Hogs Haven regulars will know that I have not been shy about expressing my frustration with the Commanders’ draft choices under Ron Rivera’s leadership. Since 2020, the team has done well at finding quality talent late in the draft. Where Ron and the Martys have struggled to get it right is with the crucial first and second-round picks.
Ron Rivera’s drafts in Washington have also demonstrated patterns of overemphasis and neglect. While the team has invested heavily in the defense, and particularly the defensive line, they have largely neglected the offensive line.
I know I am not alone in lamenting Ron Rivera’s unfortunate personnel choices. Many Hogs Haven regulars have their own personal pet peeve with one or another of Rivera’s more questionable calls. Revisionist histories of what we should have done with the second overall pick in 2020 have become a recurring theme in the comments sections ever since the Commanders failed to exercise Chase Young’s fifth-year option. Since this year’s draft, it seems that everyone has an opinion about whether the Commanders’ second-round pick could have been directed to a more pressing need than nickelback.
To indulge my fellow armchair GMs, I thought it would be fun to provide regular updates on the players who could be playing for our favorite team if the Commanders’ front office would have just taken our advice. Well, mainly my advice.
I have divided The Ones That Got Away into two categories: players who might have been better choices than some of the Commanders’ more questionable selections, and players we missed out on drafting because of the god-awful Carson Wentz trade.
Throughout the season, I will do occasional updates on the progress of the Ones That Got Away, in between writing the weekly Stats and Snaps column. The first edition will introduce the Commanders who might have been, and provide a recap of their NFL careers to date as of the end of the 2023 preseason.
Second Guessing Ron and the Martys’ Draft Choices
The Commanders have made some questionable calls with their early-round picks under Rivera. For each of the more egregious of those decisions, I have suggested an alternative who I thought would be a better option at the time of the draft, or who was more highly rated by professional draft analysts. Often, it was a combination of the two. The one exception to this approach is the first draft choice in the list, which is purely an exercise in 20/20 hindsight.
To get a handle on the consensus of draft analyst opinion, I have relied whenever possible on The Athletic’s annual Consensus Big Board, which is derived from the prospect rankings of more than 50 of the most prominent draft analysts. Where consensus rankings weren’t available, I resorted to Lance Zierlein’s draft projections on NFL.com.
2020 Draft, Round 1, Pick #2
Washington’s pick: DE Chase Young (consensus rank 1)
The interesting thing here, in light of all the second guessing and revisionist histories that have developed around this pick, is that the consensus ranking of 54 draft boards had Young as the top overall draft prospect. There was little disagreement at the time of the draft about whether Young was the best player in college football. The main topic of discussion on Hogs Haven in the lead up to the 2020 draft was whether it would be wiser to pick the top rated prosect in the draft or trade back to select a slightly lower rated prospect, reaping a bounty of additional draft picks in the process.
In hindsight, the real question about this pick should have been whether the top-rated player at any other position is actually the best player available when there is a quarterback with a high first-round grade on the board. That question was moot at the time of the 2020 draft, since the incoming head coach and head of football operations had inherited the owner’s hand-picked quarterback, and there was no way he was going to ruffle those feathers in his first months with the new team. It only emerged after the 2020 season that Snyder had picked Dwayne Haskins against the strenuous objection of his own football staff.
Unlike Rivera, here at Hogs Haven we are not bound by any such baggage, which gives us the freedom to question this decision until one of two best available QBs is inducted to Canton.
2021 Draft, Round 1, Pick #19
Washington’s pick: LB Jamin Davis (consensus rank 38)
Could have had: OT Christian Darrisaw (consensus rank 14)
Washington’s offensive line has declined throughout Rivera’s tenure as head coach and football Czar, in large part due to neglect in the draft. There was a huge amount of angst on Hogs Haven about the OL situation in the lead up to the 2023 draft, with some regulars calling for the team to spend its first three picks on the trenches. That wouldn’t really have been much help for this season, because offensive linemen typically take a year or two to adjust to the NFL. If people want to lament the situation at OL in 2023, this is the draft decision they should be focusing on.
2022 Draft, Round 2, Pick 47
Washington’s pick: DT Phidarian Mathis, (consensus rank 68)
Could have had: S Jaquan Brisker (consensus rank 38)
There is just something about Washington’s second-round picks, and that predates Ron Rivera. I really liked Mathis in this draft… in the third round! The player I was pounding the table for at this pick was safety Jaquan Brisker. Try to remember, this was before Darrick Forrest emerged as a quality starting safety in the 2022 training camp and preseason. At the time of this draft, Washington had not experienced stability or depth at the safety position since Sean Taylor’s tragic death in 2007. It seems odd from the present vantage point that just over a year ago, safety had been a glaring need for over a decade. Even so, the team felt the need to updgrade one of the three starting safety positions after the 2022 season.
