership, as the Commanders were officially eliminated from playoff contention. Even worse for fans of the team’s scrappy, underdog leader on offense was the dawning realization that the incoming regime is more likely than not to investigate alternatives to Sam Howell as starting QB. That could include drafting a QB near the top of the first round.
While those developments are not likely to sit well with most fans, there is a silver lining. Thanks to the team’s disappointing performance, combined with a continuing run of good fortune and assistance from other teams, the Commanders’ draft position has continued to improve for yet another week.
The Commanders’ projected order in the draft did not change in Week 15. They remain picking 4th overall if the season ended today. However, their chance of moving upward in the draft order increased significantly, thanks in large part to the upset loss by the Atlanta Falcons lowering their projected strength of schedule. As a result of that loss, the Commanders would now win the tie break with the New England Patriots if the two teams finished the season with the same W-L records.
Heading into Week 16, the Commanders now have realistic opportunities to move up in the draft order, if the Cardinals or the Patriots win another game. Each of those teams is playing its weakest remaining opponent this week. At the same time, the Commanders are facing their one remaining opponent that is not a major mismatch. If they upset the Jets (-3.5), they could drop as far back as ninth place in the draft. This is, therefore, a pivotal week for the Commanders’ tank.
If there is going to be any major change to Washington’s draft position between now and the end of the season, it is likely to occur this week.
Eyes on the Prize
The most talked about development in Week 15 was Sam Howell being benched after throwing an interception in the fourth quarter. His backup, Jacoby Brissett, came off the bench and led two touchdown drives to narrow the gap from 21 points to 8. Never mind that it was garbage time, the Commanders now find themselves with a full-blown quarterback controversy. To a team holding a top-four pick in a deep QB draft class, that could well mean drafting a QB early.
Whatever you think of Sam Howell’s development in his first season as a full-time starter, the Commanders’ incoming GM and head coach would be negligent if they didn’t evaluate quarterback options in the draft and compare them to players on the current roster. The good news when they get to that part of the offseason planning is that, if the team can keep losing, they should have some attractive options to choose from. Let’s take a look:
Elite QB Prospects
The 2024 draft class features two elite QB prospects who are expected to go first and second. One could potentially drop to third if a team near the top of the draft order selects WR Marvin Harrison Jr. Losing out won’t be enough for one of the top two QBs to come into reach of the Commanders’ first pick. At least one of the teams ahead of them will have to win another game.
If the Commanders can avoid beating the Jets (-3.5) and they get the help they need from other teams, they might have a shot at one of the following:
Caleb Williams, USC
Junior, 6-1, 218 lbs
2022 Heisman Award winner and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year
2023 Passing: 12 games, 266/388 (68.6%), 3,633 yds (9.4 yds/att), 30 TD, 5 INT, 117.4 passer rating, 35 sacks
2023 Rushing: 97/142 (1.5 yds/att), 11 TD; Receiving: 1 rec, 15 yds
Efficient, strong-armed passer who excels at creating outside of structure and protecting the ball from defenders with elite level decision making and ball placement. Williams is regarded by many as the most NFL-read QB in the draft class, with the highest ceiling.
Drake Maye, UNC
RS Sophomore, 6-5, 220 lbs
2022 ACC Player of the Year
2023 Passing: 12 games, 269/425 (63.3%), 3,608 yds (8.5 yds/att), 24 TD, 9 INT, 100.2 passer rating, 29 sacks
2023 Rushing: 112/449 (4.0 yds/att), 9 TD
Caleb Williams isn’t a unanimous QB1 in this draft class. Many draft experts prefer UNC’s Drake Maye. Maye is described as a prospect with all the physical tools to succeed at the pro level. If he has an edge over Williams, it is in accuracy, ball placement and clutch play.
Second Tier QBs
If the Commanders don’t get the help they need from the teams ahead of them, they are likely to be picking from the second tier of QBs. But don’t despair, some of these prospects would likely have gone first overall in the 2023 draft class. A few of these players could be available later in the first round, in case the Commanders trade back or accidentally win another game. One or two might even still be available when they pick again near the top of the second round.
