The Commanders roster has undergone a lot of transformation since the draft ended, and there have been several changes to the roster since the last update I published on 26 July, ahead of the start of training camp.
UPDATED DEPTH CHART
The numbers that appear beside some players’ names are 2023 cap hits per Over the Cap.
Please note that assigned positions and color coding are my own personal opinions. They do not necessarily represent the thinking of Washington’s coaches or front office, nor are they necessarily consistent with fan consensus. This chart represents my interpretation, and may not reflect the thoughts of other writers on Hogs Haven. Finally, when it comes to backup players, I don’t put much effort into making sure that they are on the right or left or behind the specific player that they backup. I mostly just try to fit everyone on the chart efficiently.
The Commanders currently have 90 active players under contract: 44 on offense, 41 on defense, and 5 specialists.
Two players have been released since the start of camp. The first was UDFA safety Xavier Henderson, and the second was a 6th-year offensive guard who had played 6 NFL games, Keaton Sutherland. Sutherland was claimed off waivers by the Texans.
Another three players were moved to injured reserve. Going on IR at this point in the offseason means that these players cannot be active in 2023. The three players whose ‘23 season has already been ended by injury are:
- David Bada, the defensive tackle from Germany who came to Washington via the International Player Pathway program in 2020. After toiling away as a practice squad player for nearly three full seasons, Bada was activated for two games near the end of the ‘22 season. A torn tricep now hits the ‘pause’ button on the career of the 28-year-old.
- Curtis Brooks, who had actually been signed earlier this week to replace the injured Bada on the 90-man roster. Brooks was a Colts 6th round pick last year. He spent time on the practice squads of the Colts and Titans, and now will spend the next year trying to get ready to break into an NFL roster in 2024.
- Troy Apke, the 6th-year defensive back who sometimes feels as if he’s been on the roster forever. While never very popular with the Washington fan base for his limited skills as a defensive player, his special teams contributions have kept Apke on the team year in and year out since being selected by the Redskins in the 4th round of the 2018 draft.
While that’s five players out the door since the start of camp, since Brooks was signed to replace Bada, the net result was actually 4 open roster spots that needed to be filled.
Players added to the roster
Punter Colby Wadman
The most recent player signed by the Commanders, Colby Wadman, is not any kind of competition for Tress Way; instead, he is here because Way has a bit of “tightness in his lower back”. The plan unveiled by head coach Ron Rivera on Tuesday is that Wadman will handle the punting duties for the time being, while Tress Way will continue to work with the FG/PAT unit as the holder to provide continuity for the kickers, Joey Slye and Michael Badgley, who are in a competition.
By the way, both kickers talked to the media on Monday, and — to my eye, at least — neither looked particularly happy. The reports I’ve been hearing (primarily via podcasts) indicate that Joey Slye seems to be slightly ahead of Badgley, and that if the competition were to result in a ‘tie’, the job would go to the incumbent, Slye. In other words, Badgley needs to clearly out-kick Slye to win the job, but his lack of leg strength is a genuine limitation. Slye, in the meantime, needs to fix whatever his issue is with extra points attempts. He was 24 of 28 last season (86%) and just 106 of 121 for his career (88%).
CB Jace Whittaker
Whittaker entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2020 and spent three seasons with the Cardinals, mostly on and off the practice squad, but he has been active for 12 games, including 6 games last season (with 4 starts). In those six 2022 games, he registered 3 passes defended and 24 tackles.
Of his 281 defensive snaps in 2022, per PFF, he lined up 108 times in the slot or in the box, and 170 times at boundary corner or free safety. He also has 107 career special teams snaps. Whittaker looks like a guy who will mainly be competing for a practice squad spot.
Safety Joshua Kalu
Kalu was undrafted out of Nebraska in 2018, and spent his first three NFL seasons with the Titans before an unfortunate 2021 season. In ‘21, Kalu signed with the Giants, but suffered a torn pec in the first preseason game and was put on season-ending IR.
Last season, Kalu returned to the Titans and was active for 16 games, with 5 starts, playing nearly 500 defensive snaps and over 200 special teams snaps. Outside of what looks like a rough outing in Week 4, Kalu graded surprisingly well with PFF for a guy who is an August free agent.
Kalu also has the Holy Grail of ‘positional flexiblity’. Per PFF, in his 494 defensive snaps last season, he lined up 207 times as the slot defender, 193 times as the free safety, and 84 times in the box.
Honestly, a few years ago, I would have thought Kalu had a decent chance of making the Washington roster as a backup/special teams player, but the team is currently so deep at defensive back, I think Kalu is going to end up as a practice squad player who will be waiting for injury to another player to open up a roster spot for him during the regular season.
Running back Derrick Gore
Of the four guys signed (and still healthy) since the start of camp, the one I think that has the best chance of making the roster this season is Derrick Gore.
Comparing Gore, who played for Eric Bieniemy in Kansas City, with two returning backs from the Commanders’ 2022 roster — Jaret Patterson and Jonathan Williams — shows that, looking at the best career season for each of them, they are statistically very similar.
