The Commanders entered the 2022 offseason in search of a franchise quarterback -- a position Washington has found itself all too familiar with over the past several years. The organization has attempted to solve that problem by acquiring Carson Wentz from the Colts via trade in March.
Wentz's arrival completely changed Washington's offseason outlook, too. The team was quiet in free agency, adding just two players, both on relatively cheap contracts. Since then, head coach Ron Rivera has gone on the record to say the addition of Wentz -- and his $28 million cap hit in 2022 -- did in fact change the team's spring plans.
Washington's new quarterback was not part of the team's decision-making crew on Thursday night as the 2022 NFL Draft kicked off. But, Wentz was certainly in the thoughts of Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew, as Washington added another versatile chess piece to its offense with its first-round pick in Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson.
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"Once we got Carson, obviously then the focus really became on getting him the weapons," Rivera said during his post-draft press conference.
Upgrading the offense during the draft was a focus for the Commanders brass ever since acquiring Wentz. Rivera and his staff know that in order for the team's new quarterback to be successful, he needs more talent at the skill positions around him. With Wentz -- a player the organization believes is a significant upgrade over 2021 started Taylor Heinicke -- now in the fold, Washington couldn't afford to pass up the chance to add another offensive playmaker.
"We have a guy that can make all the throws," Rivera said. "You know, Taylor did a lot of good things for us, but when you watch some of the things that Carson has done, we've got to now get guys that can get in that position to make those plays as well. So, we just feel that getting a guy that's a polished receiver right now and ready to go, will fit in very nicely with the rest of them."
Throughout Rivera and Mayhew's 23-minute long press conference late Thursday night, Washington's two key decision-makers repeatedly emphasized Dotson's versatility as validation for selecting the former Penn State pass-catcher. Both Rivera and Mayhew believe Dotson has the ability to play both the X and Z receiver positions and in the slot. His versatility is what the coaching staff covets.
Dotson won't be mistaken as the most athletic wideout in the 2022 class, but he is one of the group's most polished pass-catchers. That specifically is something that drew the Commanders to him.
"When you got to Dotson and you sit there and go, 'Wow, this guy's a polished route runner under who works very well underneath, but he also has the ability to go vertical.' ... We knew this is where we couldn't pass him up," Rivera said.
Before the draft, one player Washington was often linked to was USC wideout Drake London. Standing at 6-foot-5 and 209 lbs., London was one of the biggest targets, if not the biggest, in the entire draft. However, the Commanders never had the chance to select London, as Atlanta took him eighth overall.
London's big frame allowed him to have one of the widest catch radiuses of any receiver in this class. At Penn State, Dotson also demonstrated a wide catch radius and, similarly to London, excelled at hauling in 50-50 balls. So, with London not available for Washington, the Commanders selected Dotson -- a player the team feels has a similar skillset even if they differ in size.
At 5-foot-11 and 178 lbs., Dotson is on the smaller size of NFL wide receivers. Rivera doesn't think that will be an issue for him, though, as the head coach pointed back to Dotson's ability to complete contested, tough catches.
"Not necessarily [any concern about his size] just because of his catch radius, his ability to go up and get the football," Rivera said. "Again, the thing that you see is the contested catches. I mean, going after the football, doing those things."
Rivera also pointed out that although the Commanders didn't get the big-bodied receiver in London, Washington's receiver room already consists of multiple players with decent size.
"Terry's over six foot, Dyami [Brown] is over six foot, Cam's [Sims] way over six foot. Dax [Milne] is right at six foot. So, it's not like we have guys that are all 5-8. We don't have the 'fun bunch.' Which would be cool though. It would be," Rivera said.
The 'Fun Bunch' that Rivera referred to was a reference to Washington's skill position group during the early 1980s. The group, headlined by Hall of Famer Art Monk, was known for its excessive celebrations. Within the group, there was a sub-group called 'The Smurfs,' which consisted of Virgil Seay, Alvin Garrett, and Charlie Brown. All three players were 5-foot-10 or shorter, which is where the Smurfs nickname came from.
As Rivera said, Washington isn't recreating the 'Fun Bunch' in Washington. But, the head coach is excited about what the skill-position group is capable of.
"We got a good group of guys that will go after the football, are known for making contested catches and so you want guys with catch radius," Rivera said. "I think that makes up for it more so than anything else is that they have the ability to go up and get the ball."
Entering the night, Washington held the 11th overall pick. But with London and Ohio State's Garrett Wilson already off the board, the Commanders made a deal with New Orleans to move back five spots while adding a third- and fourth-round pick. Two other receivers came off the board during those five selections: Ohio State's Chris Olave and Alabama's Jameson Williams.
When the Commanders got back on the clock at No. 16, the team had offers to trade down once again and add even more picks. But Rivera and Mayhew decided against it and zeroed in on Dotson as the selection.
"When we did trade back and we were getting ready to make our pick, some of those same teams were still calling us," Mayhew said. "So, we could have gone back again if we wanted to, but we felt like Jahan was too valuable in that spot to take to pass on him."
Although Washington didn't end up with the wideout many analysts and experts thought it would, Rivera and Mayhew are excited about what Dotson will bring to the table. Wentz should be ecstatic, too.