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What Are Washington Commanders' Plans Entering NFL Combine?

With so much change going on around the Washington organization, the new league year may have snuck up on a few people.

But March is a very important month on the NFL calendar, as the Combine starts today, will take place for the next week, and free agency opens on the 16th.

That means it’s time for Washington to prepare to add to its roster.

The Commanders’ roster isn’t particularly strong, but they also don’t have many glaring holes. Maybe that’s part of what made 2021 such a strange, frustrating season for Washington.

In my opinion, their biggest needs are as follows:

  1. Offensive Line

They don’t have a bad group. Charles Leno signed a three-year extension to presumably be their left tackle, and 2021 second-round selection Sam Cosmi held his own at right tackle. Even the starters on the interior were solid. However, the unit doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, and they’ll have to somehow address the loss of Brandon Scherff (assuming he signs elsewhere).

  1. Wide Receiver

Frankly, I wouldn’t panic over the receiving corps. Not only will Logan Thomas return at tight end, but they’ll hopefully also add Curtis Samuel, after his first season in Washington was virtually nonexistent due to injury. Dyami Brown (a Day 2 draft pick last year) will also be entering his second season. Adding another quality body or two for depth purposes would be smart, but Terry McLaurin will have more help in 2022 regardless.

  1. Linebacker

Washington’s in roughly the same position as they were 12 months ago. Their linebackers were bad in 2020, and then they reached in the draft for Jamin Davis at No. 19 when there were better options at the position. Washington got limited productivity from Davis in his rookie season, and there’s a hole next to him at one of the outside linebacker spots.

  1. Free Safety

Many of Washington’s breakdowns in pass coverage were tied to free safety play. Kamren Curl is a good player, and Landon Collins is still serviceable, but they’re both natural strong safeties. Neither of them should be the last line of defense, but at times last season they were asked to do so. With starting free safety Bobby McCain re-entering free agency (and Collins potentially becoming a salary cap casualty), there’s no clear answer at the position.

  1. Quarterback

Taylor Heinicke was fine for a year, but he can’t be viewed as a long-term solution. The goal should be to replace Heinicke with an established veteran, but if they’re unable to do so, they should address the position with one of their top draft picks. If Heinicke is still their starter by midseason this year, it’s probably because they made a mistake at the position this offseason.

Veteran Names to Know

Offensive Line: Terron Armstead (Saints), Orlando Brown (Chiefs), Ryan Jensen (Buccaneers), Alex Cappa (Buccaneers), Cam Robinson (Jaguars), Trent Brown (Patriots), Eric Fisher (Colts), Riley Reiff (Bengals), James Daniels (Bears), Brian Allen (Rams), Ben Jones (Titans), David Quessenberry (Titans), Duane Brown (Seahawks), Ted Karras (Patriots), Austin Corbett (Rams), Mark Glowinski (Colts), Trai Turner (Steelers)

Wide Receiver: Chris Godwin (Buccaneers), Calvin Ridley (Falcons), Chris Godwin (Buccaneers), Allen Robinson (Bears), Mike Williams (Chargers), Amari Cooper (Cowboys), Christian Kirk (Cardinals), DJ Chark (Jaguars), Michael Gallup (Cowboys), Juju Smith-Schuster (Steelers), Will Fuller (Dolphins), Jamison Crowder (Jets)

Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower (Patriots), Jayon Brown (Titans), Jamie Collins (Patriots), Rashaan Evans (Titans), De’Vondre Campbell (Packers), Leighton Vander Esch (Cowboys), Ja’Whaun Bentley (Patriots), Foyesade Oluokun (Falcons), Kyzir White (Chargers), Anthony Walker (Browns), Elandon Roberts (Dolphins), Anthony Hitchens (Chiefs), Kwon Alexander (Saints), Alec Ogletree (Bears)

Free Safety: Tyrann Mathieu (Chiefs), Devin McCourty (Patriots), Marcus Williams (Saints), Marcus Maye (Jets), Anthony Harris (Eagles), LaMarcus Joyner (Jets), Jaquiski Tartt (49ers), Tashaun Gipson (Bears)

Quarterbacks (including trade targets): Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Russell Wilson (Seahawks), Derek Carr (Raiders), Baker Mayfield (Browns), Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers), Carson Wentz (Colts), Jameis Winston (Saints), Mitch Trubisky (Bills), Marcus Mariota (Raiders)

Top Draft Targets

G/C Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa): Washington will be losing an interior offensive lineman from Iowa. Why not replace him with another? Linderbaum might be the most gifted blocker in this year’s class of linemen, and he’s expected to dominate on the bench press. The 11th pick in the draft seems like a fair range for him to be selected.

OT Charles Cross (Mississippi State): Generally viewed as the No. 3 tackle among this year’s crop, Cross would shore up the blind side for years to come. It’s not a pressing need, but it’s one of the most important positions in the sport, so investing heavily in it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

LB Devin Lloyd (Utah): He’s barely more than 230 pounds, but he plays quick and hits harder than his weight suggests. He likely won’t run as fast as Nakobe Dean (Georgia), but Lloyd might earn LB1 status, especially with rumors that Dean might measure at less than 6 feet tall.

S Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame): He’s easily one of the top talents in this year’s class across all positions. He probably won’t be available, and he’s more of a strong safety than free, but he’s athletic enough to play either spot. There’s no other safety that would merit consideration at No. 11.

WR Garrett Wilson (Ohio State): If McLaurin is a target volume hog and Samuel is a catch and run threat over the middle of the field, Wilson is a natural fit as a vertical threat. He’s also a former teammate of McLaurin’s – as is fellow Buckeye prospect Chris Olave, who could also be in play for Washington.

QB Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh): There’s an argument that Malik Willis (Liberty) is the better long-term option. However, I think there’s some pressure on Ron Rivera after a 2021 season that fell short of expectations. Pickett is the smartest, most polished passer on the board, and the success of Mac Jones relative to his rookie peers last season should make it easier to justify selecting a less physically gifted quarterback like Pickett.

Considering the Combine takes place before free agency opens, Washington should have its eyes on the big fish at each of these positions. However, there will certainly also be opportunities to address them later in the draft. The smart approach might be to take a quarterback with the top pick and circle back to linebacker, safety and/or wide receiver on Day 2. Some of my personal favorites at those spots who might be second-round targets are Quay Walker (Georgia), Jalen Pitre (Baylor) and Jahan Dotson (Penn State) respectively.

If you’re halfway as brainwashed by the sport of football as I am, you’ll view the NFL Combine as a return to normalcy, filling the month-long void left after the Super Bowl. For the Commanders, the absence has been even longer. If they want to change that for the future, being active in the next few weeks could help them take the next step.

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Wednesday, 17 August 2022

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