As the excitement of the draft gives way to the slow simmer of UDFA signings, it is time to revisit my annual Bold Draft Predictions to see how I did.
Last year one commenter pointed out that a lot of my predictions weren’t actually that bold. Never one to shy from a challenge, this year I decided to up my game and really put myself out there. I realized I might not get many right, but no one can say I punted on fourth and seven from the 40.
2023 Draft Bold Predictions
The Commanders first-round pick will be offensive tackle Darnell Wright
On the eve of the 2023 draft, one thing seemed clear to all observers. The Commanders would use their first-round pick on an offensive tackle or cornerback if they didn’t trade out of the 16th spot. Two thirds of that decision was made for them when the top four OT prospects, including Wright, were drafted before their pick with nobody calling up to make trade offers. The Commanders stayed at 16 and selected the highest rated CB remaining on their board, Emmanuel Forbes of Mississippi State.
The Commanders will pick three offensive linemen
The Commanders entered the draft with eight picks at their disposal. I was certain that Ron Rivera and colleagues would use three of them, in an effort to make up for their past neglect of the offensive line, which came back to bite them in a major way during the 2022 season. They were well on track to making this prediction a reality after taking two offensive linemen with their first four picks.
Command central then threw a curveball by trading their second sixth-round pick to the Bills to move up to pick #137 in the fifth round to select Clemson edge rusher KJ Henry. Their remaining picks were clearly earmarked for the running back that Rivera had indicated they would draft and the obligatory edge rusher in the seventh round, without which no Ron Rivera draft is complete. That move left no more picks to add another offensive lineman.
Would the Commanders have added a third offensive lineman if they had not done the trade? There is no doubt in my mind.
The Commanders will draft a versatile safety
I predicted that the Commanders would draft a versatile safety with the ability to cover the slot and drop into deep coverage to fill the third starting safety role, which was vacated when Bobby McCain was released immediately after the season. Furthermore, I suggested the player “could be someone like Antonio Johnson, Quan Martin, Christopher Smith or Avery Young.”
The Commanders obliged by selecting Quan Martin at pick #47.
The Commanders will draft an edge rusher in the first three rounds
Uncharacteristically, I hit a bit of a writer’s block with the predictions this year, and James Dorsett suggested I make predictions on a position of strength the Commanders will use a pick on and a position of need that will go unaddressed. That turned out to be a great suggestion.
For the position of strength, I chose edge rusher. This one is actually a bit of a cheat. On paper, with the usual optimistic assumptions, the team appears to be set at edge rusher this season, with Montez Sweat and Chase Young as the starters, backed up by James Smith-Williams, Efe Obada, Casey Toohill, William Bradley-King and, at the time of the prediction, Shaka Toney. In reality, the Commanders face an impending shortage of talent at the position, since none of those players is on contract through 2024 and it would be cap-crippling to extend both starters.
I did anticipate the team’s draft priority and correctly predicted that they would draft an edge rusher. However, I appear to have underestimated the magnitude of the perceived need, since they actually drafted two: Clemson’s KJ Henry in the fifth round and Ragin’ Cajun Andre Jones in the seventh. Where I let myself down was by specifying the round.
I also opted to go bold with this prediction and call an edge rusher, instead of playing it safe and calling running back, which would have been too easy.
Close, but incorrect
The Commanders will not draft a linebacker
The second of James’ suggestions was to predict which position of need would go unaddressed. I went with linebacker because failing to address that need two years in a row would be more painful to fans than failing to draft a tight end, which a lot of fans don’t even recognize as a need.
Betting on Ron Rivera to frustrate fans is like taking candy from a baby. Like clockwork, the Commanders failed to draft a linebacker for the second year in a row.
We could get into semantics here about what constitutes a linebacker. The prediction was directed to the outstanding need for another off-ball linebacker. Seventh-round pick, Andre Jones, was listed in alternative years at Louisiana as a linebacker and defensive lineman. He is an edge rusher and was presumably drafted to fill the same role, which is designated as a DE in the Commanders’ defense. If he had gone to team with a three-man defensive front, he would play outside linebacker.
Florida QB Anthony Richardson will be taken later than mock drafters expect.
Everybody and their dog mocked Anthony Richardson to the Colts 4th overall and that’s exactly what happened. I was counting on sanity to prevail. Thinking about that in hindsight, when is that ever a winning bet? Richardson is perhaps the greatest athlete to ever run at the scouting combine with “QB” on his chest. He is also a less developed passer than a lot of guys who went rounds later and suffers from accuracy issues. He went to one of the two teams that bet on Carson Wentz to solve their quarterback issue after the Eagles were done with him.
My lesson from this failure is that there’s always at least one in every crowd. Good luck with it, Indy.
Four quarterbacks will be selected in the first round
With this prediction, I was betting against the prevailing wisdom that five QBs would be selected in the first round: Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Will Levis, Anthony Richardson and Hendon Hooker. As it turned out, for the second year in a row, I overestimated the extent to which the league has gone crazy for quarterbacks.
