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The 5 O’Clock Club: Seven Washington Commanders players who are “on the bubble”

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Emilee Fails

The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

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Looking back over the past few seasons at the initial 53-man rosters under Ron Rivera, I found that these are the numbers of guys he has generally started the season with, by position:

  • RB = 3 or 4
  • WR = 6 or 7
  • TE = 4
  • OL = 9
  • DB = 10 or 11
  • LB = 4 to 6
  • DL = 9

Below, I have listed one player from each of these position groups that I think is “on the bubble”, along with a thumbnail sketch of the player.

RB Jonathan Williams

Jonathan Williams was selected by the Bills in the 4th round of the 2017 draft. He bounced around several teams, and is currently on his 2nd stint with Washington, but he is probably a better running back than you would think, based on that brief summary.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Commanders Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In 2022, Williams’ average of 4.1 ypc was higher than either Antonio Gibson (3.7) or Brian Robinson (3.9), and defenses should have known he was getting the ball, as he got 37 carries while playing only 38 offensive rushing snaps.

Conversely, Williams had the lowest average yards per reception among Washington’s running backs, at 5.7. He ran a route on 85% of his pass-play snaps, but seemed to be a good pass protector, with a passpro grade of 81.6 from PFF — the highest among Commanders running backs.

Fourteen of Williams’ carries in 2022 came in the Week 18 win over Dallas when both Robinson and Gibson were inactive. Five of his 10 targets in ‘22 came against the Browns when Antonio Gibson wasn’t playing.

WR Mitchell Tinsley

Tinsley is an undrafted college free agent receiver. Here is an excerpt of a profile of Mitchell Tinsley from USA Today:

Tinsley played two years for the [Western Kentucky] Hilltoppers before transferring to Penn State for his last season of eligibility.

The questions around Tinsley was if he would be able to have that level of production at a higher level. He was able to showcase that by catching over 50 balls and an average of over 11 yards per catch.

The best player comparison for Mitchell Tinsley is Hunter Renfrow of the Las Vegas Raiders. Renfrow is not an overly athletic wide receiver, but he used his crisp route running and elite hands to become a prominent third down option in the NFL. That could be the role for Tinsley if he’s able to continuously improve like he has since he’s been a college football player.

The specialization of certain roles has become more prominent in the NFL and Renfrow is a good example. Renfrow isn’t expected to beat a secondary player with speed, he’s asked to get open in important moments which is has proven he can do. Tinsley has shown the ability to do that at Penn State and Western Kentucky.

NFL: Commanders hold their first Rookie Mini Camp Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Tinsley signed with the Commanders as an undrafted free agent. He seems unlikely to break into the team’s 53-man roster to start the season, but appears to be a very strong candidate for the practice squad, where he can develop and maybe get a shot at the 53-man roster as a late-season injury replacement. On a team that is loaded with speed on the outside, a possession receiver like Tinsley might have a role sooner rather than later.

Here’s a summary from Penn State fans site, Black Shoe Diaries:

Tinsley does not have the top-notch height and speed that would make him a high draft pick, but he does about everything else well when he steps on the field. Tinsley is a slippery passcatcher who knows how to get open and has excellent hands. He could find a long NFL career as a valuable possession receiver who knows how to move the chains and be a dependable target. He has great tracking skills with the ball in the air, and does well in traffic. Tinsley is also a tenacious blocker, helping spring several long touchdown runs by maintaining his blocks through the whistle. Considering he only started playing football during his senior year of high school, he still has room to grow as a player.

TE Curtis Hodges

Curtis Hodges was one of two UDFA tight ends to join the Commanders last offseason, and like nearly everyone in the tight end room not named John Bates, Hodges had a season marred by injury.

Hodges was healthy for only the first preseason game, in which he played 49 offensive snaps. He was targeted 5 times, catching 3 balls for 11 yards.

After that initial NFL performance, Hodges struggled with a thigh injury, and was put onto IR prior to Week 1. He has yet to appear in a regular season game.

Here’s what our own KS4GM wrote about Hodges:

An undrafted free agent out of Arizona State, Hodges is an imposing physical specimen, and the tallest of this group of gigantic men. He played most of his time at ASU as a wide receiver, and 2021 was his first full season as a tight end. He performed well enough to be named honorable mention All-PAC 12, with 20 receptions for 374 yards and 2 TDs.

