Column: Washington Commanders’ 2022 NFL draft reeks of desperation

The Washington Commanders’ brain trust of general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Ron Rivera kept coming back to one word when describing their 2022 NFL Draft haul: Tougher.

The word is apt because that also describes their ability to contend in the NFC East.

Dallas found a gamechanger last year when they took reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons in the first round, but didn’t seem to make as great a pick in 2022. The team remains the favorite to win the division. Philadelphia had what is widely considered to be a really good draft last weekend and the New York Giants actually looked competent for the first time in years.

Washington? A hearty “meh” at best.

Rob Woodfork says Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, left, could have been a home run selection by Washington with the 11th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Hamilton instead went to the Baltimore Ravens with the 14th pick. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

Before we get to the actual picks, let’s first address Washington trading back from the No. 11 overall pick to 16th: While trading back and multiplying picks is good in theory, the Commanders didn’t necessarily have to use the first round pick for that purpose.

Kyle Hamilton is an ideal fit for the “Buffalo” nickel package — a great value as a top five talent available outside of the top 10. Basically handing him to Baltimore is a move that could backfire significantly for a franchise already losing a significant part of its fan base to its more successful neighbors to the north. Washington fans will be closely watching how Hamilton, Chris Olave (who New Orleans took with the 11th pick acquired from the Burgundy and Gold) and Jameson Williams (No. 12 to Detroit) fare in the NFL.

Furthermore, the Commanders didn’t get enough back from the Saints in the deal. According to at least one NFL draft chart, Washington should have gotten significantly more in return, even if that means getting a higher pick in the 2023 draft rather than the immediate gratification of multiplying the pick this year.

The Commanders’ first two picks — first-rounder Jahan Dotson and second-rounder Phidarian Mathis — are in the same boat: Good players taken so much earlier than expected that even they were surprised by it. So while I don’t have an issue with Washington taking these two players who could ultimately good, productive fits in Burgundy and Gold, I do vigorously question where they were selected. It seems as if there were significantly better options available at No. 16 and No. 47.

“We’re anticipating a number of these guys, especially the first four [picks], are going to get an opportunity to come out and contribute and play,” Rivera said. “We feel comfortable and confident with those guys.”

The players drafted immediately after their first two picks — Boston College guard (and Riverdale Baptist standout) Zion Johnson at 17 and Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker at 48 — both felt like better fits at positions of greater immediate need. In the second round, there were at least three better non-QB choices at No. 47.

Hell, save for fifth-round QB Sam Howell, every player the Commanders selected felt like a reach.

Percy Butler at safety? Sounds a lot like Troy Apke 2.0.

Cole Turner? Here’s hoping he’s better than that guy from Charmed.

“We understand our needs and what we need as a football team much, much better than people on the outside looking in,” Mayhew said.

Fair enough. The fact of any draft is that we have no idea what these players will be for at least another two to three years. Stars today are busts tomorrow (see Griffin III, Robert) and rookie afterthoughts can become stars seemingly overnight (Patrick Mahomes).

I’ll give Mayhew and Rivera credit for identifying experienced players and making the “safe” picks. But oftentimes, such moves are made by men that know they don’t have much leeway in Year 3 of a rebuild and absolutely must show progress to an impatient owner, eschewing the higher ceiling player that figures to be better in two to three years for the one that looks better in Year 1.

Sometimes, a lesser draft is the byproduct of desperation moves in free agency. The trade for Carson Wentz was the most desperate act of all, creating a ripple effect that destroyed Washington’s ability to add key veterans in free agency and retain key players like Ereck Flowers, Matt Ioannidis and (possibility but not probably) All Pro Brandon Scherff.

The only way Washington’s offseason is a good one is if it enjoys a confluence of low-probability good fortunes: Wentz is the guy we saw before his season-ending knee injury in 2017, at least three of these draft picks hits and injured stars from 2021 (especially Chase Young, Curtis Samuel and Logan Thomas) come back healthy and productive, with very few additional key injuries this year.

That’s a very tall ask for a team that’s been short on positives for more than two decades.

Rivera’s bad bets early in the offseason essentially forced him into making safer ones in the draft. Don’t be surprised if when the dust settles at season’s end, Riverboat Ron rolls snake eyes.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is a versatile broadcaster with a broad range of experience. He can be heard in in WTOP's traffic center and on the Sports Desk and his byline is on as a web writer/editor and sports columnist.

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