The Washington Commanders have established a reputation for surprising fans during the NFL Draft. This year felt different — and still does, to an extent — until news broke that the team isn’t expected to extend star defender Daron Payne.
Given Ron Rivera disclosed Washington’s intentions to keep Payne around for the long haul, this update came as a shock. Negotiations were supposed to start during the Combine. For whatever reason, though, it’s not happening.
Assuming the 2018 first-round pick isn’t traded and will play out the final year of his rookie contract, this doesn’t affect Washington in the interim.
But the future? Already down Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle, losing Payne would be devastating to the Commanders’ defense. In other words, the front office could very well prep for the future by drafting an interior DL in this week.
Luckily for Washington, there’s plenty of defensive tackle talent remaining after opening night, as Georgia’s Jordan Davis (No. 13 overall to Philly) and Devonte Wyatt (No. 28 to Green Bay) were the only defensive tackles drafted.
With that in mind, let’s highlight four players at the position they could target over the showcase’s final two days to pair with first-round pick Jahan Dotson. With an extra third- and fourth-round pick in tow after they traded back in Round1, drafting a Payne replacement is certainly in the cards.
4 Daron Payne replacements Commanders could draft
4. Thomas Booker, Stanford
We love Booker’s upside as a football player, but his off-field contributions at Stanford scream of a player Ron Rivera would invest in.
On top of being a three-year starter and the captain of the Cardinal defense, he helped found CardinalBLCK, as a safe space for Black student-athletes and was a finalist for William V. Campbell Award, college football’s premier scholar-athlete trophy that considers on-field performance, academics and community service.
On the field, Booker possesses good athleticism for a defensive lineman who measures in at 6-foot-3 and 301 pounds. In 2021, he notched a career-high 59 tackles, to go with five tackles for loss, one sack and one pass defended. Like his junior year in 2020, Booker was named second-team All Pac-12.
Booker wouldn’t be our first choice to replace Payne, but he should be available for Washington when they pick in the fourth round. With powerful hands, persistent lateral feet that help him change direction quickly for a man his size and a strong bull rush, the former Cardinal would be worth a Day 3 pick.