During a news conference Thursday, Rivera and General Manager Martin Mayhew were confident but tight-lipped about their plans for the No. 16 pick in a draft analysts have described as deep. So far this offseason, the team has addressed a few holes in free agency and given itself flexibility.
A total of 261 players will be selected in the 2023 NFL draft, which starts at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday in Kansas City (Round 1), continues at 7 p.m. Friday (Rounds 2 and 3) and concludes with Rounds 4 through 7 starting at noon Saturday. Here’s everything you need to know as the Commanders look to upgrade their roster.
How many picks do the Commanders have?
Washington has eight picks, including two compensatory selections — one in the third round for its loss of guard Brandon Scherff in free agency last year, and another in the sixth for losing defensive tackle Tim Settle.
The Commanders had an additional third-round pick (79th), but it went to the Indianapolis Colts as part of the trade for Carson Wentz last year.
These eight picks could change and even grow should the Commanders trade during the draft.
- Round 1, pick 16
- Round 2, pick 47
- Round 3, pick 97 (compensatory)
- Round 4, pick 118
- Round 5, pick 150
- Round 6, pick 193
- Round 6, pick 215 (compensatory)
- Round 7, pick 233
What’s the word on this year’s draft?
The biggest difference from last year is the blue-chip quarterbacks. While there’s no clear-cut No. 1 pick, there are four or five passers who could go in the first round. In 2022, it was just one: Kenny Pickett to Pittsburgh at No. 20.
Analysts have described this draft as deep, in part because there are prospects who benefited from extra eligibility due to the covid-19 pandemic. NFL Network draft expert Daniel Jeremiah said the strongest positions are cornerback, edge rusher, tight end and running back. Multiple analysts have praised the depth at tight end, and Jeremiah graded 11 tight ends as third-round picks or higher.
There is talent, but maybe not as much as years past, at receiver and offensive line.
At 16, will the Commanders go for the best player or a specific position?
A bit of both. They have roster needs — cornerback, another safety, help on the offensive line, another running back, another pass rusher — and their draft board will guide them as the picks fall off.
They also have the luxury of not needing to reach for a certain player, like a quarterback, so they can grab the player they believe best fits their needs. Perhaps he will fill a hole and become an immediate starter, a goal for any first-round pick. But he could also be a talent too good to pass up.
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“It’s important to address those needs and to have key players at spots that are value spots,” Mayhew said. “But you’ve got to have a balanced team
What positions might they to pick in the first round?
The boring answer no one wants: It could be any position. Perhaps defensive tackle can be ruled out.
Washington did its due diligence studying offensive linemen and cornerbacks throughout the pre-draft process. Corner and O-line are deep positions, so the Commanders could probably find an immediate starter at No. 16 — maybe Joey Porter Jr., if he’s available — but they could also wait until Day 2 and still land a quality player.
The team acquired some O-line help in free agency and picked up linebacker Cody Barton and quarterback Jacoby Brissett, giving them even more freedom at No. 16.
“I feel like we have the ability to go anywhere in this draft,” Mayhew said.
If Washington drafts one, it probably won’t be in the first round. Rivera knows the team needs to make serious strides — perhaps even win a playoff game — for new ownership to keep him and his front office beyond the 2023 season, and a rookie probably wouldn’t be an immediate upgrade over Sam Howell or Brissett.
Things could always change if a top prospect falls. But it’s more likely the Commanders target a passer in the middle or later rounds, especially considering how important third-string quarterbacks have been throughout Rivera’s tenure.
Washington has shown interest in Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker. Other options include UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Fresno State’s Jake Haener and Stanford’s Tanner McKee, whose college offensive coordinator, Tavita Pritchard, is now the Commanders’ quarterbacks coach.
How about another running back?
Washington needs a third back after it released J.D. McKissic in March. It could take one of the best prospects in the draft, Texas running back Bijan Robinson, in the first round or wait until the later rounds to target a smaller, quicker back.
The Commanders held formal visits at the combine with Illinois’s Chase Brown, whom they also hosted for a “top 30″ visit, and Oklahoma’s Eric Gray. Shepherd’s Ronnie Brown also had a “top 30” visit with Washington.
NFL teams that need tight ends are in luck. This year’s draft is stocked.
Mayhew intimated he’d be open to drafting a back in the first round despite the league’s gradual devaluing of the position.
“I wouldn’t put too much weight into what people think about value in that spot,” he said. “What’s his value to you? What’s his value to our organization, to our football team?”
Any chance they’d pick a first-round defensive end?
There’s a chance. The team has not yet decided on Chase Young’s fifth-year contract option (the deadline is May 2), and fellow defensive end Montez Sweat is in the final season of his contract. It’s possible the Commanders keep both players, though it would take some salary cap maneuvering; defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne have already received substantial deals. But it’s also possible Washington could lose one or both of its defensive ends in the coming years.
Adding another edge rusher or off-the-ball rusher in the draft seems plausible — and warranted. Adding one in the first round? Well, if a player the Commanders love is sitting there at No. 16, who’s to say they won’t grab him?
Will they trade up or down?
They could go either way. Last year, Washington went into the draft with six picks and traded down twice — including from No. 11 to No. 16 in the first round — to restock the cupboard after the trade for Wentz. This year, the team has eight picks and some flexibility.
The week of the draft, Mayhew said, he’ll call teams picking a few spots ahead of No. 16 as well as teams picking 17th through 31st to gauge the prices of moving up and down.
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“Trading back has worked better for me,” he added. “Most of the time, when you’re trading back, you’re acquiring more picks, and it’s been my experience that just having more volume, having more picks, just gives you more opportunities to hit, especially if it’s in the late rounds.”
Which prospects could be Day 3 gems?
That’s a difficult one to predict. It’s largely dependent on how the board falls; players could slip from their original projections (see: Howell, 2022).
The depth at cornerback and offensive and defensive line bear watching. Washington could come away from this draft with not just one, but a couple quality defensive backs.
The Commanders could also grab a quarterback, such as McKee or Thompson-Robinson, in the late rounds. A rookie could learn behind Howell and Brissett either as the third-string quarterback or on the practice squad.
Or perhaps Washington will beef up its skill positions on Day 3. The roster is stocked at receiver, but it won’t be forever, so adding developmental players — especially those with ties to the staff, such as former Stanford wideouts Michael Wilson and Elijah Higgins — could make sense.
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