After a frenzied period of trade activity before the deadline, the Washington Commanders are rich in draft assets. Here's why that matters.
I’ve been thinking about the recent Washington Commanders trades and what they mean for the future. With that in mind, I want to present you with a hypothetical roster.
I’m not saying this is a roster that the Commanders should, or could, acquire. It’s just a prologue to an argument. So here’s what I’m giving you:
- QB: Kirk Cousins, backed up by Dak Prescott and Brock Purdy (juggle the depth chart however you like)
- RB: Tony Pollard, Aaron Jones, with Kyle Juszczyk in on certain packages
- WR: Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Amon-Ra St. Brown (you don’t need backups)
- TE: George Kittle, with Darren Waller available for two tight end sets
- C: Drew Dalman, with Corey Linsley and Tyler Biadasz in reserve
- OG: Wyatt Teller, Kevin Dobson, with Halapoulivaati Vaitai on the bench
- OT: Jordan Mailata, Trent Brown, with David Bakhtiari and Charles Leno Jr providing veteran depth
On defense, I’m giving you the option of running a 4-3 or a 3-4, and plenty of stuff in between:
- DE: Maxx Crosby, Josh Sweat
- DT: Mike Daniels, Michael Pierce
- LB: Andrew Van Ginkel, Matt Milano, and tackling machine Foyesade Oluokun - I’m giving you David Onyemata, Matthew Judon, