The Washington Commanders hoped to make another run at the NFL playoffs, following a surprise visit to the postseason in 2020. Washington gave the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, their most competitive test in the playoffs, but couldn’t build on that momentum in 2021. This Washington Commanders team needs roster upgrades to improve upon its 7-10 record from last season.
Washington shook up their quarterback situation after acquiring Carson Wentz from the Indianapolis Colts. The Commanders shipped off three draft picks for the veteran QB after their offers to Seattle for Russell Wilson were rebuffed. The Commanders draft could still address the quarterback position, but acquiring Wentz may have kicked that team need to 2023.
Football Team’s Offense a Flop
The Washington Football Team, as they were known in 2021, flopped on the offensive side of the ball following some serious investments in free agency for that unit. Washington brought in journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he didn’t make it out of his first game prior to a season-ending hip injury. The Team sunk $34.5 million into signing receiver Curtis Samuel, but he only played in five games last season.
Washington finished in the bottom third of the league in total yards per game (323.6, 21st), passing yards per game (202.4, 22nd), and scoring (18.6, 25th). Taylor Heinicke proved to be a middling starter, as seems better suited to a backup role, especially since the team non-tendered Kyle Allen. It didn’t help that Washington’s offensive line surrendered the 10th-most sacks last season (43).
Washington did find a potential feature-back player in running back Antonio Gibson. Washington finished 11th in the league in rushing yards per game (121.2), and much of that came thanks to the second-year back. Gibson proved he could shoulder the full load when, in the five games without J.D. McKissic, he averaged over 18 touches and over 85 scrimmage yards per game. He finished sixth in the league in rushing (1,037 yards).
Washington’s Defense Disappoints
Perhaps the most disappointing part of Washington’s 2021 campaign was the failings of the defense. On paper, the WFT should have had one of the top units in the league, but in reality, they had one of the worst. Washington ranked 22nd in total yards allowed (359.3) and scoring defense (24.1 points per game). Although WFT excelled against the run (104.4 rushing yards per game, 8th), they were among the worst units against the pass (254.9 passing yards per game, 29th).
Chase Young followed his stellar rookie season with a sophomore slump. Prior to his season-ending ACL tear in Week 9, Young registered only four QB Hits and 1.5 sacks in 2021. All in all, Washington’s pass rush ranked in the bottom half of the league in most metrics: 17th in sacks (38); 18th in pressure percentage (24.2); T-18th in sack percentage (6.0); and 19th in pass rush win rate (40 percent). That said, they did rank seventh in QB Hits (105).
Washington’s defense gave up most passing touchdowns (34), ranked 22nd in interceptions (11), 25th in passes defended (61), and 28th in Quarterback Rating Against (100.8). They allowed the second-highest conversion rate (48.5 percent) on third-down, and the most third-down conversions of any defense (111).
Commanders Draft Capital and Cap Space
The Commanders sported a healthy salary cap situation heading into the 2022 NFL offseason. Prior to the recent flurry of activity across the league, Washington held the fourth-most cap space according to Spotrac. But the trade for Wentz carries a cap hit of $28.3 million that eats up much of their cap space for 2022.
According to OvertheCap.com, Washington sits on $1.4 million in effective cap space. This figure accounts for the roster’s top 51 contracts and the allotted cap room for its rookies ($4.4 million).
The Commanders saw Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff leave for Jacksonville and defensive tackle Tim Settle bolt for Buffalo. Washington worked to retain center Tyler Larsen, safety Bobby McCain, and receiver Cam Sims, among others. This leaves the 2022 NFL Draft to fill many of the Washington Commanders team needs.
The Commanders draft currently holds only five picks following the Wentz trade. That’s the fewest picks at present, but swapping second-rounders with the Colts at least allowed Washington to salvage the 12th-best pick value.
Washington sports the 11th overall selection in the first round, and the trade for Wentz likely signals something other than quarterback for that spot. The Commanders hold pick No. 47 in the second round as their only Day 2 selection. On Day 3, Washington picks at No. 113 in the fourth round, pick No. 189 in the sixth, and pick No. 230 in the seventh.
Washington lost their 2022 fifth-round pick in a deal with the Eagles during the 2021 draft. Washington traded for a sixth (selected long-snapper Camaron Cheeseman) and a seventh-rounder (selected linebacker William Bradley-King). Given Washington’s cap constraints following the Wentz deal, a trade down from No. 11 could net additional assets.
Washington Commanders Team Needs
This Washington Commanders team needs to address several holes in the roster. General manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Ron Rivera have a lot of work to do. They specifically need to improve their pass defense. The Commanders draft could look to address the team’s need along the offensive line as well.
1. Offensive Guard
Washington lost five-time Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff to the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency. The team followed that by releasing guard Ereck Flowers the following day. Cutting Flowers creates $10 million in cap space for the Commanders, but also a void along the interior line. Flowers ranked sixth in pass block win rate among guards last season.
Although he played center at Iowa, Tyler Linderbaum stands out as the top interior lineman in the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s an athletic and relentless interior blocker. If the Commanders draft trust opts to trade down here, Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green could be an option later in the first round.
The Commanders sported one of the worst pass defenses in the league last season. Although some of that comes thanks to their middling pass rush, Washington didn’t do enough defending the boundary. The WFT surrendered the most passing touchdowns and registered the eighth-fewest passes defended.
Should Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner slip to No. 11 overall, the Commanders draft needs to jump on him. He has the size and athleticism to excel on the boundary. It helps that Gardner didn’t allow a single passing touchdown while in college and intercepted nine passes, two of which became pick-sixes.
3. Wide Receiver
The deal for Carson Wentz opens up a number of options for the Commanders draft in 2022. Washington could look to fill various needs in the first round, and one of the most important remains wide receiver. Terry McLaurin needs help, especially after Washington got very little following their investment in Curtis Samuel.
The 2022 Big Board sports eight different wide receivers ranked among the Top-50, making it one of the deepest position groups in the draft. Either of Ohio State’s prospects, Garrett Wilson or Chris Olave, would be solid fits for this receiver corps.
Among the other Washington Commanders team needs in 2022 are safety, middle linebacker, and quarterback.
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