The Washington Commanders selected eight new players in the 2022 NFL Draft. Initial reaction amongst fans and experts was luke-warm at best. Many believe that Commanders head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew reached on their first three picks in the first three rounds of this draft. Some players expressed to the media that they anticipated going later than where they were selected. However, the later rounds produced some value. Most notably the Commanders fifth round pick, UNC quarterback Sam Howell. We’re going to break down each pick and take a look at how each player fits on this roster.
Round 1, 16th Overall: WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State
The first selection ever made by the Washington Commanders was wide receiver Jahan Dotson out of Penn State. Dotson stands just under 5’11 and weighs around 180 lbs. He is small. But he plays a lot bigger than his stature. Rivera has raved about Dotson’s ability to win contested catches and about his large catch radius. The first Commander is blazing fast, running a 4.43 40 yard dash at the combine. Anytime he touches the ball is a chance for a big play. Dotson has sure hands; he didn’t drop a single ball out of 27 deep targets in 2021 for the Nittany Lions, according to PFF.
The fit here is pretty obvious. Dotson is the clear number two receiver in the Commanders offense behind Terry McLaurin. This pick gives quarterback Carson Wentz and offensive coordinator Scott Turner another weapon at their disposal.
Round 2, 47th Overall: DT Phidarian Mathis, Alabama
The Washington Commanders added another ‘Bama boy to their collection of Alabama defensive linemen. Phidarian Mathis is a 6’4 310 lb. run stuffer with some sneaky pass rush ability. But the selection had many fans scratching their head at the time of his selection. Many experts draft boards had him going later into the third round. However, another defensive lineman was not selected until 29 picks later. It appears that Washington did not want to risk losing out on a starting-caliber defensive tackle. Their next pick wasn’t until towards the end of the third round at 98 overall. Mathis was very productive in his last season at Alabama. He registered 10.5 tackles for loss to go with 9 sacks, an impressive stat for an interior defensive lineman.
The Washington Commanders had to make some tough choices after trading for quarterback Carson Wentz. They elected to release defensive tackle Matt loannidis and did not resign defensive tackle Tim Settle. This had left the team’s strongest unit depleted of depth. Fellow Alabama alumni Johnathan Allen and Daron Payne are the solidified starters at defensive tackle. The hope now is to have Mathis be a key rotational piece along the defensive line. Payne is entering the final year of his rookie deal and has not been offered an extension yet. That means Mathis has a chance to prove himself more capable than a rotational piece for this team in the future.
Round 3, 98th Overall: RB Brian Robinson Jr., Alabama
This was a bit of a shocking selection for me. Brian Robinson Jr. is a bruising back that runs with absolute power and fights for every yard. He waited patiently behind backs like Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs, and Najee Harris his first three seasons at Alabama. When it was finally his turn to start his senior season, Robinson Jr. ran for over 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns. “B-Rob” (Robinson Jr.’s nickname given to him by his teammates) did not fumble the ball once.
Antonio Gibson became the first thousand yard rusher for Washington since Alfred Morris in 2014. There was a lot of improvement in his second year as a full time back. He also left a lot to be desired, leaving them wanting more out of the position. Now, Rivera and Co. are not going to come out and say that they’ve had enough of Gibson’s fumbling issues, injuries, and leaving yards on the field. But they didn’t need to say it. They just did something about it by drafting Brian Robinson Jr. Initially, Gibson will be the lead back to start the season. If Gibson struggles and Robison Jr. proves to be a steady hand, it might force the hands of Scott Turner and Ron Rivera.
Round 4, 113th Overall: FS Percy Butler, Louisiana
Percy Butler is one of the fastest defensive backs in this draft, running a tremendous 4.36 40 yard dash. He’s also been touted as one of the best special teams players in this draft. The Commanders are getting what Chris Simms is calling the “best pure free safety” in the class. Butler earned an honorable mention on the All Sun Belt Conference team in 2020 and second team all-conference in 2021.
Ron Rivera said in a recent press conference that Butler can play both safety spots. He also stated that Butler will compete to be their nickel and buffalo nickel. I don’t see much of an in-the-box safety or even a buffalo nickel type player in Butler. Rivera has had Shaq Thompson and Landon Collins play that role on his previous teams. Butler has a very different skillset than those two players. Given that his biggest weakness is tackling, I think he’d be more ideal playing as a deep safety. His primary role will be special teams as a gunner, which could spell trouble for current special teams ace Troy Apke.
