Latest mock has Commanders draft best player available in Round 1
By Jerry Trotta
Free agency has been all the rage this week, and rightfully so, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that the NFL Draft is a little over a month away. Slated with the No. 11 overall pick in the first round, the Washington Commanders can now go one of of many directions after trading for Carson Wentz.
Before the trade, it was widely expected Washington would draft a quarterback in Round 1. That, of course, assumes one of Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis is available, but that seems less and less likely as we inch closer to draft night.
Even if Pickett or Willis are on the board at No. 11 overall, the Wentz trade gives the Commanders justification to prioritize another position.
Some fans have talked themselves into the idea of taking the best receiver available, whether it’s USC’s Drake London, Arkansas’ Treylon Burks, Alabama’s Jameson Williams or Ohio State phenoms Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.
But what about drafting the best player available? When you consider Sports Illustrated’s latest mock has the Commanders netting Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, fans might be more open to the idea.
Would Cincinnati CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner be a good first-round pick for the Commanders?
Here’s how author Zack Patraw has the first 10 picks playing out.
- 1. Jaguars – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
- 2. Lions – Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
- 3. Texans – Kyle Hamilton, FS, Notre Dame
- 4. Jets – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
- 5. Giants – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
- 6. Panthers – Trevor Penning, OT, Norther Iowa
- 7. Giants – Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
- 8. Falcons – Jermaine Johnson, DE, Florida State
- 9. Seahawks – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
- 10. Jets – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
In this case, the Commanders would pass on London, Wilson, Olave and Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd in favor of Gardner. That might seem like a questionable strategy, but teams that prioritize a position of need over the best player available (unless a QB’s involved, obviously) usually end up regretting it.
That’s not to imply one of the aforementioned prospects won’t pan out in the NFL, but having Kendall Fuller, William Jackson III and Benjamin St-Juste on the roster shouldn’t dissuade Washington from drafting Gardner, either.
After all, St-Juste had three separate stints in concussion protocol as a rookie and Jackson was very much up and down in his first year with the club in 2021. Should Jackson’s inconsistencies linger, Washington can save $6.75 million against the cap next offseason if they were to release him.
Gardner, on the other hand, is a dream CB prospect. At 6-foot-2 with 33.5-inch arms, a 79-inch wingspan and clocking out at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine, the former Bearcat has all the tools in his locker to step in and become an immediate lockdown cornerback as a pro.
While Cincinnati doesn’t play in a great conference, Gardner didn’t allow a single touchdown over 1,059 cover snaps in his collegiate career, per PFF. During that span, he allowed passer ratings of 39.4, 29.3 and 22.6, respectively.
Given edge rushers and left tackles are held in a higher regard than corners, Gardner see himself could drop out of the first 10 picks.
We like to think of him as a top 5-7 prospect in the entire class, so the Commanders selecting him with the 11th pick would be incredible value, even though cornerback isn’t a pressing need compared to other positions on the roster.