Week 16 was a pivotal one for Washington’s draft position and, just like miraculous string of upsets two weeks ago during the bye, things once again pivoted our way.
The Commanders took care of business by losing to Trevor Siemian and the New York Jets. That gave them two realistic chances to move up in the draft order. Their best chance was for the Arizona Cardinals to upset the Chicago Bears (-4.0). Unfortunately, Justin Fields and the Chicago running game were too much for the desert songbirds.
Their last hope came down to a wish and a prayer that the 3-11 New England Patriots could upset the 7-7 Denver Broncos (-7.0), on the road at Mile High. Let this be a warning to never count Bill Belichick and Bailey Zappe out. The football Gods smiled upon the underdogs and, thanks to a career performance by the former Hilltopper, the Patriots came out on top, 26-23.
The Patriots’ upset win, combined with Ron Rivera’s Commanders extending their now league-leading streak to six consecutive losses, propelled Washington into third place in the draft order, if the season ended today.
But don’t count on staying there just yet, Commanders’ fans. The Patriots’ loss to tie their record with Washington at 4-11 puts the two teams in a close competition for third place, which is likely to remain a neck and neck race for the final two weeks of the season. Barring a miraculous upset win by either team in one of their next two games, it will almost certainly come down to strength of schedule.
The Commanders currently lead the Patriots by a razor thin margin of 0.518 to 0.522. That four thousandths lead could easily evaporate if just one game played by one of the teams’ opponents has an unexpected outcome. If having our pick of the offensive tackle prospects, having a shot at a top-2 QB, landing a generational talent like Marvin Harrison Jr, or holding a draft pick that other teams will mortgage their futures for matters to you, then the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints just became your favorite teams outside the DMV. A Steelers’ defeat of the Seahawks this week or a Saints’ defeat of Atlanta in Week 18 will make it very hard for the Patriots to reclaim the third spot.
On a less stressful note, the Commanders remain firmly in control of their position in the top four, without requiring any outside help. If they don’t stage a miraculous upset of the 49ers at FedEx this week, and don’t luck into catching the Cowboys asleep in the season finale for a second year in a row, the lowest they can end up picking is fourth overall. While they might miss out on a top QB prospect, and could see a top OT or Marvin Harrison Jr gone by the fourth pick, all but one of the things that are available at the third overall pick will still be ours for the taking.
The Commanders have done exceptionally well with their tank, and have benefitted from a lot of help from other teams. They have made it all the way up to third in the draft order, but have found themselves in a dogfight to stay there. There is still tanking to be done. It is by no means time to kick back and rest on their laurels.
Eyes on the Prize
Throughout the Commanders’ late season slide, I have used this space to discuss the various opportunities presented to a rebuilding team by a high top-10 draft pick. With the Commanders practically locked-in to a top-four pick, with a very realistic chance of picking third, it is time to review.
According to the most recent fan opinion survey results, 69% of Hogs Haven readers are still committed to Sam Howell as the starter. According to my most recent polling (see poll at end of article), 68% of Hogs Haven readers would like the team to draft an offensive tackle in the first round, either by picking the best available OT who falls to their pick (23%), or as the target in a trade-back to acquire more picks (35%).
If the new FO does decide to grant the wish of the majority of fans, holding the third or fourth overall pick should put them in a commanding position. In the past decade, there has not been a single draft in which two OTs came off the board before the fourth overall pick. Only two out of ten drafts featured an OT selected in the top-four. A draft featuring two elite QB prospects near the top of the order is unlikely to break either of those streaks. Therefore, the Commanders’ new GM is likely to have his pick of at least one of the top two OT prosects, currently Olu Fashanu (Penn State) or Joe Alt (Notre Dame).
Alternatively, holding a top-four pick in what is shaping up to be a deep OT draft class creates opportunities to trade back and still draft a starting-quality tackle, while picking up additional draft picks to help rebuild the rest of the offensive line and other depleted areas of the roster.