Jayden Daniels, LSU
5th Year Senior, 6-4, 210 lbs
2023 Passing: 12 games, 236/327 (72.2%), 3,812 yds (11.7 yds/att), 40 TD, 4 INT, 21 sacks
2023 Rushing: 135/1,134 (8.4 yds/att), 10 TD
Dual-threat QB with tremendous athleticism and experience, has shown huge growth in last two years in protecting the ball, playing under pressure and pushing the ball downfield. His build might remind some of Washington’s 2023 first round pick.
Michael Penix Jr, Washington
6th Year Senior, 6-3, 218 lbs
2023 Passing: 13 gams, 307/466 (65.9%), 4,218 yds (9.1 yds/att), 33 TD, 9 INT, 11 sacks
Penix is a redshirt senior who combines experience, high-end arm talent with exceptional accuracy, ball security and outstanding football IQ. He was hugely productive in 2023, but his injury history may be a concern for some teams.
Bo Nix, Oregon
5th year Senior, 6-2, 225 lbs
2023 Passing: 13 games, 336/435 (77.2%), 4,145 yds (9.5 yds/att), 40 TD, 3 INT, 6 sacks
2023 Rushing: 53/228 (4.3 yds/att), 6 TD
Dual-threat QB with legitimate NFL arm, gamer mentality, accuracy, timing and play under pressure improved after transferring from Auburn to Oregon
Shedeur Sanders, Colorado
Junior, 6-2, 215 lbs
2023 Passing: 11 games, 298/430 (69.3%), 3,230 yds (7.5 yds/att), 27 TD, 3 INT, 35 sacks
Accurate QB with great anticipation who excels under pressure. Some pro scouts think that Sanders is the most NFL-ready QB prospect in terms of football IQ. His non-elite arm strength won’t prevent him from starting in the pros, but could push him down draft boards a little.
J.J. McCarthy, Michigan
Junior, 6-3, 197 lbs
2023 Passing: 13 games, 213/287 (74.2%), 2,630 (9.2 yds/att), 19 TD, 4 INT, 3 sacks
McCarthy has made some impressive throws in 2023, but has also made his share of mistakes. He has shown improvement in processing speed and decision making throughout his college career.
Week 16 Draft Position Watch
According to Tankathon’s projection, shown above, the Commanders remain at fourth place in the draft order if the season ended today. While that represents no change in their draft position since last week, there was a significant change to their strength of schedule. The strength of schedule is the aggregate winning proportion of a team’s opponents and is the primary tiebreaker used to determine draft order when teams have identical W-L records. The team with the weakest (lowest) strength of schedule gets to pick first.
This development has crucial implications for the Commanders’ chance of moving up in the draft order, as well as for their drop in draft position if they win another game.
Opportunity to Move Up
Last week the Commanders had a projected strength of schedule of 0.529. That would have had them lose a tiebreak with the Patriots (0.525 SOS) and win a tiebreak with the Cardinals (0.557) if the three teams ended with identical records. Projected strength of schedule is mainly affected by upset wins or losses by a team’s opponents, since game outcomes that were expected are already factored into the projections.
The Week 16 upset of the Atlanta Falcons by the Carolina Panthers (+3.0) gave the Falcons an unexpected loss, thereby dropping Washington’s projected strength of schedule from 0.529 to 0.513. The Patriots’ strength of schedule also fell, but only from 0.525 to 0.521. As a result, the Commanders gained the advantage in a tiebreak. Consequently, if the Patriots upset the Broncos (-5.5) this weekend and the Commanders lose, Washington will now move ahead of them into third place without requiring any help from other teams.
A Cardinals’ upset of the Bears (-3.0) this weekend remains the most likely scenario for Washington to improve their draft position. However, the gain of tiebreak advantage over the Patriots makes the fallback option significantly more plausible.
