In some ways, the 2021 NFL Draft is really Ron Rivera’s first with Washington

Why 2021 draft is, in many ways, Rivera's first in Washington originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Thursday (finally) marks the start of Ron Rivera’s second NFL Draft as the Washington Football Team’s primary leader. 

In many ways, however, it feels like his first.

Last year, Rivera was tasked with improving a roster that he had basically only seen on film, went about that task with a group of scouts and a front office that he wasn’t familiar with and, like the rest of the league, had to execute that task in the midst of a pandemic that threw off everyone’s schedule and routine.

And yet, Washington fared quite well.

Selecting Chase Young with the No. 2 pick was the one-foot putt of picks, but the Burgundy and Gold also scooped up a double-digit touchdown scorer in the third round in Antonio Gibson and then went on to discover standout safety Kam Curl in the seventh round. All three of those players rightfully received attention as Rookie of the Year candidates, with Young eventually capturing the award on the defensive side of the ball.

Now, think about where Rivera is this time around.

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Though former VP of Player Personnel Kyle Smith was well regarded for his work during the 2020 event as well as his track record in previous editions, Rivera chose to move forward without him. Smith has since joined the Falcons. Other members of the scouting staff have been ousted, too.

Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney were brought in around the same stretch that Smith left, giving Rivera a general manager that he personally sought out and another high-ranking executive with whom he overlapped within Carolina.

Rivera will still be the primary decision-maker — in recent press conferences, Mayhew and Hurney have often deferred to Rivera in question-and-answer sessions and referenced how they report to him — but he’s now surrounded by people he desired, rather than people he simply joined.

That increased connection carries over to the players Rivera already has. 

Since the coach has gone through a full campaign with Washington, he possesses a much deeper understanding of who’s on his roster compared to the surface-level knowledge he had in 2020. He has a vision for whom he wants to build around and who needs to be replaced or pushed with competition.

Instead of just going off of what he noticed on film or what he heard from those who predated him in the building, he can make choices based on his own experience.   

And lastly, Rivera should just be better prepared to manage a draft that’ll still be altered by COVID-19. He’ll know what worked and what didn’t 12 months ago in terms of communication with the rest of Washington’s higher-ups during the actual proceedings. That’s a small factor, sure, but it helps nonetheless.

Getting rid of Smith, for example, might eventually be viewed as a crucial loss as opposed to a necessary transaction. Mayhew and Hurney are in theory closer to Rivera, but will that closeness amount to locating useful pros?

On top of that, while so much about this year appears to be a positive for Rivera and Washington, they — like everyone else — didn’t get to attend the Combine in February, because the Combine didn’t exist. In 2020, the Combine happened just before the virus arrived, so what occurred there could be included in reports on each prospect. That isn’t the case for this class of up-and-comers.

Regardless, Rivera — who always insists that he’s the one in control of Washington’s fate — will legitimately be in control beginning Thursday night.

He took control of the plane when it was already in the air last April, but this April, he’s been in the pilot’s chair since it left the gate. Hopefully, that generates a smoother flight and an easy landing, one that features a bevy of future contributors.

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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