Every year around this time the big name, professional draft analysts and outlets publish their big boards, ranking between 100 and 300 of the best prospects in the NFL draft. Last season, inspired by the discovery that Mel Kiper is actually pretty good at predicting how well draft prospects will do in the NFL, despite not having any actual expert qualifications, I decided to go ahead and publish my own personal draft wish list.
I don’t have any staff, or the time, or even the desire, let alone ability to break down tape on 300 prospects. Instead, I just read draft profiles on a few dozen players, written by people who actually seem to know what they are looking at. Then I do a lot of googling to find articles on late-round sleeper prospects, so I have someone to think about after the fifth round. It’s not perfect, but it’s a process.
When I’m done, I come up with a list of a few dozen prospects who I am convinced would make the Washington football franchise a better team, which I have dubbed my Little Board. This year, for the first time, I had the benefit of cheating a little, by cribbing some names from the DraftBot’s data-driven big board, so the numbers have swelled to an all-time high of 46 prospects.
Let me stress, this is a wish list, not a prediction. Historically, my Little Board has proven to be a list of players who will be taken teams like the Titans, Packers, Ravens, Steelers, Seahawks and occasionally the Patriots. Quite a few of the prospects have become great NFL players, but less than a handful of Little Board alumni have ever been drafted by Washington. At least that used to be the case, until 2022, when a record number of Little Board players got the call from coach Rivera.
Due to the unprecedented success of the 2022 Little Board, I would like to review some of the notable names from last year’s edition before unveiling the 2023 edition.
2022 Little Board in Review
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss, 6’2”, 205 lbs
I was convinced that Corral would go off the board in Round 1 and become “the guy”. He was picked in the third round by the Panthers and looked lost in a few preseason games before being lost for the season for real with a Lisfranc injury. We will have to wait to next season to see him take the league by storm. I tell you, he’s a fighter.
Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas, 6-3, 225 lbs
My other 2022 draft man crush, Burks, went to one of the usual Little Board destinations, Tennessee, where he got off to a slow start, missed some time to injury and kind of looked OK by midseason.
Devin LLoyd, LB, Utah, 6-3, 235 lbs
The third and final of my “must have” prospects, Lloyd had an outstanding rookie season and made pretty much everyone’s All Rookie Team, including PFWA.
George Pickens, WR, Georgia, 6’3”, 200 lbs
Pickens had a great rookie season for the Steelers, who took him 52nd overall in the second round. Yet another example of the wisdom of drafting WRs in the second round. Christian Watson is another one.
*Sam Howell, QB, UNC, 6-1, 220 lbs
I wrote, “If Howell falls to our second-round pick, the value is too good to pass up.” Ha ha. Howell became the fourth Little Board player to ever be drafted by Washington, after Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, just a few rounds later than I expected.
Kenneth Walker, RB, Michigan State, 5-9, 211 lbs
Suggesting the Commanders pick Walker in the second round might have seemed crazy to some at the time, but it worked out pretty well for the Seahawks. Walker rushed for 1,050 yds (4.6 yds/att), had 1,215 all purpose yards and 9 TDs, and finished second in ORoY voting. The Commanders picked their own power back a round later.
*Phidarian Mathis, DT, Alabama, 6’3”, 313 lbs
I liked Mathis in the third round. The Commanders liked him even more and picked him in the second. Two Little Board players to the Commanders in one draft is unprecedented.
Marcus Jones, CB/KR, 5’8”, 174 lbs
Jones was picked by the Patriots in the third round, a round ahead of where I had him, and made the AP All-Pro team as a punt returner.
Isaiah Likely, TE, Coastal Carolina, 6’4”, 240 lbs
Likely was picked right where I had him in the fourth round by the Ravens, and had 36 receptions for 373 yards. That figure is 72% of the total yardage recorded by Washington’s entire TE group in 2022.