Round 5, 144th Overall: QB Sam Howell, UNC
Once upon a time, Sam Howell was in consideration to be a top 10 selection in this years draft. There were big expectations entering the 2021 season for Howell. UNC had lost a good bit of their offense to the NFL at the end of the 2020 season. Howell had to play with all new weapons and a retooled offensive line. The offense also switched to more RPOs and Howell was forced to put the team on his back. All this caused him to take a step back in his 2021 campaign. He still threw for 3,056 yards, ran for 828 yards more, and accounted for 35 total touchdowns (24 passing, 11 rushing). Some experts had Howell going in the middle rounds, some even had him sneaking into the first round. It was certainly a surprise when he was still available at the top of the fifth round. Howell has a strong arm and throws a very good deep ball. He has good enough mobility to scramble out and pick up some extra yardage at the next level.
Sam Howell was not drafted to compete with Wentz. He could overtake Heinicke as the primary backup but I doubt it. Heinicke has shown that he can manage the offense and win games in the NFL. That’s something that not every team in the NFL has right now. Howell was drafted to develop as an EVENTUAL backup or, yes, maybe even a starter. I think the only way that Howell sees the field is if both Wentz and Heinicke are injured (not an impossible scenario) or if Wentz is a complete flop and the season is a wash. Both are disaster scenarios and I don’t think any fan wants to see either of those scenarios play out.
Round 5, 149th Overall: TE Cole Turner, Nevada
Rivera wanted to add weapons for Wentz. Cole Turner is just that. Standing 6’7 and weighing in around 240lbs., Turner provided Nevada quarterback Carson Strong with a large catch radius. He caught a total of 117 passes for over 1300 yards and 20 touchdowns (10 in his senior season) in four years at Nevada. He has enough speed to create separation from linebackers and his size creates matchup problems for smaller defensive backs.
Turner could have a bigger role in this offense than we think. Logan Thomas might not be back at the beginning of the season due to his still recovering from injury. That would leave the tight end group with second year tight end John Bates, Turner, and Sammis Reyes. While Bates did look promising in his rookie year, Reyes is still learning the position. Carson Wentz seems to prefer bigger targets based on his time in Philadelphia and Indianapolis. Tuner could end up starting at the beginning of the year and could quickly turn into a favorite of Wentz.
Round 7, 230th Overall: OL Chris Paul, Tulsa
No, not that Chris Paul. This Chris Paul is considerably larger than his NBA twin. Coming in at 6’4 and 323 lbs., Paul played all over the line at Tulsa. He started 38 games at Tulsa, having started 18 at right tackle, 12 at left guard, and 8 at right guard. He projects to play guard (just like his NBA variant) in the NFL, but his experience at tackle makes him versatile. Ron Rivera loves versatility. So much so, you could play a drinking game during one of his press conferences and take a shot every time he says “position flex”.
Paul’s role on the line is a developmental backup. He has good strength but his footwork needs work. Pass protection is not his strong suit and it’s doubtful he gets any sort of meaningful playing time this season. There’s a lot of depth at guard with newcomers Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell and holdovers Wes Schweitzer, Saahdiq Charles, and Beau Benzschawel. Keith Ishmael, who’s listed as a backup center, can also play guard. I believe Paul will be a prime Practice Squad candidate and he just might earn the title of first ever Washington Commanders practice squad player.
Round 7, 240th Overall: CB Christian Holmes, Oklahoma State
Christian Holmes is the last selection of the first Washington Commanders draft. He is a long corner, standing 6’1 and 205lbs. Holmes’s best season was his sophomore season in 2018 when he was with Missouri and recorded 12 passes defended and two interceptions. He has good enough speed to play corner, but will most likely struggle with straight line speed receivers.
Washington needed depth at corner. I like Holmes and think he could potentially produce. However, I don’t see him as any better of a solution than the likes of Danny Johnson or Corn Elder at this time. I don’t see him as any more than a practice squad guy right now. He told Rivera that he was the best corner in the draft. There’s always a late round selection or undrafted free agent that catches us off guard. Maybe Holmes will be that guy when we get to training camp.
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