The 2022 NFL Draft begins in five days and there will be more uncertainty than normal when Roger Goodell steps to that podium for the first pick, and really, the entire first round.
There’s no consensus No. 1 choice, there’s no consensus top quarterback. There’s no consensus at tackle or pass rusher or wideout either.
All of that presents great opportunity for the Washington Commanders with the 11th overall pick, however, it also presents great opportunity for a misstep.
The pre-draft process moved closer to the pre-COVID-19 normal these past few months, and in turn more information can be ascertained. After trips to the NFL Combine and League Meetings and with what will surely be an action packed week leading up to the draft, here’s a series of thoughts leading to Thursday night.
- Not happening - Washington will not be drafting a quarterback in the first round. Nope. The team gave up multiple picks to trade for Carson Wentz, and despite some possible red flags, the organization is pushing forward with the 2016 No. 2 overall pick to lead the franchise. So when draft “experts” suggest Liberty's intriguing Malik Willis at 11 just know they’re wrong.
- Unbreakable - Many people inaccurately believe the 2022 season is make or break for Ron Rivera. Sure, in Rivera's two seasons in Washington he's finished with a losing record each year. And this offseason the Commanders made their most aggressive move of Rivera's tenure trading for Wentz. So it's easy to look at the situation and see this is a turning point for both Rivera and Wentz. But it isn't, for Rivera at least. The coach has said all along his rebuild will last three-to-five years, and while he's been clear he expects a big jump this fall, it's also obvious the organization isn't exactly married to Wentz. If Washington 100% believes the former Eagle and Colt signal-caller would be the long-term answer, the Commanders would have reworked Wentz's contract after trading for him. That didn't happen. Washington took on the full $28 million cap hit for this season knowing that would allow the team to get out of the Wentz business next offseason with no guaranteed money remaining. If this is a marriage between the Commanders and Wentz, it's a marriage with a fully ratified pre-nup. While Rivera wants to win this year, he's also giving himself options for 2023 and beyond. If anything, the trade for Wentz says more about the 2022 quarterback draft class' ability to win this year than it does about Rivera's job security. Oh, and in case it was unclear, Commanders owner Dan Snyder has a lot going on right now, and a coaching search is probably not even close to the top of his priority list.
- Yet another defensive first rounder? - For five straight years the Washington organization has drafted a defensive player in the first round. Don't be shocked if five becomes six on Thursday night. Cornerback could actually make a lot of sense, if not for 2022 then for 2023 and beyond. Contractually both Kendall Fuller and William Jackson III could be cap casualties next year, and beyond those players, the cupboard is almost bare. Maybe 2021 third-round selection Benjamin St. Juste is an intriguing player but he lost significant time to concussions as a rookie. After that? The only other cornerbacks listed on the roster are Danny Johnson, who has four career starts in four seasons, Corn Elder, a practice squad fill-in, and Bobby McCain, who plays safety. Don't be stunned to hear the name of LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr. or Cincinnati CB Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner. There's also Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton. He's a bit more of a hybrid defensive back than Stingley or Gardner, but all could help a position group that needs talent now and in the future.
- Skill position help - Since the Wentz trade went down Rivera has repeatedly said how important it is to put the quarterback in a position to succeed. And that's true. That doesn't, however, guarantee Washington will spend the 11th pick on a wide receiver. Sources close to the organization have been clear the team remains very excited about what wide receiver Curtis Samuel -- the jewel of the 2021 free-agent class for the Commanders -- can do in this offense. And he should be healthy this fall. Should. That's a a fair caveat. Also consider that Washington needs to come up with a big contract for existing WR1 Terry McLaurin. Now if the Commanders don't take a wide receiver at 11 -- the team likes the big bodied USC WR Drake London a lot -- they could easily target a wideout in the second round. There's a reason Alabama WR John Metchie had an official visit to Ashburn this draft cycle. It's not 11 or bust when it comes to receiver, a position that year after year produces talent throughout the draft. Just look at Washington's third-rounder from 2019.
- Don't waste it late - Much like traffic waiting to get over the American Legion Bridge at rush hour, it seems like the entire DMV region is waiting on something. In this case it's for the Commanders to draft a quarterback. It's entirely possible that doesn't happen, and if it does, it could be a complete waste of a pick. The team needs help at a lot of positions, possibly all the positions, and without a third or fifth-round pick this year due to other trades, Washington is rolling to a gun fight holding a knife. It's not worth wasting a sixth or seventh-round pick on a QB just to draft a QB. It's easy to yell about the success of Tom Brady, but many, many, many more late round QBs end up out of football after a rookie deal than heading to the Hall of Fame. If a rookie passer has the ceiling of a high-scale backup, why draft him, especially considering Taylor Heinicke already offers that and is already on the roster? Late round picks should be strictly best player available, and for a roster that's relatively hamstrung do to Wentz's large cap number, there's no time for vanity projects.
Bonus - Expect Washington to draft a RB this year. A real between-the-tackles banger. The Commanders did not expect to lose Peyton Barber on waivers last year and his is a role they want to fill.