The updated scenarios for the Commanders to move up are as follows (only the most likely scenarios to achieve each finish are shown):
Third Place Finish – Just requires one more moderately unlikely upset
- Commanders lose out
- Cardinals OR Patriots win one more game - most likely Cardinals over Bears this weekend
- No more upsets involving opponents of Washington and/or the team that won another game
Second Place Finish – Unlikely
- Commanders lose out
- Cardinals and Patriots each win another game
- No more upsets involving opponents of Washington, Cardinals and Patriots
First Place Finish – Mathematically possible, but exceedingly unlikely
- Second Place scenario plus:
- Panthers win 2/3 remaining games
- No more upsets involving opponents of Washington, Cardinals, Patriots and Panthers
Threats to Drop in the Draft Order
The Commanders are currently trailed by five 5-9 teams. While they were enjoying the bye in Week 14, they gained control of their destiny by becoming the only remaining 4-win team. The only way they can drop below fourth in the draft order is by winning another game. The only game on the Commanders’ remaining schedule in which their opponents will not be heavily favored is this week’s matchup with the Jets. So, if it is going to happen, it is most likely to be this week.
If the Commanders do upset the 5-9 Jets, and no other 5-9 team wins a game, they will drop to seventh in the draft order, based on current strength of schedule projections. However, in that scenario it is possible for them to drop as far as ninth if opponents of the Chargers and Titans suffer any upset losses for the remainder of the season and/or if Washington’s opponents score any upset wins to alter the strength of schedule.
Coaching Hot Seat
Head Coach/Head of Football Operations/Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera
It has been 1,112 days since Ron Rivera was last fired from a head coaching job. It is 20 days until Black Monday when coaches are traditionally fired following disappointing seasons.
Following Brandon Staley’s firing last week, Ron Rivera (-300) has become the favorite in prop betting odds for the next NFL head coach to be fired. If he survived isolating Tyreek Hill in single man coverage, you would think he will be safe until Black Monday. But with each remaining week come new opportunities to embarrass the franchise. So nothing is written in stone until the final whistle sounds.
Offensive Coordinator, Eric Bieniemy
Bieniemy’s job security for the remainder of the season likely got a big boost this week, when his offense came alive following the QB substitution. That would seem to indicate that the problem was not with the system or play calling. Never mind that it was in garbage time. Whatever you think about that, there is no obvious reason to fire Bieniemy now, as opposed to waiting to the end of the season.
Week 15 Rooting Guide
As a service to Commanders’ fans, here is a handy guide to help you cheer for game outcomes which could help to improve the Commanders’ draft position. In general, for the rest of the season, the most important thing is for the Commanders to avoid winning any more games. Aside from that, root for the teams ahead of the Commanders (Cardinals, Patriots and Panthers, in that order) to win games, as well as wins by their opponents which increase their strength of schedule. Also cheer for the current 5-9 win teams (Bears, Giants, Jets, Chargers, Titans) to win, as well as their opponents.
Wins or losses by teams that are common opponents of the Commanders and one of their competitors for draft position are irrelevant, because they have equal effect on the Commanders’ and competitor’s strength of schedule (SOS).
Thursday Night Football
Saints (7-7) vs Rams (7-7)
A Rams loss helps lower Washington’s SOS, while a Saints loss lowers that of the Patriots, as well as those of less important competitors Panthers, Titans, Bears and Giants. This is close to a draw. However, a Rams loss helps Washington in all its tiebreaks, including with the Cardinals, which should be the highest priority. March in, Saints!
Bengals (8-6) vs Steelers (7-7)
Neither team is much of a direct threat. Both teams play the Cardinals and Titans, so the outcome doesn’t impact those tiebreaks. The Steelers also play the Patriots, so a win helps with that tiebreak. Here we go, Steelers!
Bills (8-6) vs Chargers (5-9)
The Chargers are one of our potential competitors if we win a game, while the Bills are one our opponents and potentially impact all of our tiebreaks. This one is really tough because both teams play several our competitors. Of our most important competitors, both teams play the Patriots, so the outcome does not impact that tiebreak. Neither team plays the Cardinals, so a Bills loss helps us with that tiebreak, by lowering the Commanders’ strength of schedule, while the Chargers’ win neutralizes a potential competitor. Root for the upset. Bolt up!