After Fashanu and Alt, the 2024 draft class includes several other tackles who might go in the first round. These include top right tackle prospects, J.C. Latham (Alabama) and Taliese Fuaga (Oregon State), and Georgia LT Amarius Mims. Behind these players in current rankings are several OTs rated in the late first or second rounds including Kingsley Suamataia (BYU), Jordan Morgan (Arizona), Tyler Guyton (Oklahoma), and Chris Paul’s younger brother Patrick Paul (Houston). If recent history is any indication, some of these players are likely to rise up draft boards as the process unfolds.
If the new GM decides to trade back in the first round to add more picks, he should still have a good chance of landing a long-term starter at left or right tackle. In the 10 drafts from 2013 through 2022, when player outcomes are evaluable, there was a not a single case where a team trading down in the first round past the first two OTs off the board would have taken themselves out of position to draft a long-term starter at the position. Over that same period, six of the first- or second-drafted OTs have fallen short of expectations (Andre Dillard, Mike McGlinchey, Brandon Scherff – guard, Ereck Flowers, Greg Robinson, Luke Joeckel) and there is a chance that number could swell to eight, if the first two off the board in 2022 (Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal) don’t stick as starters on the outside. So the risk of trading back for an OT is not as great as some would have you believe.
The ultimate prize in a trade-back is the haul of additional draft picks that teams are willing to give away to move up for the opportunity to draft a prospect that someone in the front office has fallen in love with. The motivation for the biggest overpays is usually a quarterback, such as the 49ers trade with Miami for Trey Lance (swap #12 for #3, plus 2 future 1st round picks, and pick #101 in the same draft).
If the Commanders can hold onto the third overall pick, there is a decent chance that one of the top two QB prospects could still be available to motivate another team to make such a trade. That would be most likely to occur if a team ahead of them picks Harrison, or another eye-candy prospect like TE Brock Bowers. If they fall to fourth and the elite QBs are gone, it is still possible that a team would be motivated to trade up for a second-tier QB prospect such as Jayden Daniels (LSU), Michael Penix Jr (Washington), or Bo Nix (Oregon). They might also get calls from teams seeking to trade up for elite prospects at other positions such as Fashanu, Alt, TE Brock Bowers (Georgia), WR Malik Nabers (LSU), DE Laiatu Latu (UCLA), or even a shutdown CB1 like Kool-Aid McKinstry (Alabama).
Of course, it’s always possible that an incoming GM will decide to start his tenure off by drafting one of the elite playmakers who is on the board at the third overall pick. That might even include taking a quarterback, if he decides not to stake his reputation on an incumbent second-year starter whose completion percentage just dropped below 30%. If that’s the direction the team decides to go, picking in the top four should provide at least a few intriguing options. Rising to third in the draft order might just make it possible to land one of the two elite QB prospects who are likely to go very early in the draft.
Last of all, there has been some discussion about the possibility of trading up in the draft order to ensure the Commanders don’t miss out on an elite QB prospect. I have previously reviewed the history of such moves, and nothing has changed since then. With the exception of two trades which couldn’t happen under the current rules on rookie contracts, in the salary cap era no QB drafted via a trade into the top five picks has been good enough to warrant a long term extension by the team that drafted him. Such trades are extreme bets against the odds. Hopefully the Commanders’ new GM will have enough sense to know that, or Eugene Shen will stop him in his tracks if he tries something rash.
Week 17 Draft Position Watch
Thanks to the Patriots’ win, the Commanders have moved up to third place in the draft order, according to Tankathon’s projection. This represents the high point of their tank to date. In order to stay in third place, they will need help from other teams to maintain their strength of schedule (SoS) tiebreak advantage over the Patriots. If they can’t do that, the farthest they can realistically fall back is fourth, unless they suddenly snap out of their six-game losing streak.