Tyler Allgeier, RB, BYU, 5’10”, 224 lbs
The Commanders picked Brian Robinson to be their power back in the third round. The Falcons plucked Allgeier in the fifth, a round later than I had him, and he rushed for 1,035 yards (4.9 yds/att) and 3 TDs, caught 16 passes for 139 yards and a TD and came in fifth-place in ORoY voting.
Not a bad showing for the 2022 edition. I also had LB Quay Walker (Green Bay) and OT Tyler Smith (Dallas) listed in the third round. Both players were selected in the first round, became day 1 starters and made plenty of appearances on All Rookie teams. And, of course, there were plenty of players who didn’t do much as rookies and a few late-round prospects who went undrafted.
With 2022 in the bag, let’s see if I can will the Commanders to make themselves a better team in 2023.
2023 Little Board
The Little Board is not so little anymore, in part due to a draft class that is very deep on Day 2 and early Day 3. While the top end may be a little thin on elite prospects compared to recent drafts, there is great depth at certain positions the Commanders might want to restock, including CB, TE and center. True to form, this year’s Little Board also reflects certain skillsets that I think the Commanders would benefit from adding, including coverage linebackers, returners, big athletic receivers, later round QB projects and even one fullback.
To maintain consistency with previous Little Boards, and to allow the Hogs Haven community to hold me to account, I have designated a short list of 21 core Little Boarders with asterisks. These are they guys I will pound the table for and whinge about forever after if they are passed-up for lesser prospects that Ron and the Martii think address a pressing need. They are also the players I will focus on when evaluating the 2023 Little Board next offseason.
Finally, the fact that a prospect is not listed here shouldn’t be taken to mean I don’t think he would be a good, or even great addition to the team. There are plenty of other players who would make heroic Commanders who just fell short of this elite distinction.
These guys probably won’t be available when the Commanders pick, but would warrant a sprint to the podium if they drop unexpectedly (Top 5 prospects not included). There is always reason for hope. Jonathan Allen appeared in this category and went on to become was one of only three Little Board players to actually get drafted by Washington.
*Paris Johnson Jr, OT, Ohio State. 6-6, lbs
Tyree Wilson, Edge, Texas Tech, 6-5, 271 lbs
Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson, 6-5, 268 lbs, 4.53 sec 40, RAS 9.71
*Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois. 5-11, 181 lbs, 4.45 sec 40
Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon. 6-1, 197 lbs, 4.38 sec 40, RAS 9.95
*Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia. 6-5, 311 lbs, RAS 9.43
Super athletic prospect with upside to become a plus starter at left tackle. It might take him a year or two to clean up his technique and come up to speed at the NFL level, but he is still too good a value to pass up at 16.
Joey Porter Jr, CB, Penn State. 6-2, 193 lbs, 4.46 sec 40, RAS 9.71
Long, rangy corner with day 1 starting ability and shutdown potential. Don’t overthink it.
*Brian Branch, CB/S, Alabama. 6-0, 190 lbs, 4.58 sec 40, RAS 6.10
Believe it or not, nickel CB/free safety is currently the only vacant starting position on the Commanders’ roster. Despite being a needs pick, Branch represents exceptional value here as a day 1 starter with All-Pro potential at the position that saw the second-most playing time on the Commanders defense in 2022.
Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland. 6-0, 197 lbs, 4.35 sec 40, RAS 10.00
New ownership means a break with the past. The Commanders are free to draft Maryland players. The most athletic player in the draft class is also a scheme-versatile corner with lockdown potential.
*Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee. 6-5, 333 lbs, RAS 9.68
Big-bodied right tackle with exceptional strength and athleticism for his size. Wright is a beast as a run blocker and uses length to redirect speed rushers and a strong anchor to shut down power rushers.
*Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia. 6-7, 264 lbs, 4.64 sec 40, RAS 9.88
Commanders fans want better blocking. Eric Bieniemy needs a tight end. Washington blocks like an extra offensive lineman, has an enormous catch radius and a massive height advantage over defensive backs, with freakish athletic traits to develop into an All-Pro receiver. Kills two birds with one stone.
Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State. 6-8, 374 lbs, RAS incomplete
There is just something about a 374 lb tackle with a mean streak and better than expected mobility.
*Cody Mauch, OL, North Dakota State University. 6-5, 302 lbs, 9.33 RAS
Mauch looks like a character you’d expect to see swinging an axe in a viking movie, with a red beard, long hair and two missing front teeth. True to form, he is a mauler with a nasty disposition in the run game. He played OT for the Bison, but I think he plays left guard for the Commanders. He is an absolute hog, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina. 5-9, 171 lbs, 4.48 sec 40, RAS 7.79
Reuniting Sam Howell with his favorite target from Carolina would provide an upgrade over Curtis Samuel in the slot, as well as giving the Commanders a big-play threat in the return game.
*Keion White, EDGE, Georgia Tech. 6-5, 285 lbs, 4.79 sec 40, RAS 9.92
Since I’m on a roll with players who don’t address an immediate need… oh wait, edge rusher is a huge need, unless the Commanders want to spend 40% of the 2024 cap on four DL starters and take the risk that Chase Young finally develops into the player they hoped they were getting when they drafted him. White has an exceptional blend of size, power and athleticism and has All-Pro upside. He is still developing as a player.
Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa. 6-5, 249 lbs, RAS 9.98
Campbell is a pure MIKE linebacker, with a bit of the old school thumper to him. He demonstrated much more athleticism at the combine than people expected and he is not bad in zone coverage. Drafting Campbell allows Jamin Davis to move to WLB.
Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh. 6-1, 281 lbs, 4.67 sec 40, RAS 9.60
I just love an explosive, undersized interior pass rusher. JDR will find a way to use him.
Matthew Bergeron, OT, Syracuse. 6-5, 318 lbs, RAS 8.73
Bergeron is a beast of a run blocker. He might stay at RT or move inside to guard. No problem, we could use one of each.
Tuli Tuipulotu, EDGE/DL, USC. 6-3, 266 lbs, RAS incomplete
Underrated prospect, despite huge production in 2022. Rare blend of size, strength and athleticism allows him to line up on the interior or the edge.
Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa. 6-3, 245 lbs, 4.59 sec 40, RAS 9.02
Bieniemy could use an athletic move tight end to help him feel at home in Washington. LaPorta will probably outperform a few of the TEs drafted ahead of him.
*Joe Tippmann, C, Wisconsin. 6-6, 313 lbs, RAS incomplete
The Commanders go through four centers a year, so it’s always a major need. Tippmann is super athletic and powerful. John Michael Schmitz may be the most pro-ready center in this loaded class, but Tippmann has more upside.
*Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State. 6-3, 198 lbs, 4.53 sec 40, RAS 9.99
Great zone corner with a ridiculous blend of size and speed. The only problem is he’s likely to go between 47 and 97. Damn Wentz trade.
*Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M. 5-8, 188 lbs, 4.32 sec 40, RAS 5.73
It seems like highway robbery grabbing an elite, big-play threat this late in the draft. He would elevate the Commanders’ run game to the next level and provide a dynamic option on kick returns.
*Tanner McKee, QB, Stanford. 6-6, 231 lbs, RAS 8.80
Why is Anthony Richardson projected to go in the top 5 picks, while Tanner McKee is third-round prospect? McKee is a much better quarterback. He’s also a lot more athletic than people thought. He could be a draft steal because he played on a crap team.
Marvin Mims Jr, WR, Oklahoma. 5-11, 183 lbs, 4.38 sec 40, RAS 9.13
Mims is a speedy slot/Z receiver, who provides a cheaper and possibly better replacement for Curtis Samuel. He is also a home run hitter on kick and punt returns.
Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State. 6-1, 225 lbs, 4.54 sec 40, RAS 8.07
Developmental tweener prospects with great physical traits and coverage skills to make the switch to WILL linebacker and hybrid safety roles. Just what the Commanders need in their linebacking corps.
*Jartavius “Quan” Martin, CB/S, Illinois. 5-11, 194, 4.46 sec 40, RAS 8.94
If the Commanders don’t pick Brian Branch in the first round, they should target Martin in the third as a replacement and upgrade at the nickelback/free safety position that Bobby McCain vacated.
Cedric Tillman, WR, Tennessee. 6-3, 213 lbs, 4.54 sec 40, RAS 8.67
The Commanders could use a possession receiver. Tillman fits the prototype as the most physical wide receiver in the draft class.
Luke Wypler, C, Ohio State. 6-2.5, 303 lbs, RAS 9.31
Super athletic, undersized center who should be a good fit to Bieniemy’s zone-blocking schemes.
Early Day 3
*Dorian Williams, LB, Tulane. 6-1, 228 lbs, 4.49 sec 40, RAS 8.67
Williams is the coverage linebacker the Commanders need, if they miss out on Henley.
Tyler Scott, WR, Cincinnati. 5-10, 177 lbs, 4.44 sec 40, RAS 8.30
Scott is a fluid and explosive receiver who reminds some evaluators of T.Y. Hilton. He has potential to be a big-play threat on kick and punt returns.
Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State. 5-11, 187 lbs, 4.45 sec 40, RAS 6.18
Reed is a quality Z receiver and a dangerous punt returner.
Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane. 5-10, 201 lbs, 4.47 sec 40, (RAS 8.76 unofficial – Pro Day)
Spears is an explosive third-down back with the athletic skillset to make him worth a try at punt returns.
Ricky Stromberg, C, Arkansas. 6-3, 318 lbs, RAS 9.57
Smart, strong, nasty, early starting potential. Once and future red hog.
Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina. 6-2, 198 lbs, 4.36 sec 40, RAS 9.81
Long, fast and physical CB who is still learning the position after transitioning from WR two years ago. Developmental prospect at boundary corner with huge upside.
*Jonathan Mingo. 6-2, 220 lbs, 4.46 sec 40, RAS 9.86
Big, physical and athletic big slot/possession receiver. Great good run blocker.
*Josh Whyle, TE, Cincinnati 6-6.5, 248 lbs, 4.69 sec 40, RAS 8.98
Big, fast receiving tight end with experience lining up at fullback. I have a sneaky feeling he will outperform his draft stock.
Brenton Strange, TE/H-back, Penn State. 6-4, 253 lbs, 4.7 sec 40, RAS 9.09
Underrated, athletic, extremely physical blocker who suits a role as H-back and move tight end.
*Elijah Higgins, WR, Stanford. 6-3, 235 lbs, 4.54 sec 40, RAS 8.94
Big possession receiver with great athleticism and potential to switch to F tight end. Lance Zierlein comps him to Jordan Reed.
*Hunter Luepke, FB, North Dakota State (FCS). 6-1, 236 lbs, 4.61 sec 40, RAS 9.54
A potential generational talent at fullback. In the hands of an innovative offensive coordinator, Luepke could carry the torch dropped by Mike Alstott as the NFL’s next great featured fullback. OROY is not out of the question, with perennial All-Pro nominations to follow. That’s pretty good value in the 5th round.
Nick Saldiveri, G, Old Dominion. 6-6, 318 lbs, RAS 9.48
Small-school sleeper OL prospect with great athleticism to play as a zone blocker and pulling guard.
Late Day 3
*Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, UCLA. 6-2, 203 lbs, 4.56 sec 40, RAS 7.71
Developmental dual threat QB who put up big numbers in Chip Kelly’s system at UCLA and showed steady progression as a passer throughout his time in college.