2023 Draft, Round 2, Pick #47
Washington’s pick: S Jartavius “Quan” Martin (consensus rank 96)
For the second season in a row, Ron and the Martys picked a guy 47th overall that I really liked a full round later. This time, since they had missed out on the run of OTs in the first round. I was hoping they would make a move to fortify the trenches by picking the mauling OT/G from NDSU, who made a lot of the blocks that made Hunter Luepke a household name. A lot of HH regulars like John Michael Schmitz even better. Schmitz was generally regarded as the most pro-ready center in the draft. So, of course we went to the Giants. For those wondering, I did not include G O’Cyrus Torrence (consensus rank 29), whom a lot of fans liked at this pick, because I don’t see him as a fit for the EB’s zone-blocking scheme.
2023 Draft, Round 5, Pick #137
Washington’s pick: DE K.J. Henry (NFL.com grade 6.17, projection: rounds 4-5)
Could have had: FB Hunter Luepke (NFL.com grade 5.94, projection: round 5, Dallas UDFA signing)
Having finally addressed the lack of O-Line depth with the two preceding picks, Command central made what many saw as a sensible move with this pick by selecting DE KJ Henry as that insurance I mentioned earlier, in case Chase Young doesn’t make good in his contract year. The problem with that logic is that the chance that a DE who is still available in the fifth round will make a starter expendable in his first three NFL seasons is close to 0.
The player whom I had hoped they would take with this pick was the next generational talent at a position that has languished in obscurity for a little over a generation. I am of course talking about NDSU fullback, Hunter Luepke. I have predicted that, sooner or later, NFL teams will discover that the next generation pass-catching fullback is the key to exploiting the soft underbelly of nickel defenses. Hunter Luepke is poised to be the vanguard of that movement.
For those who are still unsure about the value of the fullback in today’s NFL, Luepke was also a better option at TE than any of the players who were still available this late in the draft.
You might ask, why pick him here, when he was still available after the draft? My answer to that is that we didn’t know that at the time. I would have been happy if the Commanders had taken Luepke with any of their final three picks, to keep him away from Dallas. I like the Commanders’ next two picks, so this is the one I’m going to second guess.
Picks We Just Threw Away
Like confetti to the wind, Ron and the Martys showered two Day 2 draft picks upon the Indianapolis Colts as if to toast them unloading a broke down former first-round QB that no one in the league seemed to want. It was enough to make you think that the Commanders had learned nothing from the Redskins’ trades for Alex Smith and Donovan McNabb. I suppose those were different teams.
I was less than fully enthusiastic about the trade deal at the time, and I can’t say it aged particularly well after the initial shock wore off. In hindsight, the player Washington acquired turned out to be worse than the scrappy underdog backup who was already on the roster. As a monument to stupidity, let us forever after celebrate the NFL careers of the players selected with those picks:
Round 2, Pick 42
Vikings pick, via Colts: CB Andrew Booth Jr. (consensus rank 22)
Indianapolis traded the 42nd pick acquired from Washington to Minnesota, along with a fourth-round selection (122nd overall) in exchange for 2nd, 3rd, and 6th round selections (53rd, 77th, 192nd). In a multiple pick swap, it is hard to apportion players to just one of the picks traded. But it’s fair to say that having the 42nd pick made it possible to acquire a second Day 2 pick. Therefore, I will also track the first two players Indianapolis acquired via the trade:
Round 2, Pick 53
Colts’ pick: WR Alec Pierce (consensus rank 77)
Round 3, Pick 73
Colts’ pick: TE Jelani Woods (consensus rank 98)
Round 3, Pick 79
Colts’ pick: WR Josh Downs (consensus rank 42)
Player Updates – 2023 Post-Preseason Recap
DE Chase Young vs QBs Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert
Tua Tagovailoa: Tua had a fairly rough rookie season and has shown steady growth in each of his first three NFL seasons. His playing time has been heavily impacted by injuries. When he has been healthy, he has emerged as one of the most the most talented young QBs in the league. In 2022, he played 13 games and completed 64.8% of passes for 3,548 yards and 25 TDs to just 8 interceptions. He led the league in percentage of passes for TDs (6.3%), yards per attempt (8.9), passer rating (105.5) and net yards per attempt (8.04). He ranked third in the NFL in total QBR (70.6).
Justin Herbert: Herbert was one of the rare Day 1 quality starters at QB. In his rookie season, he was voted AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, after completing 66.6% of passes for 4,336 yds (2nd all-time among rookie QBs) and 31 TDs (new rookie record) to 10 interceptions. He was nominated to the Pro Bowl in 2021 and finished 9th in AP MVP voting in 2022. In 2021, he ranked 3rd in total QBR (70.9) and has never ranked below 13th.
