Ron Rivera loves Commanders’ depth at wide receiver entering free agency, draft

Rivera loves Commanders' WR depth entering free agency, draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

For the third straight offseason, finding a true No. 2 wide receiver opposite Terry McLaurin should be a high priority for the Washington Commanders.

The drop off in production at the position after No. 17 has been consequential for Washington. In each of the past two seasons, McLaurin has finished with more than double the number of receptions and receiving yards of Washington’s next most-productive wideout. 

Yet, making a move for a big-time wide receiver — whether that be in free agency or early on in the 2022 NFL Draft — isn’t necessarily a top priority for the franchise, according to its head coach.

Speaking with both national and local media at the NFL’s Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Tuesday, Ron Rivera responded to a question about getting McLaurin help by raving about Washington’s current depth at the position.

“Do I think it’s a good group? Yeah. I love the depth,” Rivera said.

Rivera then proceeded to go down the depth chart about each one of the Commanders’ wideouts that played in 2021. First was Curtis Samuel, who the head coach believes can still be a highly-impactful player for the franchise moving forward, health permitting.

“I think the big thing, more than anything else, is getting Curtis back on the football field,” Rivera said. “We know what he’s capable of. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen the success he’s had, we’ve seen the impact he has on offense.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard Rivera say something similar about Samuel, a player he coached in Carolina for three seasons. Washington signed Samuel to a three-year, $34.5 million deal last March, but groin and hamstring injuries limited the 25-year-old to just five games in 2021.

The reality with Samuel is this, though: he wasn’t necessarily impactful when he was on the field. The versatile pass-catcher finished his inaugural Washington campaign with just six receptions, four rushes, 38 total scrimmage yards and zero touchdowns. It was a nightmare year for Samuel and one he’d surely like to forget. 

While it’s easy to think that Samuel will bounce back from his injuries and return to full health come time for OTAs, that’s nothing more than cautious optimism.

“My understanding so far is everything when, when he left was trending in the right direction,” Rivera said on Samuel’s current health. “We haven’t had our hands on him yet. We do know in communicating that he’s been working, doing the things that he needs to. We’ll see him hopefully soon.”

After Samuel, Rivera moved onto Dyami Brown, one of Washington’s two third-round picks in last year’s draft. Brown was unable to find a consistent role in the offense as a rookie and finished the 2021 season with just 12 catches for 165 yards and zero touchdowns in 15 games.

Although Brown’s rookie season came with plenty of growing pains, Rivera liked what he saw from the UNC product towards the end of the season and hopes the wideout can parlay that into a second-year jump.

“Has the growth and development of Dyami put him into position where he can play more, be more explosive and create those things we believe he can? Some of the things at the end of the year tells us yeah, he’s capable of it,” Rivera said. “So we’re excited to see where he is once we get back together.”

Rivera then touched on each of Washington’s three pending free agent wideouts: Cam Sims, De’Andre Carter and Adam Humphries.

With Sims, Rivera said the team must “certainly look” at keeping him because he’s “a guy that consistently seems to be where he needs to be.” An undrafted player out of Alabama in 2018, Sims has spent the past four seasons in Washington. He’s flashed at times, particularly towards the end of 2020, but has failed to establish a consistent role in Scott Turner’s offense.

In Carter, Washington found a gem in free agency last season. Carter starred in the return game for the Commanders and even stepped up on offense when given the chance, too. His versatility is something Washington’s coaching staff covets.

“We’ve got to see if we can get De’Andre Carter taken care of, get him back and put him in the mix because he’s a guy who fits what we do well,” Rivera said.

With Humphries, who was Washington’s second-most productive receiver last season behind McLaurin, Rivera said “we’ve got to see where he fits into this puzzle.”

The head coach’s comments make it seem he’d like for the slot specialist to return, but Rivera also praised seventh-round pick Dax Milne for what he showed as a rookie, too.

Despite Rivera speaking highly of Washington’s receiver room, he didn’t rule out the possibility of making a move at the position in the draft or free agency, either.

The 2022 free-agent class has multiple wideouts that would fit well in Washington, including some of the bigger names like Mike Williams, Chris Godwin and Allen Robinson. Even some of the second-tier free-agent wideouts like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Michael Gallup would fit in D.C. The 2022 draft is also deep at the position once again.

With free agency and the draft just around the corner, Rivera is smartly keeping all of Washington’s options open at wide receiver — even if he does currently like the team’s depth at the position.

“Will we look what’s out there as far as the draft? Yeah. No position is off the table as far as the draft is concerned,” Rivera said. “We’re going to look at every position and really see what’s going to fit us as we go through this process. Again, this process is just beginning. It really is. The first big step will be when we get to free agency on the 16th of March.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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