He had a number of nagging injuries during his time in college, and projects as a potential Joker TE in the pros. [T]his will be an enormous offseason for him.

NFL: Washington Commanders Rookie Minicamp Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Commanders initially seemed all but certain to enter the 2023 season with Logan Thomas, John Bates, Cole Turner and Armani Rogers as their tight end group, but when Rogers injured his Achilles tendon in OTAs this month, that plan went sideways.

The competition for the 4th and likely final TE spot on the roster seems to be between Hodges and the recently signed free agent from Minnesota, Brandon Dillon.

OL Tyler Larsen

The Commanders have 3 centers on the roster: Nick Gates, Tyler Larsen, and rookie Ricky Stromberg. All three should be capable of playing both center and guard. While Larsen has less than 2 dozen snaps at guard in Washington, per PFF, he lined up at RG for 294 snaps in 2018 when he played for Ron Rivera in Carolina.

Larsen started 8 games last season for the Commanders; the team had a 6-1-1 record in those games, with the sole defeat being a 20-17 loss to the Vikings that turned on a 4th quarter interception thrown by Taylor Heinicke. Washington was also 2-1 in Larsen’s 3 starts in 2021, giving him an overall record of 8-2-1 as Washington’s starting center.

If the team goes into the season with Saahdiq Charles, Chris Paul and Sam Cosmi as their top 3 guards (and with Andrew Wylie also able to play the position), then it seems likely that they will go with 4 tackles (Leno, Wylie, Lucas and the rookie Braeden Daniels).

NFL: Washington Commanders at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

If the team keeps 9 offensive linemen, as they have in previous seasons under Ron Rivera, then it seems as if there will be room for only two centers, or else the coaches may have to risk losing the 4th round pick Daniels or veteran swing tackle Lucas, neither of which sounds appealing to a team with limited OL depth. It’s hard to imagine the team not keeping 3rd round pick Ricky Stromberg on the roster, which seems to leave Larsen as the man on the bubble.

Larsen has been active for at least 9 games in each of the past 6 seasons — all of them with either Carolina or Washington. Given how valuable Larsen has been for Washington in each of the past two seasons, starting 11 games and playing 720 offensive snaps, I imagine it would be a difficult decision for Rivera to risk losing Larsen by trying to put him on the practice squad; however, barring a preseason injury to someone on the OL, there will likely need to be at least one tough decision made at the end of preseason.

DB Rachad Wildgoose

The Commanders use a lot of 3-safety looks, meaning that the team has 5 or 6 DBs on the field for most of its defensive snaps. I assume that both of the drafted DBs (Forbes & Martin) are roster locks, along with safeties Curl, Forrest, Butler and Reaves. Add in Kendall Fuller and Ben St-Juste, and that adds up to 8 guys. The team will keep 10 or 11, so there are two or three spots likely up for grabs during training camp.

Christian Holmes was drafted by Ron Rivera in the 7th round last year, and showed some flashes in limited action last season. Troy Apke was selected by Washington in the 4th round of the 2018 draft, and has stuck to the roster primarily as a special teams ace, though he was active for only 2 games for Washington last season. Danny Johnson put an exclamation point on his 2022 season by earning coverage grades of 85.8, 90.6, and 70.0 in Weeks 15, 17, and 18 last season, playing between 56 and 67 defensive snaps in each of those late season games.

Rachad Wildgoose was picked by the Bills in the 6th round of the 2021 draft, and ended up on the team’s practice squad. The Jets grabbed him late in the ‘21 season, and he played 5 games for NY, but was released prior to the start of the ‘22 season.

Washington claimed Wildgoose off of waivers, and he was active for 15 games, getting defensive snaps in 6 of them, with 3 starts. Wildgoose played a lot from Weeks 3 to 8, lining up almost exclusively as the slot defender.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

After Week 8, Jack Del Rio seemed to lean towards using other players like Bobby McCain in the slot, and Wildgoose was relegated to backup and limited special teams duty for the second half of the season. McCain is gone now, but Quan Martin appears to be intended as the primary replacement at the nickel defender spot. Wildgoose will likely have to beat out guys like Holmes and Apke, not to mention some of the other guys sitting deep on the positional depth chart like Tariq Castro-Fields, which means he may have to prove his ability to to backup the boundary corner position as well as the slot if he wants to keep his roster spot.