Chase Young. Young won AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. He failed to show obvious signs of growth as a pass rusher in his sophomore season, and his sack production actually went backward. Through eight complete games, he only recorded 1.5 sacks before tearing his ACL in game 9. He missed 22 games due to injury and had relatively little impact when he returned for the final three games of the 2022 season. The Commanders declined his fifth-year option. He enters the 2023 season hoping to prove that he belongs on an NFL starting roster.
LB Jamin Davis vs OT Christian Darrisaw
Jamin Davis: Davis had a rough rookie season, looking hesitant on the field, missing 11 tackles for a whopping 12.6% missed tackle rate, allowing an opposing passer rating of 107.1 in coverage and drawing the ire of the coaching staff. The tough love seemed to pay off, and Davis played very well in 2022. Unfortunately, Davis used his rookie paycheck to buy a McLaren and, despite Ron Rivera’s character checks and the vaunted military family background, is facing jail time this season after his second conviction for reckless driving.
Christian Darrisaw: Darrisaw started 10 games for Minnesota at left tackle in his rookie season and upped that to 14 games in 2022. In his rookie season PFF ranked Darrisaw 35th in overall blocking (56th pass blocking, 16th run blocking) among OTs who played more than 300 snaps. He was the fourth-ranked OT in the rookie class in overall blocking, behind Rashawn Slater, Penei Sewell and Washington’s Sam Cosmi. In 2022, Darrisaw took a huge step forward to rank second in overall blocking, third in run blocking, and 10th in pass blocking. The one player ahead of Darrisaw in overall blocking was former Redskin Trent Williams.
DT Phidarian Mathis vs S Jaquan Brisker
Phidarian Mathis: Mathis tore his meniscus on his third defensive snap and spent the rest of his rookie season on injured reserve. He was fully recovered to start training camp in 2023, but suffered a calf injury in the preseason game against Cleveland. He played 6 defensive snaps in preseason and recorded no stats.
Jaquan Brisker: Brisker started 15 games for Chicago and played 1,000 defensive snaps, aligning predominantly in the box and at free safety. He had 1 interception, 2 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 4 sacks, 104 combined tackles (73 solo) and 5 tackles for loss. PFF ranked him 46th in coverage among safeties with a minimum of 200 coverage snaps and 55th in run defense among safeties with a minimum of 200 defensive snaps.
CB/S Quan Martin vs G Cody Mauch and C John Michael Schmitz
Quan Martin: Martin played 88 defensive snaps in preseason, 69 snaps aligned at slot CB and 10 snaps aligned at box safety and no snaps at deep safety. In 56 coverage snaps he earned a coverage grade of 60.1, which ties him in 166th place among CBs with none other than Commanders’ first-round pick, Emmanuel Forbes. So much for PFF grades.
Quan ranked 64th out of 82 NFL rookie CBs in coverage snaps per reception this preseason. That places him toward the bottom of the rookie class in shutting down receivers in coverage. However, he was also one of only 11 rookie CBs to record an interception in preseason.
In run defense, Quan had 3 tackles, 1 assist and was credited with 0 missed tackles by PFF. His Run Defense grade of 62.3 ranked 45th among rookie CBs in preseason. Emmanuel Forbes ranked 5th with a grade of 81.2. The highest ranked rookie CB in run defense was former Ragin’ Cajun Eric Garror, who is just 5’9”, 175 lbs and happened to be the best draft-eligible return man in 2023 – since we are talking about ones that got away.
Cody Mauch: Mauch played 90 offensive snaps for Tampa in preseason. His overall blocking grade of 54.4 ranked 28th among 41 rookie guards. He ranked 30th in run blocking, with a grade of 52.2. He performed much better in pass blocking, ranking 11th with a grade of 74.6. The leading rookie guard in preseason was Raiders’ UDFA McClendon Curtis, out of Chattanooga, with an overall blocking grade of 87.9 (86.2 run, 80.9 pass).
John Michael Schmitz: Schmitz played 66 offensive snaps in preseason and ranked 12th among 19 rookie centers in overall blocking with a grade of 54.2. Washington’s Ricky Stromberg did much better, finishing in 6th place with an overall grade of 64.2. Sometimes the grass isn’t greener.
DE K.J. Henry vs FB Hunter Luepke
K.J. Henry: Henry played 79 defensive snaps in three preseason games. He recorded 7 pressures and 0 snaps as well as 2 tackles, 2 assists and 1 missed tackle. He ranked 68th in PFF pass rush grade among edge rushers with a minimum of 30 pass rush snaps.