Opportunity to Move Up
While it is still mathematically possible for the Commanders to move up to first overall, it is most likely they have peaked at third. Their best shot to move up to second overall would be for the 3-12 Cardinals to beat the 8-7 Seahawks in Week 18. Less likely would be an upset of the 11-4 Eagles (-10.5) this week. Stranger things have happened, but neither of those game outcomes is something you’d want to bet real money on.
The Commanders’ other chances to move up involve the 2-13 Carolina Panthers winning two more games. Their next opponent is the 8-7 Jacksonville Jaguars (-7.0), who are currently on a four-game losing streak. Their final game is against the 8-7 Buccaneers, who are riding a four-game winning streak to a late season run for a playoff berth. The last time the two teams met in Week 13, the Panthers came close to pulling off the upset in a 21-18 loss. Can they get the job done next week? Probably not, but it’s not impossible.
Last of all, if the Panthers can pull off two upsets in two weeks, the Commanders have a chance to pick first overall. However, that would require the Cardinals to also win a game. The Commanders would also likely require a great deal of help from other teams to win the SoS tiebreaker, since one or two upset wins would drop the Panthers’ SoS considerably.
The updated scenarios for the Commanders to move up are as follows:
Third Place Finish – Just requires maintaining SoS status quo
- Commanders lose out
- Help required from Washington and/or Patriots’ opponents to maintain Washington’s advantage in SoS tiebreaks
Second Place Finish – Unlikely, but not impossible
- Commanders lose out
- Cardinals win another game
- No dramatic alterations to Commanders’ and Cardinals’ SoS
First Place Finish – Mathematically possible, but highly unlikely
- Commanders lose out
- Cardinals win a game
- Panthers win two games
- SoS help from Washington and Carolina opponents to win the tiebreak with the Panthers
Threats to Drop in the Draft Order
The Commanders are likely to be locked in a strength of schedule battle with the Patriots for the final two weeks to determine who picks third or fourth in the draft order.
The only way they can pick any later than fourth is by winning a game. Thanks to the Commanders’ loss to the Jets, and Chicago’s defeat of the Cardinals, they are now only trailed by three 5-10 teams: Giants, Chargers and Titans. Based on current strength of schedule, which would be even lower following an upset win, they would lose a tiebreak to the Giants, but stay ahead of the Chargers and Titans.
Therefore, one further win is likely to drop the Commanders to fifth place, but could drop them as far back as seventh, if they have bad luck with other teams altering the SoS balance.
Coaching Hot Seat
Head Coach/Head of Football Operations/Defensive Coordinator, Ron Rivera
It has been 1,121 days since Ron Rivera was last fired from a head coaching job. It is 11 days until Black Monday when coaches are traditionally fired following disappointing seasons.
Not much has changed since last week. The bookies have not updated their prop betting odds in over a week. Ron Rivera (+175) remains the favorite to be the next NFL head coach to be fired with an implied probability of 36.4%. Would a 72-0 beatdown by the 49ers at FedEx be enough to move his termination date forward a week? We will have to wait and see.
Offensive Coordinator, Eric Bieniemy
With Sam Howell seemingly in free fall, you have to wonder how safe Bieniemy’s job really is. He can point to the performance of the offense with Brissett under center as proof that his scheme is not the problem. But weren’t we keeping him around to avoid setting back Howell’s development? That is probably more of a topic for the offseason than the regular season. Would a regression to the mean on offense with Jacoby Brissett starting his first game be enough to cause a rethink?
Week 17 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. The focus for the final two games will be on outcomes which help the Commanders win the strength of schedule tiebreak with the Patriots. But it can’t hurt to root for wins by the teams ahead of us and the Pats, and you might as well root for results that strengthen the SoS of five-win teams as insurance for the unlikely event that the Commanders win another game themselves.
To make this even easier for Commanders fans with busy schedules, I have ranked the games in order of priority.