LB De’Jon ‘Scoota’ Harris

The Commanders will almost certainly have Jamin Davis, Cody Barton, David Mayo and Khaleke Hudson on the initial 53-man roster, assuming they are all healthy. In previous seasons, Ron Rivera has started the season with as few as 4 and as many as 6 linebackers. If he opts for more than 4, the two guys who seem to be in competition for the 5th spot are Milo Eifler and Scoota Harris. Both entered the NFL as undrafted college free agents, Harris in 2020 and Eifler in 2021.

Washington Commanders v Houston Texans Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

This looks to be a battle of special teamers. Over the past two seasons (‘21 & ‘22) Eifler has been active for 13 games while Harris has been active for 10. Neither has played more than 15 defensive snaps for Washington; Harris played 210 special teams snaps, while Eifler played 259.

In 2022, Milo Eifler made the initial 53-man roster, while Harris didn’t. Harris played almost exclusively in Weeks 5, 9, 10 & 11 last year, while Eifler spent 6 games on injured reserve.

DL Abdullah Anderson

Abdullah Anderson has been in the NFL since 2018. He spent two seasons with the Bears, but didn’t appear in a game as a rookie. In the following three seasons (‘19-’21) he played 106, 10, and 49 defensive snaps, respectively, for the Bears, Vikings and Packers as he played for three different NFC North teams.

Last year, Anderson signed with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFC South, and his career took an upward turn in its trajectory.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Ron Rivera typically enters the season with 9 defensive linemen. Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat and Chase Young are the unquestioned starters. James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill seem to be the two primary backups at DE. John Ridgeway played well last season, and probably did enough to put him on the ‘most likely’ list for making the ‘23 roster as a backup DT.

That would leave two spots open. It seems likely that the team will want to put situational pass rusher and 5th round draft pick, KJ Henry on the roster. If they do, then that leaves just one spot open.

If last year’s 2nd round pick, Phil Mathis, is healthy enough to play Week 1, he would unquestionably be one of those guys, but he’s coming back from a serious injury and may not be ready.

If Mathis isn’t ready, or if the team keeps an extra defensive lineman, then the three guys who appear to be competing for that final roster spot are Efe Obada, Benning Potoa’e, and Abdullah Anderson. Obada has bounced around the league since 2016, but spent the entire 2022 season with the Commanders after signing with them as a veteran free agent. Potoa’e entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2020 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but signed with Washington’s practice squad in mid-September last year.

Potoa’e appeared in just 2 games for the Commanders last season.

Obada played in all 17 games for Washington, with 390 defensive snaps and 203 special teams snaps.

In Atlanta, Anderson played 433 defensive snaps and 69 special teams snaps, as he was active for 16 games, 8 of which he started. The 27-year-old had 40 tackles, 2 TFLs, a QB hit, and one pass defended in ‘22.


Which of these ‘bubble’ players is most likely to be on the 53-man roster for the Week 1 game against the Cardinals?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    RB Jonathan Williams
    (263 votes)
  • 6%
    WR Mitchell Tinsley
    (132 votes)
  • 22%
    TE Curtis Hodges
    (455 votes)
  • 44%
    OL Tyler Larsen
    (892 votes)
  • 7%
    DB Rachad Wildgoose
    (150 votes)
  • 2%
    LB De’Jon ‘Scoota’ Harris
    (47 votes)
  • 3%
    DL Abdullah Anderson
    (73 votes)
2012 votes total Vote Now


Which of these ‘bubble’ players is least likely to ever play a/another game in a burgundy & gold Washington uniform?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    RB Jonathan Williams
    (94 votes)
  • 19%
    WR Mitchell Tinsley
    (282 votes)
  • 3%
    TE Curtis Hodges
    (53 votes)
  • 2%
    OL Tyler Larsen
    (38 votes)
  • 13%
    DB Rachad Wildgoose
    (192 votes)
  • 24%
    LB De’Jon ‘Scoota’ Harris
    (342 votes)
  • 29%
    DL Abdullah Anderson
    (416 votes)
1417 votes total Vote Now