Sunday, September 24 2023

The only thing that’s crystal clear about the Washington Commanders‘ draft plans is that they’re not in the market for a first-round quarterback. At least they’re probably not. Maybe they will be if one of the top quarterbacks starts to fall.

Everything else, though, appears to be fair game for a team that’s simultaneously building for the future and potentially setting up for Ron Rivera’s last stand as its head coach. The Commanders need help in the secondary, specifically at cornerback. Their young quarterback, Sam Howell, could use a dynamic receiving tight end. Safety is a need. So is pass-rusher, especially if they don’t pick up the fifth-year option on Chase Young.

And Rivera has already said that his priority this offseason was to strengthen his offensive line.

So Washington has plenty of options with the 16th overall pick in the draft. Here are five prospects the Commanders should, and likely will, consider when they’re on the clock in the first round:

Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr.

The play of the Commanders’ cornerbacks last season was better than they generally get credit for, but they still lack an elite, shutdown corner to really slow down the NFL’s best receivers. The 6-foot-2, 193-pound Porter has that potential. He has tremendous size and speed (4.46 40) for the position, and he’s strong and aggressive just like his father, the former Steelers linebacker. 

Put Porter Jr. in a group with Benjamin St-JusteKendall Fuller and Danny Johnson and suddenly throwing against Washington won’t be so easy.


Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon

If Oregon‘s Christian Gonzalez is the best corner in the draft, then it’s a toss-up between Porter and Witherspoon for No. 2. All that’s really missing with Witherspoon is the size (5-foot-11, 181). He definitely has the speed (4.42), and he’s a bit more of a ball hawk than Porter (Witherspoon had three interceptions last season while Porter had just one in his four-year career). 

So it’s really a matter of choice: Witherspoon has the ball skills; Porter is bigger and more physical. Either would be a fine addition to the Commanders’ secondary.

Utah TE Dalton Kincaid

The Commanders did not get much production out of the tight end position last season, and they desperately need it now that they’re turning a new offense over to a second-year quarterback. And don’t forget how important Travis Kelce was to new Washington offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy in Kansas City. With Logan Thomas now 31 and on the decline, the Commanders should address this spot early. 

The 6-foot-4, 246-pound Kincaid is the best receiving tight end in the draft. He had 70 catches for 890 yards and eight touchdowns for the Utes last season. His 4.71 time in the 40 is average at best and he’s not the strongest blocker, but he can get open and has been a productive, reliable receiver.

Georgia OT Broderick Jones

Rivera said the Commanders are pretty much done rebuilding their offensive line. And yes, if they were to add more pieces it would probably be at guard. But there is no elite player on their line right now, so it’ll be hard to pass up a potential franchise tackle if one makes it all the way down to 16.

The 6-foot-5, 311-pound Jones could get close. If he does, he’s a Day 1 starter who should replace Charles Leno, and the Commanders can just figure the rest out. Jones is big, athletic, strong and durable. He’s generally considered the third-best lineman in this draft, which is the only reason he’ll get anywhere near 16.

AlabamaBrian Branch

The Commanders aren’t very deep at safety and could use an elite player like the 6-foot, 190-pound Branch. He’s tough and strong so he can be a good matchup for bigger receivers and tight ends, and his 4.58 speed is good enough for him to keep up with all but the fastest receivers. He’s also terrific in tight coverage since he often handled the nickelback role for the Crimson Tide. 

Scouts are split on whether Branch will be better as a corner or safety in the NFL, but that’s fine for the Commanders, who have needs at both spots. They can plug him in and ride his versatility, using him all over their defensive backfield.

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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