Colts (8-6) vs Falcons (6-8)
This is another tough call. The Colts are irrelevant, because the only ones of our competitors they play are common opponents with the Falcons (Titans, Panthers). The Falcons are complicated. They play the Cardinals, Jets and Bears, so a win helps with those potential tiebreaks. At the same time, they are a Commanders opponent, so a loss helps tiebreaks with the Patriots, Giants, and Chargers. This could go either way, but the tiebreak with the Cardinals is most likely to impact our draft position. Go Falcons! (I think)
Packers (6-8) vs Panthers (2-12)
If you like a Cinderella story, with two more wins the Panthers would fall behind Washington in the draft order. Likely of more importance, the Packers play two of our competitors for draft position (Chargers, Giants) while the Panthers only play one (Titans). Both teams play the Bears so they cancel each other out. This game probably doesn’t matter, but a Packers win is slightly more likely to help the Commanders. Go Pack!
Browns (9-5) vs Texans (8-6)
A Browns win helps a tiebreak with the Bears, while a Texans win helps a tiebreak with the Panthers. Are we really worried about a tiebreak with the Panthers? Dawg pound!
Lions (10-4) vs Vikings (7-7)
The outcome of this game has no impact on our draft position. Doesn’t matter
Commanders (4-10) vs Jets (5-9)
If the Commanders win this game, they will drop in the draft order and could fall as far as ninth place. Do your jobs, Commanders!
Seahawks (7-7) vs Titans (5-9)
The Titans become a direct competitor for draft position if the Commanders win another game. On the other hand, the Seahawks are a Commanders opponent and therefore affect most of our tiebreaks. A Seahawks loss does not affect the tiebreak with the Cardinals, because all three teams played each other. However, it does help tiebreaks with the Patriots, Jets and Bears. Overall, Washington is most likely to benefit from a Titans win, but it could go the other way if we win a game. I am willing to take that risk. Titan up!
Jaguars (8-6) vs Buccaneers (7-7)
A Buccaneers win would help the Commanders win a tiebreak with the Bears. That’s the only way this game matters. Fire the cannons! I suppose
Cardinals (3-11) vs Bears (5-9)
This is the most important game not featuring the Commanders this week, and quite possibly for the remainder of the season. If the Cardinals win and nothing happens to drastically alter strengths of schedule, the Commanders will move past the Cardinals into third place in the draft order. This is Washington’s best chance to move up in the draft order for the rest of the season. If you root for one game outcome this week other than Commanders-Jets, make it a Cardinals upset of the Bears. GO BIRDS, GO!!!
Cowboys (10-4) vs Dolphins (10-4)
Both teams are Commanders opponents and they both play all of our key competitors, so they cancel each other out. It is hard to see how one outcome helps the Commanders more than the other. That means it’s safe to root for a Dallas loss. Go Flipper!
Patriots (3-11) vs Broncos (7-7)
Based on current strength of schedule, a Patriots win moves the Commanders into third place. This is our second best shot at moving up in the draft order for the rest of the season. Bailey Zappe is a legend!
Christmas Monday Football
Raiders (6-8) vs Chiefs (9-5)
A Raiders win helps Washington win a potentially crucial tiebreak with the Patriots, as well as with the Giants. Just win, baby!
Giants (5-9) vs Eagles (10-4)
The Giants are a potential competitor for draft position if we win a game, and a Giants win neutralizes that threat. The outcome of this game has no impact on the Commanders’ strength of schedule because all three teams play the same opponents. The Commanders have more to gain from a Giants win, which is great if you hate the Eagles more. Tommy DeVito is our hero!
Ravens (11-3) vs 49ers (11-3)
Is it a Super Bowl preview, or a re-run of the Har Bowl? The 49ers are a Washington opponent and a loss helps us with tiebreaks with the Patriots, Bears, Jets and Panthers. Let’s hope it’s a repeat of the 2012 Super Bowl. Nevermore!
Week 16 Commanders’ Draft Position Projection: 4th Place
The Commanders have a decent chance of moving up to third place, if they don’t beat the Jets and the Cardinals pull of the moderate upset of the Bears. However, the odds favor them staying right where they are.
What should the Commanders do if they end up picking third overall and one of the top two QBs is available?
This poll is closed
Pick the best QB available
Pick the best OT available
Pick a player at another position
Trade back in the first round targeting an OT and more picks
Trade back in the first round targeting a QB and more picks
Trade back in the first round for the BPA or another position and more picks
Call Ron, he’ll know what to do