Most Important Games
Patriots (4-11) @ Bills (9-6), Sunday early
A massive Patriots upset of the Bills (-12.0) would render the strength of schedule tiebreak moot, and eliminate the threat of New England reclaiming third place, unless the Commanders win another game. Before you say it’s impossible, the Pats upset the Bills as recently as Week 7, and that was with Mac Jones throwing the ball. Can Bailey Zappe make it a sweep? Awww yeah! Do your job, Pats!
Cardinals (3-12) @ Eagles (11-4), Sunday early
An unlikely upset of the Eagles (-10.5) would move Washington ahead of the Cardinals in the draft order, due the Arizona’s much higher strength of schedule. Based on current SoS, that would move the Commanders into second place, although they could drop back to third if the Patriots gain a SoS advantage. Go Cards!
49ers (11-4) @ Commanders (4-11), Sunday late
I have made it through six weeks of tracking the tank without expressly calling for fans to root for a Commanders’ loss. And there is no need to break that streak now. The 49ers (-13.5) bring their third-ranked offense and third-ranked defense to FedEx to face the Commanders’ last-ranked defense and 23rd-ranked offense. The Commanders own the league’s longest losing streak and are mired in a full blown QB controversy; while the 49ers will be eager to prove that the two-score loss to the Ravens on MNF was a fluke. I realize this game could be distressing to some, but just think of what a difference a top four pick in a stacked QB draft could make to the rebuild. Jacoby Brissett becomes the ninth QB to start a game for the Commanders with Ron Rivera as head coach. Show us what you’re made of, Jacoby!
Steelers (8-7) @ Seahawks (8-7), Sunday late
A Steelers upset of the Seahawks (-3.5) would provide the biggest assist this week in the strength of schedule tiebreak with the Patriots, since the Seahawks are one of our opponents and the Steelers are an opponent of the Patriots. Wave the terrible towel!
Chargers (5-10) @ Broncos (7-8), Sunday late
The Chargers are one of three remaining 5-win teams we need to worry about if Washington wins another game. They are also an opponent of the Patriots, while the Broncos (-5.5) are an opponent of Washington. An upset in this game helps us win a tiebreak with the Patriots, while providing insurance if something goes horribly wrong in one of the Commanders’ two remaining games. Bolt up!
Jets (6-9) @ Browns (10-5), Thursday Night Football
The Jets are a common opponent of Washington and New England, but they play the Pats twice. Strength of schedule is based on the records of all 17 opponents (not 13 unique opponents) so division rivals count twice. The Browns didn’t play either team. That means a Jets win boosts the Patriots’ SoS more than Washington’s. J-E-T-S, JETS! JETS! JETS!
Lions (11-4) @ Cowboys (10-5), Saturday game in place of MNF
You were going to cheer for a Cowboys (-6.0) loss, anyway. Well go right ahead. A Cowboys loss has the same effect as a Jets win on the SoS tiebreak with New England. It also provides a double-bump to lower our SoS for tiebreaks with any other non-division rival which might emerge. And wouldn’t it be cool to see the Lions go on to win their first playoff game since 1991, when they beat you know who in the Wild Card round? One pride!
Saints (7-8) @ Buccaneers (8-7), Sunday early
The Saints are one of the Patriots’ opponents, so an upset of the Bucs (-3.0) raises New England’s strength of schedule. Who dat?
Dolphins (11-4) @ Ravens (12-3), Sunday early
This is similar to the Jets game. A Dolphins upset of the Ravens (-4.0) boosts the Patriots SoS more than Washington’s, since the two teams are AFC East rivals. A Dolphins win can hurt the Commanders’ chances in a tiebreak with the Cardinals. That is less likely to matter, so focus on the immediate threat. Fins up!
Rams (8-7) @ Giants (5-10), Sunday early
The Giants are a potential threat if we win another game, but strength of schedule is the more important consideration here. The Giants are a divisional opponent, and will increase our SoS more with a win than the Rams. That could be important in tiebreaks with the Chargers, Titans or Panthers. Mentally and physically tough players who play smart & love to compete!