After the Colts’ sudden rush of blood to the head with Anthony Richardson, sanity prevailed for the remainder of the first round, resulting in only three QBs being taken. If I had used the DraftBot’s big board to make the prediction, I would have bet that the QB rush would have stopped after Stroud. It had Will Levis at the end of the second round, Hooker in the third and Richardson in the fourth after a stack of players it would likely have taken first. In the DrafBot’s estimation, only Indianapolis completely lost the plot this year.
WR Cedric Tillman will outperform his draft position
Starting last year, I have set myself an annual challenge of predicting the WR who will most outperform his draft status. Wide receiver is the most difficult position to project to the NFL and there is at least one of these guys in every draft class.
This year, I predicted it would be Cedric Tillman, a big, physical receiver who comps to Michael Pittman, but was only projected to the third round due to uneven production in college. Tillman was the 65th ranked prospect in The Athletic’s consensus draft board, derived from over 80 draft “expert” projections. That was a reasonably accurate projection, as he was picked 74th overall by the Cleveland Browns, making him the 10th WR selected. I expect him to be the 5th most productive receiver in the rookie class, if not better.
This is a deep class of WRs after the first round, containing many candidates for this honor, including Josh Downs, Rashee Rice, Elijah Higgins, Tank Del, Jonathan Mingo, Marvin Mims and Jayden Reed, among others. Note that I have given myself an out by not including any superlatives in the wording of the prediction.
With the 79th pick the Colts will select DB Quan Martin, Illinois
I am very happy to have got this prediction wrong. Martin was one of my favorite prospects for the Commanders, and was projected to go in the third round. So I figured he was bound to be the player the Colts selected with the third round pick that Ron Rivera traded for Carson Wentz. Not that I have a persecution complex involving this front office, or anything.
As it turns out, the Commanders liked Quan even more than I did, and took him in the second round. The Colts used the 79th pick to select another player I would have loved to see in a Commanders’ uniform, UNC receiver Josh Downs, Sam Howell’s favorite target in college and a dynamic punt returner. I didn’t think there would be any chance that the Commanders would use an early pick on a wide receiver, so this hurts a lot less than if they had taken Quan with the pick Ron gave them.
Long snapper Alex Ward, UCF, will be drafted by the Seattle Seahawks at pick #198 in the sixth round of the 2023 draft
I was set up.
No long snappers were selected in the 2023 draft, because… who uses a draft pick on a long snapper? Only eight long snappers have been drafted since 2015, for good reason. It is a position that most teams choose to fill in free agency. This year, there were two teams with a need at long snapper, the Seahawks and the Rams. Both of them wisely chose to wait until after the draft to have their pick of this year’s college crop, reserving their draft capital for positions that impact game outcomes through positive play.
The Rams signed Ward. The Seahawks signed Patrick Mannelly Award winning long snapper, Chris Stoll from Penn State.
I was led down the garden path by a man who claims to this day that Ron Rivera pulled off the coup of the 2021 draft when Washington became the first teamever to trade up in the draft for a long snapper. Always consider your sources, dear readers.
Bijan Robinson will become the first running back drafted in the top 10 since Saquon Barkley
Bijan was selected 8th overall by Kyle Smith’s team, the Altanta Falcons, who are boldly unafraid of committing draft heresy in pursuit of dynamic playmakers on offense.
With my victory lap complete, I would now like to add a new prediction: Barring injury, this move will look brilliant by the end of the 2023 season.
FB Hunter Luepke will be runner up in ORoY voting
Sadly, the fullback position has become so devalued in today’s NFL that the greatest fullback prospect in over a decade had to wait a full ten seconds after the draft to hear his phone ring. The man on the other end of the line was none other than Jerry Jones.
I hate to imagine what the addition of this versatile talent to the Cowboys’ offense will mean for Washington over the next decade. The combination of Luepke lead blocking for 6th round pick Deuce Vaugh, while providing a power rushing alternative to Tony Pollard, and a mismatch receiving option in play action, is more than my brain can withstand, particularly with the Commanders neglecting their linebacking corps for the second year in a row.
What is worse, the Commanders could have spared themselves this fate by selecting Luepke in the sixth round, in place of one-trick pony Chris Rodriguez. Actually, now that I have had a chance to watch Rodriguez’ film clips, that pick is growing on me.
Incomplete, but well on track
Out of 12 predictions, I got three correct and seven incorrect as of this writing. Two will remain to be determined until the end of the 2023 season, but I expect to have a reasonable sense that both are on track to proving correct before then. Also, three of my incorrect predictions were near misses.
Three out twelve is not too shabby considering my death-or-glory approach to prognostication this year. It is well better than Washington’s hit rate with second-round draft picks over the past decade.
Acknowledgement: Edited by James Dorsett.
Which new Commander is most likely to displace someone on the current roster by the end of the season?
This poll is closed
Ricky Stromberg gets the start at center
Braeden Daniels takes Andrew Norwell’s job
K.J. Henry makes Chase Young expendable
Chris Rodriguez starts over Brian Robinson
Kaz Allen replaces Dax Milne as primary punt returner