Commanders GM Mayhew heard and responded to critics of draft


Pretty much immediately after an NFL Draft selection is made, responses over the choice begin rolling in. Every pick is high-level thievery or an absolute reach, an indication that a team is way ahead or way behind the rest of the sport.

The ground in between those two sides is essentially non-existent. 

For the Commanders, a handful of their eight moves during the draft this past weekend fell into the negative portions of those categories. First-round wide receiver Jahan Dotson revealing to reporters that he viewed himself as a late Thursday or early Friday prospect and second-round defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis explaining that he thought he'd be called on in the third or fourth round certainly didn't help quell the criticism.

But with some passionate remarks in a post-draft press conference on Saturday, Washington GM Martin Mayhew made clear he consumed the backlash to the Commanders' strategy.

"You know, people are making projections about where they expect players to go," the executive said. "They're not in these buildings, they're not around these teams. We understand our needs and what we need as a football team much better than people on the outside looking in."

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The Dotson and Mathis acquisitions weren't the only ones questioned by those not affiliated with the organization.

In the third round on Friday, head coach Ron Rivera and Mayhew turned in a card with Brian Robinson Jr.'s name on it. While Robinson Jr. churned up gobs of yards at Alabama, using that sort of investment to grab a running back is becoming more and more out of style thanks to the emphasis on passing attacks and short shelf lives of pro ball carriers.

As for fourth-rounder Percy Butler, the strongest points on his scouting report relate to his work on special teams. Fair or not, the most skeptical Washington fans quickly compared Butler to current Commander Troy Apke, a defensive back who also was a fourth-round pick who primarily sees snaps on specials.

Like Mayhew, though, Rivera unsurprisingly was proud of what Washington pulled off when assembling this next collection of rookies. 

"We're anticipating a number of these guys, especially the first four, are gonna get an opportunity to come out and contribute and play," Rivera said. "So it's exciting to know that we feel comfortable and confident with those guys." 

Rivera doesn't hide the fact that he follows how his squad is being covered. In previous pressers, he's acknowledged reading stories written by those on the beat or coming across tweets that highlight stats relating to his players, such as Terry McLaurin's contested-catch rate or his offensive line's Pro Football Focus grades.

But Saturday was the first notable instance of Mayhew individually engaging with a particular narrative swirling around the Commanders, and he wasn't shy about combatting it.

"Everybody has their own system and everybody sets up their program the way they want to set it up," Mayhew said. "We have different needs and we look at our teams differently than some other people would do."

Should the majority of Washington's 2022 class develop into positive additions and difference-makers, then Mayhew's distaste for the early reactions to this bunch will be validated.

Yet if the outcome isn't favorable, the perception of Mayhew's, as well as Rivera's, drafting acumen won't be, either.