Monday, May 29 2023

The NFL draft is about building for the future. In this case, it’s just a future that Commanders coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew might not have.

That’s the weird dynamic hovering over the whole franchise this offseason. By all indications, the franchise will soon be sold by embattled owner Dan Snyder. And barring a stunning Super Bowl run this season, it’s hard to imagine a new owner won’t want to bring in his own guys to run the team.

So whether they admit it or not, Mayhew and Rivera need players who can help now, who are ready to step in for perhaps some out-sized roles, so they can have as much support as possible around second-year quarterback Sam Howell. They can’t draft projects, especially early. They probably can’t take chances.

They know they need NFL-ready players because, deep down, they know they need to win.

They may not say that, but it’s a good bet that will be a theme of the players they end up drafting. So here’s a look at how their eight picks in the NFL draft might go:

1. First round, 16th overall: Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon

The Commanders’ corner duo of Benjamin St-Juste and Kendall Fuller was actually pretty good last season. Neither one of them are a No. 1 corner, though. Plus, Fuller is in the last year of his contract. The 5-11, 181-pound Witherspoon is generally considered one of the top three corners in this year’s class, but his stock has been hurt by a hamstring injury that kept him out of the combine and his Pro Day. He’ll have a private workout for NFL teams on April 5 that could be telling. Scouts say he’s an aggressive, physical player with a nose for the ball as he showed with three interceptions and 17 pass defenses in 12 games last year.


2. Second round, 47th overall: Oregon State TE Luke Musgrave

Every young quarterback should have a good receiving tight end in their arsenal. Sure, the Commanders still have Logan Thomas, but he’s 32, has played just 20 games the last two seasons and looked like a shell of himself last season. Really, he had only one good season anyway. There are upgrades available early in this draft, and the 6-6, 253-pound Musgrave is a big one. He didn’t do a lot in college and was injured most of last season, but those who saw him at the Senior Bowl rave about his potential. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him go in the first round.

3. Third round, 97th overall: Ohio State C Luke Wypler

The Commanders are so unsure about the future of C Chase Roullier (broken leg in 2021, torn MCL in 2022) that they signed free agent Nick Gates, who carries his own injury risks. Mayhew wouldn’t even commit to Roullier being on the team. So some depth and youth at this position seems necessary. At 6-3, 303, Wypler has good size and could play right away, though adding a little strength might be preferable.

4. Fourth round, 118th overall: Georgia S Christopher Smith

The Commanders like Kam Curl and hope to sign him to a contract extension, and they got four interceptions out of Darrick Forrest last year, so they’re generally good at this position. The 5-11, 192-pound Smith would add some competition and depth. He’s a little undersized, but he’s fast, tough and very strong in coverage.

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5. Fifth round, 150th overall: Missouri DE Isaiah McGuire

Chase Young is still an unknown until he proves he’s all the way back from his ACL injury. He also might be headed into the last year of his contract if the team doesn’t pick up his fifth-year option. Montez Sweat is in his final year too. So they need reinforcements at defensive end. McGuire (6-4, 268) had 14.5 sacks over the last two seasons and has proven to be a powerful pass rusher. His run defense needs some work, but he can be a situational player behind Sweat and Young before he potentially replaces one of them in the future.

6. Sixth round, 193rd overall: Oklahoma RB Eric Gray

It remains to be seen what style of offense Eric Bieniemy can and will run in Washington, where the Commanders have always been run-first under Ron Rivera. They seem to want to stay that way behind a Brian Robinson-led running back committee. And while they do like Antonio Gibson as the second back, he’s in the last year of his contract and doesn’t appear to love his reduced role. The 5-9, 207-pound Gray is a dual threat who could start as a third-down back and become more over time. He had 1,366 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 33 passes as a senior for the Sooners, so he certainly can handle any amount of work.

7. Sixth round, 215th overall: Cincinnati CB Arquon Bush

Depth in the secondary is a must for teams in today’s pass-happy NFL. Bush has the size (6-foot, 187) and speed (4.54) to be good in the NFL. He was overshadowed in college by Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant, but he held up well in 2021 when he was the nickelback behind them and teams threw mostly at him. He had three interceptions that season and nine in his college career, so he definitely has a nose for the ball.

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8. Seventh round, 233rd overall: Indiana LB Cam Jones

The Commanders aren’t very deep at linebacker, and the 6-1, 226-pound Jones may not help right away. His speed (4.69) gives him a shot though and could help make him a valuable special teams player at the start. He actually began his college career as a safety for the Sooners. He seemed to be on his way to a big senior year, but a foot injury cut it short at five games. He’s a physical player, but he might need to put on weight to survive on an NFL defense.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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