With the NFL draft just three days away, it must be time for my third annual Bold Draft Predictions.
In this year’s edition, I will attempt to answer the questions at the top of all Commanders fans’ minds. Will the Commanders draft an offensive tackle? At what pick will they draft an offensive tackle? Which offensive tackle will they pick? Will they trade back to add picks to draft more offensive linemen? How many offensive linemen will they draft. And where will Bijan Robinson be drafted? These questions and more will be answered. Or maybe not.
To make things more interesting for readers, last year I introduced the Bold Predictions Challenge. This is your chance to earn bragging rights as the Nostradamus of Hogs Haven. This year’s contest is even bigger than ever. The lucky winner will be entitled to a luxury tourism and entertainment package, redeemable at the 2032 Brisbane Olympic Games.
But before we get to the 2023 predictions, let’s review the 2022 predictions to see how I did.
2022 Draft Predictions Recap
1. At least 2 QBs will be taken in the top 10.
Missed it by 64 picks. The first QB selected was Kenny Pickett, taken 20th overall by Pittsburgh; and the second QB off the board was Desmond Ridder to the Atlanta Falcons with the 74th pick in the third round. It turns out that NFL teams’ desperation for signal callers has its limits, after all.
2. Two QBs in this draft class will go on to become long-term starters.
While it is far too early to pronounce judgement on most of the QBs in the 2022 class, it would appear that the last QB, and player, selected is well on his way to fulfilling half of this prediction. The first QB taken, Kenny Pickett had an up and down rookie season, but I think it’s fair to say that Steelers’ fans would be disappointed if he doesn’t develop into a long-term starter. Bailey Zappe performed well enough in 4 games and 2 starts, relieving Mac Jones to spark a mini-QB controversy in New England. Desmond Ridder also did enough in the final four games of the season to provide some reasons for hope in Atlanta. And of course, all hopes are riding on Sam Howell coming good in Washington, after a single start in which he threw 11 passes for 169 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 pick and ran for another score.
And then there is the wild card, Matt Corral, who missed the season to injury.
Optimistically, we could see as many as four long-term starters emerge from this draft class, which was rated as fairly anemic in the pre-draft process. But two is still looking pretty good.
Incomplete, but promising
3. Seven wide receivers will be drafted in the first round.
Very close. A total of six wide receivers were drafted in the first round. The seventh wide receiver selected, Christian Watson, was taken by Green Bay with the second pick in the second round.
Incorrect, by a whisker
4. WR Wan’Dale Robinson will outperform his draft status.
Wide receiver is notoriously the most difficult position to project to the NFL. Every draft class seems to feature at least one WR taken in the middle rounds who outperforms many, if not all of the first receivers off the board. I predicted Wan’Dale would be one of those types of receivers.
Robinson was selected by the Giants 43rd overall, about a round a half earlier than his consensus ranking on industry draft boards. Unfortunately, Wan’Dale missed most of his rookie season to injuries. In the 6 games he played, he caught 23 of 31 passes (74.2%) for 227 yards and a TD. Wan’Dale was the 8th WR selected in the draft. He had 37.8 receiving yards per game, which ranked 8th in the draft class. He ranked 15th in yards per target, and 19th in yards per reception.
The WR who most outperformed his draft status in this class was fellow Little Board alumnus George Pickens, who was the 10th WR selected at pick #52 and ranked 4th in the class in yards per game (47.10) and 3rd in the class in yards per target (9.5).
5. WR Treylon Burks will be a stud in the NFL.
Treylon did not quite live up to the lofty expectations of being a first-round Little Board selection. He only earned 6 starts in 11 games played as a rookie, but when he was on the field he wasn’t quite the disaster that some have made out, ranking 7th in the draft class in yards per target and yards per game, just one spot behind expectation for the 6th WR off the board. He still has plenty of time to prove me correct. 2023 could be his breakout year.
6. LB Devin Lloyd will be a stud in the NFL.
Lloyd was one of the standouts of the 2022 draft class. In 17 games played, he earned 15 starts in which he had 115 combined tackles, 59 solo, 3 interceptions, 8 passes defended, and 2 QB hits. He made the PFWA, NFL.com and The Athletic All-Rookie teams. Unless he regresses drastically, this one is in the bag. I’m calling it early.
