Washington Commanders 2023 NFL draft blueprint

April 25, 2023

Getty Images/David Becker

Thanks, in part, to a pending ownership change and three straight non-winning seasons to begin the Ron Rivera era in Washington, the Commanders’ brain trust faces a crucial 2023 NFL Draft.

Rivera enters Year 4 of his rebuild of the franchise thinking he’s finally got his quarterback situation settled and with a celebrity playcaller in new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Both will factor into how the Commanders use their eight (as of Tuesday) draft selections available to fortify a roster in need of help along the offensive line, as well as the defensive secondary.

Make no mistake: Rivera, as explained further in this week’s D.C. Sports Huddle, has to hit on his picks in the top 100, lest he look for a new gig in 2024. If the Commanders are to make a return to the playoffs this season, it will almost certainly require immediate contributions from their first (16th overall) and second (No. 47) round selections.

Who could that be? Glad you asked.

As I’ve done in previous years, I’ll give you my top choices for Washington’s first-round pick and then go round-by-round for who I’d select with the Burgundy and Gold’s remaining picks.

Without further adieu …

1a. — Brian Branch CB/S Alabama

If I’m Washington brass, I’m sprinting to the podium with his name on the card if he’s still on the board at No. 16. I’ve seen Branch compared to Minkah Fitzpatrick (another versatile Alabama defensive back) and that would be huge addition to a defense desperate for a playmaker on the back end.

Joey Porter Jr. is the pick most associated with Washington at No. 16 but I’d place him as the third-best defensive back (for the Commanders specifically, not necessarily in overall grade) behind Branch and Maryland’s Deonte Banks (who is the better athlete, better tackler and had the third-lowest completion percentage allowed: 39%) in the Big Ten last year. Let Porter follow his dad’s footsteps to Pittsburgh.

1b. — Dalton Kincaid, TE Utah

Whomever plays QB for Washington this year, having an athletic target in the middle of the field is a must. Kincaid has been compared to Zach Ertz, which if apt, would be a perfect long-term replacement for 31-year-old Logan Thomas, who has struggled to stay healthy the last two seasons. I know O-line is a bigger need but the value here could be too great to resist.

1c. — O’Cyrus Torrence, G Florida 

I found it interesting that Washington used one of its Top 30 visits on Torrence given his “size over athleticism” profile seems like a more natural fit in the departed Scott Turner’s offense rather than the new Bieniemy system but this is probably the best interior lineman on the board. The likelihood of this pick grows if the Commanders end up trading down for more picks.

1d. — Darnell Wright, OT Tennessee

Washington desperately needs a young, starting right tackle. Wright would fill that need nicely and No. 16 seems like the proper place for him to be selected.

1e. — Bijan Robinson, RB Texas

This would be a total luxury pick Washington can’t afford, but wow, would it be a nice addition to a team with Brian Robinson as the goal line/power back and a receiving corps of Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel. Rivera has historically gone with a dual-back approach to his run game but if Bijan really is the next LaDainian Tomlinson, it’s a true test of the commitment to taking the best player available.

Round 2 (47th overall) — Steve Avila, G/C TCU

This do-anything interior lineman has the versatility, power and athleticism that fits whatever Bieniemy wants to do. Washington needs to hit on as many picks as possible, and given their recent emphasis on drafting experienced college starters over raw talents that will take more time to develop, this is the pick if Hendon Hooker isn’t on the board (and maybe even if he is). I’d also put Luke Musgrave here if the Commanders don’t take a tight end in the first round.

Round 3 (97th overall) — Henry To’o To’o, LB Alabama

I can see one of three Alabama stars going at this spot: To’o To’o, Byron Young (because Washington is clearly obsessed with Alabama DTs) or corner Eli Ricks.

I’m going To’o To’o here because he’s probably the best player of the three, it’s a bigger position of need, and I have a sneaking suspicion this is one of the players that Rivera alluded to masking interest in during his pre-draft press conference.

Round 4 (118th overall) — Braeden Daniels, G/T Utah

According to Pro Football Focus, Daniels allowed just five sacks in nearly 1,400 pass-blocking snaps during his collegiate career. He also ran a sub-5 second 40-yard dash, suggesting he has the athleticism Bieniemy will like to go with the type of versatility Rivera loves.

If Hendon Hooker inexplicably slides this far, don’t be surprised if the value is too good for Washington to pass up (again).

Round 5 (150th overall) — Dorian Williams, LB Tulane

While his 4.49 40-yard dash might prompt another NFL general manager to reach for him, this would be a good value pick for Washington. This tackling machine was a team captain and three-year starter — and just the kind of player the Commanders need to help fill the void left by the departure of Cole Holcomb (who, coincidentally, was also a fifth-round pick by Washington).

Round 6 (193rd overall) — Isaiah Moore, LB NC State

Whatever he lacks in speed and athleticism, he makes up for with great intangibles and football IQ — traits that Rivera covets. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a core special teamer in Washington.

Round 6 (215th overall) — Ronnie Brown, RB Shepherd 

With J.D. McKissic gone and Antonio Gibson in the final year of his rookie contract, it makes sense for Washington to groom a new third-down/receiving back. The Dundalk High grad fits the bill and could be a draft steal given his low profile coming out of Division II.

Round 7 (233rd overall) — Dontay Demus Jr., WR Maryland

This pick is probably more heart than head but Washington has good reason to keep the D.C.-native home. With Cam Sims no longer in Burgundy and Gold, the Commanders could use a big-bodied receiver with special teams experience — and Demus’ injury history could cause a slide this far down.

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Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on WTOP.com.

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