*Rejzohn Wright, CB, Oregon State. 6-2, 193 lbs
In a deep CB class, a player like Wright could be available in the fourth round. He is a long, scheme versatile CB with footwork and anticipation to read routes and stick to receivers.
Marte Mapu, LB/S, Sacramento State. 6-3, 220 lbs
Mapu is a LB/safety tweener, which might be a problem on some teams, but fits right into Jack Del Rio’s backfield. I see him splitting time between weakside LB on passing downs and buffalo nickel.
Trey Palmer, WR, Nebraska. 6-0, 192 lbs, 4.33 sec 40, RAS 6.17
Toolsy developmental WR prospect with a good shot at competing for WR4 on the depth chart, and pushing for a starting spot when he refines his technique. Lights out punt and kick returner with two return TDs in college.
Jon Gaines, G, UCLA. 6-4, 303 lbs, RAS 9.63
Developmental OL prospect with elite level athleticism for Bieniemy to work with.
Derius Davis, WR, TCU. 5-8, 165 lbs, 4.36 sec 40, 4.29 RAS
Shifty slot receiver and the best two-way return threat in the draft class, averaging 14.9 yards per punt return in 2022 and scoring 5 return TDs in the last three years.
Mohamoud Diabate, LB, Utah. 6-3, 225 lbs, 4.52 sec 40, RAS 9.11
Super athletic developmental prospect who switched to off-ball LB two years ago and is still learning the position. Ascendent sleeper prospect with the potential to develop into a starting weakside linebacker and the physical profile of a core special teamer.
Matt Landers, WR, Arkansas. 6-4, 200 lbs, 4.37 sec 40, 9.85 RAS
Another big-bodied WR prospect with exceptional athleticism. Developmental prospect with huge upside. Washington has done well with 7th round prospects from Arkansas.
*Isaiah Bolden, CB, Jackson State. 6-2, 196 lbs, 4.40 sec 40, RAS 9.44
Bolden is a small-school prospect who gained scouts’ attention at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. He is a long CB with excellent measurables who showed good coverage ability against lesser competition. He will make the Commanders’ roster as a two-way kick and punt returner. In 2021 he averaged 36.9 yards on 16 kick returns.
Xavier Gipson, WR, Stephen F. Austin. 5-9, 189 lbs, 4.42 sec 40, RAS 7.93
Gipson has elite speed and absolutely dominated the FCS as a big-play producer from the slot. He also averaged an amazing 25.0 yards per punt return, running two back for touchdowns. It might be worth taking a shot in the 7th round to see if that translates to the NFL. Or maybe just wait to see if he’s available after the draft.
Holton Ahlers, QB, East Carolina Pirates. 6-3, 227 lbs, 4.93 sec 40, RAS 3.48
I close with the ultimate sleeper in the 2023 draft class. A direct descendent of Viking king Ragnar Lothbrok, Ahlers is a big, mobile QB with a cannon for an arm who extends plays for large gains downfield. Fans with Carson Wentz PTSD might not like his lack of pocket awareness and propensity for hero ball. However, they may take heart to learn that, with coaching from QB coach David Morris, whose other clients include Sam Howell, Bailey Zappe and Cooper Rush, Ahlers improved his TD to INT ratio from 1.8 to 5.6 between his junior and senior seasons, and capped his college career with a 315/469 (67.2%), 3,708 yd, 28-TD/5 INT passing performance, and MVP awards at the Hula Bowl and NFLPA Bowl.
If the next Brock Purdy is lurking near the end of the 2023 draft order, it could be Ahlers. You can read more about his fascinating back story here.
Acknowledgement: Edited by James Dorsett
If the Commanders have to pick one of these players, who should it be?
This poll is closed
Keion White, Edge, 2nd round
Jartavius Martin, DB, 3rd round
Dorian Williams, LB, 4th round
Nick Saldiveri, G, 5th round
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, 6th round
Matt Landers, WR, 7th round