7. The Commanders will not draft Matt Corral, Treylon Burks or Devin Lloyd.
Washington seldom drafts the players I want them to.
8. The Commanders will draft a running back.
To quote my prediction “But, but, but, we’ve got much bigger needs! It’s a luxury pick!” NFL teams’ priorities in the draft often don’t align with their fans’ expectations.
9. The Commanders will draft a linebacker.
Well, they probably should have. They got away with neglecting linebacker in the draft through creative use of safeties, but it would be nice if they would draft one who is not a liability in coverage this year.
10. The Commanders will make more than seven selections in the 2022 draft.
I predicted that Ron and the Martii would trade down in the draft in an attempt to make up for the pick they threw away while outbidding themselves for Carson Wentz and, sure enough, that’s exactly what they did, trading back from pick # 11 to 16 in exchange for the Saints’ 3rd and 4th round picks. It worked. Fans and HH writers applauded their brilliant draft strategy, and let them off the hook for squandering their original 3rd round pick.
11. The Commanders will not add any Day Two picks.
Not content to let myself have the easy win, I went further by predicting they would not trade down in the first round to add a Day Two pick, since I was convinced they would stick at 11 to grab one of the two Ohio State receivers.
12. The Commanders’ first-round pick will be one of the two Ohio State wide receivers.
New Orleans used the 11th pick obtained from Washington to select Chris Olave, and both Ohio State receivers were off the board when the Commanders picked at 16.
2022 Bold Predictions Summary
Out of 12 bold predictions, I got 4 correct (33%) and 6 incorrect (50%), with 2 outcomes yet to be determined. That’s not too bad in comparison with the hit rate of NFL teams drafting starters, which tends to hover around 25 to 35% of their picks in a class. It’s also an improvement on last year, when I also got 4 correct, but that included two gimmes.
2023 Draft Predictions
1. The Commanders first-round pick will be offensive tackle Darnell Wright.
Yeah, I know, I’m really going out on a limb with this one. At least Wright is not the player most mocked to Washington. He’s more like the third or fourth. Here’s my reasoning:
The conventional wisdom is the Commanders are going cornerback or offensive tackle with their first pick. That makes sense because those positions are where the value in this draft is likely to align with their major needs at pick 16. Ron Rivera’s draft history offers no clues as to which way he might go, because no team he has coached has ever picked a cornerback or an offensive lineman in the first round.
In the absence of any useful guidance from past history, I have had to delve into Ron Rivera’s psyche to make this prediction. Rivera knows he’s on the hot seat this season, and he is a deeply conservative decision maker. Offensive tackle is the safest pick, so that’s where he’ll go. There is a good chance that either Broderick Jones or Wright will be available at the Commanders’ pick. I think it’s more likely to be Wright.
2. The Commanders will pick three offensive linemen.
Washington has not picked three offensive linemen in a single draft since Scott McCloughan was running things in 2015. They also have not picked an offensive lineman higher than 51st overall since McCloughan left. Now Ron and the Martii will try to make up for years of neglect in a single draft. Don’t be surprised if there are some big reaches.
3. The Commanders will draft a versatile safety.
The first player the Commanders released after the season was Bobby McCain. McCain was the third starting safety for the Commanders in 2022, and played 971 defensive snaps, which was the second-most of any player on the team after Kendall Fuller (1,031 snaps). McCain is the only departed starter who has not been replaced prior to the draft by a player with a similar skillset. A move like that sends a strong signal.
The Commanders will draft a safety to fill the role who has versatility to cover the slot and drop into deep coverage as a free safety. Given my second prediction, that player will not be Brian Branch. It could be someone like Antonio Johnson, Quan Martin, Christopher Smith or Avery Young.
4. The Commanders will draft an edge rusher in the first three rounds.
Just about every year Washington makes at least one pick that leaves a segment of the fanbase scratching their heads. Sometimes they draft a player much earlier than expected, such as last year, when they drafted Phidarian Mathis in the second round. Sometimes they bypass an obvious BPA to make a more questionable pick, like in 2021, when they selected linebacker project Jamin Davis, leaving OT Christian Darrisaw on the board. Sometimes they make a pick at a position of strength, as they did in 2022, when they drafted RB Brian Robinson, despite having the league’s 6th leading rusher going into the third year of his rookie contract.