It is unlikely that any of these three guys makes the Week 1 roster; after all, the Commanders already have three roster spots seemingly solidified with Brian Robinson, Antonio Gibson, and 6th round draft pick Chris Rodriguez. If the team carries a 4th, it could be fullback/TE Alex Armah.
There is no real chance that all three of these guys (Patterson, Williams and Gore) end up on the Commanders roster, so the loser(s) of the competition will likely be looking for a new team in September. There’s a good chance that, at some point in the season, the Commanders will need to activate one or more running backs from the PS due to injury, be it major or minor, to one of the ball carriers, so this is an important camp battle.
While Patterson has spent his entire pro career in Washington, and Williams has been active for 18 games over 2 seasons with the Football Team/Commanders, Gore spent the 2021 season with the Commanders’ new offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy. I think this is going to be a tough 3-way competition in a deep running back room to determine who stays in Washington to continue his NFL career, and who will be sent packing.
A couple of notes about this iteration of the depth chart
In my earlier depth charts this season, I had Ben St-Juste listed as a backup boundary corner. This was based on my own feeling that he had excelled on the boundary last season, and that Quan Martin had been drafted to replace Bobby McCain as the primary free safety/slot defender.
In this newest depth chart, I have moved St-Juste to the starting slot defender role, dropping Martin into the backup slot. The timing might indicate that I was influenced by the team’s ‘unofficial depth chart’ released earlier this week. That’s not the case.
I made the change based on Ron Rivera’s extensive comments at his press conference early this week.
You know, sometimes guys going into the slot, they’re not as willing. They play a little more tight, a little more hesitant, a little more safe. And with Benjamin, man, you see the confidence with which he plays. And it’s not where he is just taking a shot or anything, it’s just that he’s really in line, in tune with the techniques and the guys that he’s working with around him.
Last year, he was struggling obviously. I think this year he came in and worked with our strength and conditioning staff [and] has worked with our training staff. He’s been working on formulating...workout plans, warmup plans, [and] recovery plans just to keep himself in the best position health-wise to stay on the field — and that’s important. Again, I think it’s also part of...becoming a veteran and understanding that the guys that play a long time in this league have those kinds of plans.
We’ll see what happens during preseason, but these comments convinced me that the coaching staff has returned to last year’s plan of playing St-Juste as an inside defender quite a lot, though I expect a lot of positional movement and disguise to be a feature of the ‘23 defense. I don’t imagine for a moment that he’ll play exclusively in the slot, or that other DBs won’t spend a lot of time as the nickel or big nickel defender.
OL Mason Brooks
Mason Brooks was signed as a ‘priority’ undrafted college free agent immediately after the draft, meaning that he was given significant guaranteed money to sign with the Commanders. There have been some positive Twitter reports about him out of camp, putting him into contention for the team’s Mason-Brennan award as the most-hyped player of the offseason/preseason.
Because the team website lists him as an offensive tackle, I had previously listed him at that position on the depth chart. Based partly on camp reports and partly on where he seems most likely to break into the roster, I have moved him to the backup RG position on this iteration of the depth chart.
At this point, I think Mason Brooks is a dark horse candidate to make the Week 1 roster, but if, for example, the calf injury to Saahdiq Charles lingers, there may be a path to a roster spot for Brooks.
CB Danny Johnson
In earlier versions of the depth chart this offseason, I had Danny Johnson listed as a backup at the slot defender position (and I still think he’ll get snaps there this season). However, with my decision to move St-Juste into the slot position on the depth chart, along with the signings of Whittaker and Kalu, both of whom are primarily slot defenders, I have moved Johnson into a backup role as a boundary defender, which is actually where he played most of his 2022 defensive snaps anyway.
I started this offseason with Chris Paul ahead of Saahdiq Charles. I changed that when it became obvious that the coaches were giving Charles the bulk of the first-team snaps at the position. With Charles’ lingering calf issue this week, I have swapped them back, expecting that, at least for the Browns game, Paul is the likely starter.
The problem for Saahdiq Charles in his pro career hasn’t been a lack of talent, but an inability to stay healthy and available. It’s easy to get the feeling that this is his final opportunity to change that narrative; however, don’t be shocked if he ends up back in the starter slot in the next iteration of the depth chart. I don’t think the LG position is going to be resolved until it’s time for roster cutdowns following the third and final preseason game.
I think there are a lot of questions at the WR position that won’t be answered until we see what happens in the preseason games. One factor that will impact the roster construction will be the decision on the punt returner.
In my last depth chart, I had Marcus Kemp ahead of the then-freshly signed Byron Pringle. As I’ve learned more about Pringle and followed reports out of camp, I’ve become increasingly convinced that Pringle is the favorite to earn the spot as the 5th receiver behind McLaurin, Dotson, Samuel and Dyami Brown, so I’ve put him ahead of Kemp on this iteration of the depth chart. That’s very tentative; I think there are as many as 9 guys in legitimate competition for the 5th (and possibly 6th) spots on the WR unit. Honestly, with so many other position groups in need of depth on the offense, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the team go into the season with just 5 WRs, especially with Antonio Gibson able to line up as a receiver.