8 NFL Draft picks the Washington Commanders gave up on too soon

What might have been...
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Preston Smith

  • Linebacker | 2015 NFL Draft

The now-Washington Commanders knew Preston Smith was a good player. He just never developed into the All-Pro those in power at the time thought they were getting when they took him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Smith's role morphed over his first few seasons. He went from a defensive end to the linebacker spot and was switched again when Greg Manusky replaced Joe Barry as defensive coordinator. Still, his play was good enough to attract interest around the league when his rookie deal expired in 2019.

Washington made no serious effort to keep him in town despite the obvious physical gifts at the player's disposal. This was thanks in no small part to the organization drafting several other linebackers since Smith arrived. They hoped that 2017 second-rounder Ryan Anderson would be more productive.

It didn’t work out that way.

Anderson never made a mark in Washington. Smith went to the Green Bay Packers, where defensive coordinator Mike Pettine removed most of his coverage responsibilities and told him to attack the opposition's quarterback at will. This was the key that unlocked the player's true potential.

Smith responded with 12 sacks and 11 tackles for loss during his first season with the franchise. He never repeated those numbers, but his sack totals were significantly better than anything produced by Washington linebackers in recent years.

In the end, it is debatable whether Washington should have tried to meet his contract demands, but their inability to build a solid linebacking corps since Smith left suggests they probably should have tried a little harder than they did. Incidentally, the team will be facing a similar decision concerning Jamin Davis soon.

Ten years down the road, I do hope no one will be writing an updated version of this article with recently traded quarterback Sam Howell’s name on the list.