This year it will be another draft pick at a position of strength. None of the Commanders starters or primary backups on the edge is under contract in 2024. It seems unlikely that the team would extend both Montez Sweat and Chase Young after investing in long term extensions of Jon Allen and Daron Payne. And Ron Rivera has just announced that they will not act on Young’s fifth-year option until after the draft. The obvious conclusion is that they will attempt to find a solution in the draft. Some good options on Day 2 include Keion White, Isaiah Foskey, BJ Ojulari, Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Derick Hall, Adetomiwa Adebawore, Tuli Tuipuotu, and Byron Young.
I could have gone running back here, but that would be too easy, since Ron Rivera has said that they plan to add one in the draft. You’re probably thinking he means a third down back on Day 3 to replace J.D. McKissic. Could be.
5. The Commanders will not draft a linebacker.
Just as they make habit of drafting to positions of strength, Rivera’s Commanders have a history of not addressing positions of need in the draft. In 2022, despite having glaring needs, they failed to draft a linebacker and waited to the seventh round to add an offensive lineman. In 2020, with a quarterback lineup of Dwayne Haskins and Alex Smith, they opted for an edge rusher with the second overall pick, leaving two quarterbacks with consensus first-round ratings on the board. (In truth, it was not a popular opinion among fans at the time that QB was the top need in that draft).
In 2023, the Commanders have major needs across the entire offensive line, cornerback and nickel/FS, linebacker and tight end. They also have an as-yet unmet need for a starting QB, but they are committed to give Sam Howell the opportunity to earn the job this season, so there is close to zero chance they will aim for a starter this draft.
The position of need they will neglect in this draft will be linebacker. I was on the fence between linebacker and tight end. However, a lot of fans don’t consider tight end a major need, despite the primary starter turning 32 this season and not looking fully recovered from an ACL tear, and the unit as a whole ranking 29th in the league in receiving yardage last season.
When I thought about it more, I realized that failing to address linebacker two years in a row would be more painful to fans than missing out on a tight end, so that’s what I think they will do. I will be rooting against myself getting this one right.
6. Florida QB Anthony Richardson will be taken later than mock drafters expect.
Richardson has shot up draft boards after putting a show at the Combine. He has impressed many in the mock draft world with his cannon for an arm. As of this writing, mock drafts all over the internet have Richardson going in the top 10 and frequently in the top 5.
I am betting that NFL front offices will be more focussed on his ability as a quarterback than as a track star. Richardson has one year of starting experience in college, in which he only completed 53.8% of his passes and struggled with accuracy while throwing 17 touchdowns to 9 interceptions. Teams will be willing take a gamble on their ability to fix his accuracy issues, but I can’t believe that any GM who is not on drugs will be willing to do so with a top 10 pick.
Bottom line, Richardson will fall out of the top 10. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is still on the board in the 20’s, but as far as the prediction goes, I’m sticking with 11th or higher.
7. Four Quarterbacks will be selected in the first round.
Bryce Young and CJ Stroud are locks. Will Levis will hear his name called on opening night as well, although I wouldn’t touch him that early. The fourth QB picked in the first round will be either Anthony Richardson or Hendon Hooker. One of those two will slide to Day 2.
8. WR Cedric Tillman will outperform his draft position.
I love a challenge, so I have decided to make an annual tradition out of picking the least predictable player at the least predictable position. This year, identifying the later-round wide receiver who will outperform the first round prospects is fiendishly difficult. In fact, it is the perfect storm of difficulty because the top of the draft class is relatively weak, and the middle and later rounds are stacked with talent. In the right situation, any one of the following 15 players is a candidate to outperform their more highly rated peers: Josh Downs, Jaylin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman, Rashee Rice, Marvin Mims, Kayshon Boutte, Tyler Scott, Tank Dell, Jayden Reed, Jonathan Mingo, Elijah Higgins, Michael Wilson, Trey Palmer, Andre Iosivas, and Matt Landers.
