Which Commander will bounce back from 2021 disappointment?

William Jackson III

* With training camp just around the corner, NBC Sports Washington's Pete Hailey and Ethan Cadeaux will come up with, and then respond to, some burning questions facing the 2022 Washington Commanders.

Next, they each answer the following: Which 2021 disappointment will bounce back the most?

Pete's take: William Jackson III

Ethan and I are both very addicted to golf, so in golf speak, I appreciate him letting me have the tee box first for this story because I think the guy I'm choosing is the runaway favorite to get back in the good graces of Commanders fans after a down 2021.

William Jackson III was oft-penalized, routinely outmatched and sometimes misused by Washington after coming over from Cincinnati last offseason. He also missed five contests; first, he was absent in Weeks 7 and 8, and then, he was unable to suit up in Weeks 16, 17 and 18.

Add it all up, and yeah, it wasn't the most thrilling debut for Jackson III with the team.

Now, while he undoubtedly must improve on his own — both as a zone corner, a scheme he struggled transitioning to last year, and in man-to-man situations, which are supposed to be when he's most dominant — improvements around him should lift his play, too.

The defensive line, for one, would aid Jackson III if it's able to be more productive in creating pressure, while the secondary in total should benefit and be more cohesive thanks to the return of its full starting lineup.


Then there's the coaching staff, which will hopefully have a better feel for Jackson III much like Jackson III should have for what he's being asked to do. Lastly, there is no Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Tom Brady or Russell Wilson on the schedule coming up, meaning the Commanders will be facing a more reasonable collection of quarterbacks.

When Jackson III made the decision to sign with Washington, he was regarded as the best free-agent cornerback on the market. The guy who cultivated such a reputation couldn't have disappeared in just a single campaign, right? I'm expecting him to re-establish himself on the outside and be the confident player he was throughout his Bengals stint.

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Ethan's take: Curtis Samuel

Sticking with Pete's golf reference here: if we were a scramble team, him selecting William Jackson III for this topic is our fairway finder for this exercise. Now, I'm taking out the driver and swinging as hard as I can.

The best-case scenario for Washington is that Curtis Samuel returns to the player he was with Carolina in 2020. If he's able to stay healthy, I think Samuel is poised to do just that.

While Terry McLaurin was holding out this offseason, Samuel had the chance to get many reps with new quarterback Carson Wentz. Yes, Samuel did miss some practices this spring due to "soreness," but the fact that he still was able to spend multiple sessions catching passes from the team's new signal-caller should only help their chemistry. 

When Samuel was signed last offseason, he was expected to be Washington's No. 2 receiver behind McLaurin. This year, with McLaurin back and first-round pick Jahan Dotson in the mix, there's a real argument that Samuel is now the team's third option — meaning fewer opportunities to produce. Still, that doesn't concern me.

Samuel's best professional season came in 2020, where he was the Panthers' No. 3 wide receiver behind D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson. Samuel still totaled career-highs in receptions and receiving yards, all while having Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback. With the Commanders, Samuel has a better quarterback (Wentz)  than he did that season, as well as a rookie No. 2 option (Dotson) to compete with.

Samuel isn't currently held in high standing by Commanders fans, but that is more due to his inability to stay healthy than his actual play. Samuel is a dynamic playmaker when he's on the field. If he's able to remain healthy in 2022, Samuel will quickly remind everyone why Washington went out and signed him to a lucrative deal last spring.