Bengals (8-7) @ Chiefs (9-6), Sunday late
A Chiefs (-7.0) upset loss would hurt Washington in tiebreaks with the Patriots and the Chargers. A Bengals win would help tiebreaks with Titans and Cards, which are less likely to be important than our primary rival, the Patriots. This is one occasion where you get to root for the favorite. Chiefs kingdom!
Less Important Games
Titans (5-10) @ Texans (8-7), Sunday early
The Titans are another 5-win team we need to worry about if the Commanders win another game. The outcome of this game does not impact the tiebreak with the Patriots. A Texans loss could help the Cardinals narrow the gap in a tiebreak with the Commanders, but probably not enough to matter, and that’s unlikely to be important. On balance, a tiebreak with the Titans is the more likely of two unlikely scenarios. Titan up!
Raiders (7-8) @ Colts (8-7), Sunday early
Both teams are division rivals of one of the five-win teams Washington has to worry about if we win another game. The Raiders face the Chargers twice a year and the Colts face the Titans. The Raiders also play the five-win Giants and the Colts don’t. That makes a Raiders win ever so slightly more likely to be of assistance to the Commanders than a Colts win. But it’s really not very likely that the outcome of this game will matter at all. Just win baby, I guess.
Packers (7-8) @ Vikings (7-8), Sunday late
A win by either team helps a tiebreak with a different five-win team, which only becomes important if Washington wins another game. The Packers are an opponent of the Giants and the Vikings are an opponent of the Chargers. Your guess is as good as mine as to which is more likely to come up. Probably neither. Based on current strength of schedule projections, the Commanders would lose a tiebreak with the Giants and win one with the Chargers. So, do it your way, Giants!
Panthers (2-13) @ Jaguars (8-7), Sunday early
Do you believe in miracles? This might seem a little futile but, a Panthers upset of the Jaguars (-7.0) is the first step in scenarios that could see the Commanders rise to second or third in the draft order. To make that a reality, the Panthers would need to win their Week 18 game against the Buccaneers as well, and the Commanders might need additional help from other teams to win the SoS tiebreak. The Jaguars have lost their last four games and could be vulnerable. Keep pounding!
Falcons (7-8) @ Bears (6-9)
Both teams are non-divisional Washington opponents, so the outcome does not affect our SoS, whether one team wins or it’s a tie. Likewise, neither team plays the Pats. Doesn’t matter
Week 17 Commanders’ Draft Position Projection: 4th Place
The main event for the next two games will be the competition with the Patriots for the third overall pick, which is likely to be decided by the strength of schedule tiebreak. There are seven games in Week 17 which will have the biggest impact on the relative balance of SoS between the two teams:
- Steelers vs Seahawks
- Jets vs Browns
- Lions vs Cowboys
- Saints vs Buccaneers
- Dolphins vs Ravens
- Chargers vs Broncos
- Bengals vs Chiefs
In six of those seven games, the outcome that would favor the Commanders would be an upset. Therefore, Washington has an uphill climb to stay ahead of New England in the race for third.
The other way for Washington to stay in third place would be a Cardinals upset of the Eagles, which would drop Arizona to fourth, with the Patriots most likely leapfrogging the Commanders into second place. That is probably about as unlikely as the upsets required for Washington to stay ahead the Patriots in the tiebreak battle.
While it is not impossible for the Commanders to remain in third place, or even rise as high as second, the most likely scenario is that they fall back to fourth place and remain there until the draft.
What is the Commanders’ new GM most likely to do if he’s picking fourth overall? Answer what you THINK he will do, not what you WANT him to do.
This poll is closed
Pick the best QB available
Pick the best OT available
Pick the best playmaker available, other than a QB
Trade up for an elite prospect
Trade down for more picks
Trade it for a player on another team
Trade it for a head coach on another team
Forfeit the pick by taking too long to make the selection