I chose Tillman, because he has a great combination of size, athleticism, toughness and ball skills. I don’t think there’s any chance the Commanders will draft him though. If they did, they could have the best top 4-WR lineup in the NFL.
There is a good chance that several of these guys will outperform their classmates taken in the first round. I wouldn’t bet against Downs, Rice, Mims,Tank Dell, Mingo or Jayden Reed and I would be very happy if Elijah Higgins landed with the Commanders on Day 3. I suspect Eric Bieniemy would be too.
9. With the 79th pick the Colts will select DB Quan Martin, Illinois
Ever wonder what could have been if Ron Rivera had not traded Washington’s 2022 and 2023 third-round picks for a broken down journeyman QB who was about to be released? In the 2022 draft, the 53rd pick traded to the Colts could have been used to pick offensive linemen Ed Ingram, Luke Fortner, Nicholas Petit-Frere or Abraham Lucas. Or perhaps it could have been used to pick a linebacker like Chad Muma or Christian Harris.
The 2023 draft is relatively short of top-end talent, but it is absolutely packed on Day 2, which makes it particularly painful to speculate about what player the Commanders could have drafted if they had held onto their draft picks. For example, in this comprehensive roundup, nearly every player mocked to the Colts at 79 is on my Little Board.
The player who is likely to be available in that range, who I would least like to miss out on is versatile defensive back Quan Martin. Martin would be ideally suited to take over the vacant third starting safety position in JDR’s secondary, and would likely be a significant upgrade over last year’s starter, Bobby McCain. Also, we know the Commanders are interested in him, because they have hosted him for a Top 30 visit. Therefore, watching Martin go to the Colts would be the most appropriate punishment for Ron Rivera’s sins.
10. The first long snapper drafted will be Alex Ward, UCF, taken by the Seattle Seahawks at pick #198 in the sixth round.
That’s pretty specific. Am I crazy? This is what I’m thinking:
There are two NFL teams heading into the draft without a long snapper under contract, the LA Rams and the Seattle Seahawks. The Rams lost their long snapper Matt Orzeach in free agency to the Packers. While they need a snapper, the also have needs at punter, placekicker and punt and kick returners. I doubt any team would pick two specialists in the same class. If they do draft one, I am betting it will be Michigan kicker Jake Moody or Michigan State punter Bryce Baringer. Of course, there is always the wildcard, punter Michael Turk of Oklahoma who is, in fact, the nephew of Redskins Hall of Fame punter, Matt Turk as well as former NFL long snapper, Dan Turk who was also a Redskin from 1997 to 1999.
With the Rams ruled out, the Seahawks are the only other team with a need at long snapper. The Seahawks had not one, but two long snappers under contract in 2022 and let them both walk in free agency. That tells me they feel a pressing need for an upgrade at the position and will jump at the opportunity to draft the only long snapper invited to the NFL combine. Long snappers are usually drafted in the sixth round.
Thanks to Bill in Bangkok for the tip, if I get it right.
11. Bijan Robinson will become the first running back drafted in the top 10 since Saquon Barkley.
Bijan Robinson creates an interesting dilemma for NFL draft departments because he pushes the limit of the concept of position value. Running backs have become devalued with the rise of analytics in recent years, which has made it clear that play at their position has relatively low impact on game outcomes. As result, it has become established as conventional wisdom that running backs represent poor value in the first round.
The mistake that teams can make with Robinson is treating him as a just another running back.
WalterFootball’s Charlie Campbell reported that sources from a handful of teams consider Robinson to be a better prospect than recent running backs selected in the top 5, and project him to be an elite playmaker who could have impact comparable to Marshall Faulk. In the words of one NFL area scout:
“It’s rare that the best pure runner is also the best pure receiver; that’s what makes Bijan unique,” said an area scout. “He can legitimately go run routes like a true receiver. His skill set is more Marshall Faulk than any of those guys. Saquon can obviously win in the passing game, but he’s not out running routes like Reggie Bush (Bijan does). His ball skills are as good as the top receivers in this class.