Hunter Luepke: Luepke played 71 offensive snaps, aligning predominantly at HB, with 3 snaps at FB. He rushed for 67 yards, averaging 3.2 yards per attempt, which ranked 43rd among RB with a minimum of 15 attempts. He was targeted as a receiver 5 times and caught all 5 for 60 yds and 1 TD, with a long of 29 yds. He averaged 10.2 YAC/rec. He was only used as a blocker on 11 plays and ranked 25th in overall blocking among RBs with a minimum of 10 blocking snaps. He ranked 5th (19-way tie) among RBs in run blocking, and 23rd in pass blocking.
QB Carson Wentz vs CB Andrew Booth, WR Alec Pierce, TE Jelani Woods and WR/PR Josh Downs
Carson Wentz: The former second overall pick, moving on to his third NFL team in three years, was one of the more disappointing trade acquisitions in Dan Snyder’s 23 year reign of error. That is saying a lot. He started 7 games for the Commanders and completed 62.3% of his passes for 1,755 yards, 11 TDs and 9 interceptions. He also took 26 sacks (8.6% of dropbacks) for 159 yards, had 6 fumbles (1 lost), and had 54 bad throws (20% bad throws). He finished the season with a total QBR of 32.9, ranking 30th in the NFL.
That performance would have been bad enough to get the guy who hired him fired in any sane NFL franchise. To make matters even worse, the backup QB already on the roster before the trade, played better after Wentz was benched. All of the drama that ensued, between Wentz being benched, Taylor Heinicke’s winning streak, Heinicke being benched and Wentz’s return for the Cleveland game simply served to delay rookie Sam Howell’s development. As of this writing, Wentz has yet to sign with a team for the 2023 season. The draft picks given away to acquire him might just as well have been flushed down the toilet.
Andrew Booth: Booth’s playing time in his rookie season was heavily impacted by injuries. He only got on the field for 105 defensive snaps in six games and one start, in which he registered 12 solo tackles with no passes defended. In 2023, he played 90 defensive snaps in three preseason games, predominantly at boundary CB. He was targeted three times, allowing two receptions for 42 yards and a TD, resulting in an opposing passer rating of 149.3. His PFF coverage grade of 57.4 ranked 122nd among CBs who played a minimum of 30 coverage snaps. On a more positive note, he seems to have done a pretty good job of shutting his receivers down between targets. At 24.0 coverage snaps per reception, he was the 25th best lockdown CB in preseason. Washington’s Christian Holmes was 8th best at 35 snaps per target.
Alec Pierce: Pierce played 16 games in his rookie season and started 12. He had 41 receptions on 78 targets for 593 yards and 2 TDs. His receiving total ranked 53rd among NFL CBs and sixth in the 2022 draft class, just ahead of Washington’s first-round pick, Jahan Dotson.
Jelani Woods: Woods played 334 offensive snaps and 23 on special teams in 15 games with 2 starts as a rookie. He had 25 receptions on 40 targets (62.5% catch rate) for 312 yards and 3 TDs. He ranked 5th in receiving yardage among rookie TEs. He ranked 28th in PFF overall blocking grade (run 55th, pass 78th) among NFL TEs with a minimum of 100 blocking snaps. He ranked 5th in overall blocking among rookie TEs.
Josh Downs: Josh Downs is a player I really liked as a slot receiver and punt returner, but felt there was no way he would still be available to the Commanders at pick # 97, near the end of the third round. As luck would have it, he fell all the way to the Commanders’ original third-round pick, but unfortunately, Rivera had already traded it away for a trash QB. Downs was Sam Howell’s favorite target in his final season at UNC, catching 101 receptions for 1,335 yards and 8 TDs. In 2022, Downs returned 10 punts for 133 yards, which placed him 7th in the NCAA in yards per return.
In the 2023 preseason, Downs played 63 snaps at WR with 56 of those in the slot. He had four receptions (57.1% rec rate) for 49 yards. He also saw action on punt and kick returns, running back 5 kickoffs for 87 yards and 1 punt for 5 yards with 1 fair catch and 0 muffs.
How Will They Do in 2023?
I will be posting occasional updates on the ones that got away throughout the season to keep you informed about what could have been, if only we had a real GM. Feel free to comment on your own favorite player who should be a Commander in the comments.
Acknowledgement: Edited by James Dorsett
Which One that Got Away will we most regret in 2023?
This poll is closed
QB Justin Herbert, Chargers
OT Christian Darrisaw, Vikings
G Cody Mauch, Tampa
C John Michael Schmitz, Giants
WR/PR Josh Downs, Colts
FB Hunter Luepke, Dallas