There are other runners on his level or even a notch better, but you’re talking about the elite of every class, even on that alone. You can realistically run the offense through him because he’s in on every situation as your RB1, 1-2nd Down, 2-minute, 4-minute. He’s more advanced all around than [Reggie] Bush, Joe Mixon, Saquon, Zeke. McCaffrey would have been like that had he been 215 pounds like Bijan. You have to go back to Faulk to find an elite runner and receiver like Bijan.”
If your scouting department tells you that the only player they can compare a prospect to is Marshall Faulk, then it’s a mistake to think of him as a running back. He is an elite offensive weapon. Robinson’s production figures in college back that up. In three years playing at Texas, Robinson never ranked lower than 5th in the Big 12 in total yards from scrimmage. In 2022, he was 2nd in the NCAA in yards from scrimmage and 3rd in touchdowns. If you would consider drafting a wide receiver who put up 1,894 yards and 20 touchdowns last season with a top 10 pick, there is no reason not to draft Robinson.
Running back or not, some team will make a move to pick the best player in the draft before the tenth pick.
12. FB Hunter Luepke will be runner up in ORoY voting.
The last fullback to win an Offensive Rookie of the Year award was Boobie Clark, selected 302nd overall in the 12th round of the 1973 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. That was his actual name. I didn’t make it up. Boobie rushed for 988 yards and 8 touchdowns with 45 receptions for 347 yards in a 14 game rookie season. Prior to 1965, fullbacks won ORoY most seasons. It is well past due that a fullback wins the award.
Like Boobie before him, Luepke is likely to go in the later rounds of the draft, despite being a versatile playmaker, who can break tackles to gain chunk yardage on rushes between the tackles while also posing a mismatch threat receiving out of the backfield. He has what it takes to become the next featured fullback.
However, if Bijan Robinson has a rookie season like Marshall Faulk (AP ORoY, AP2, Pro Bowl), the only way for Luepke to beat him is to have a rookie season like fullback great Jim Brown (AP RoY, UPI RoY, AP MVP, UPI MVP-2, AP All Pro, Pro Bowl) and that’s just crazy talk. So, I’m thinking he comes in second.
Bold Draft Predictions Challenge
Now it’s your chance to show that you are the true savant of Hogs Haven. To enter the contest, simply make your predictions for the 2023 NFL draft in the comments. Each entrant is entitled to make up to 12 predictions. Unlike my bold predictions, however, eligible entries must be predictions that can be evaluated when the draft is over. Future predictions will not be graded. The winner will be the entrant who makes the most correct predictions. However, the judging panel reserves the right to disqualify predictions for being too easy. In case of a tie, the contestant who made the boldest predictions will be the winner.
The Bold Draft Predictions Winner will be entitled to a Luxury Olympic Entertainment and Tourism Package*. Simply turn up in Brisbane for the 2032 Olympic Games and you will be treated to a genuine Aussie barbecue including all the XXXX Gold stubbies (a.k.a Milton Mangos) you can drink, an Australian wildlife safari at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where you may encounter the elusive cassowary and Barack the platypus, and a round of drinks at the pub of your choice. And if that were not enough, I will even throw in a $20 go-card and drop you at the train station or a city cat stop with directions to the nearest Olympic venue.
*International airfare, car hire, uber fares, food, accommodation and Olympics tickets not included. BrisVegas Systems does not sponsor visa applications. BrisVegas Systems will not be liable for any loss or damages associated with the contest winner’s travel to and from Brisbane or attendance of the Olympic games. The contestant acknowledges that Australian wildlife and excessive consumption of alcohol are highly dangerous and accepts all risks and liabilities for such activities. BrisVegas Systems makes no representations or warranties regarding the fitness for consumption of barbecued prawns or sausages. Contestant agrees to indemnify BrisVegas Systems against all damages and claims and holds harmless BrisVegas Systems in case of spider bites, snake bites, stone fish stings, box jellyfish poisoning, Irukandji jellyfish stings, shark attack, crocodile encounters, platypus toxins, disembowelment by cassowary, pufferfish poisoning, road accidents involving kangaroos, stinging trees, Hendra virus infection, Ross River fever, paralysis ticks, skin cancer, alcohol poisoning, bar fights, bad meat pies or accidental drowning.
Acknowledgement: Edited by James Dorsett. Special thanks to Bill in Bangkok, KyleSmithforGM and James for prediction ideas.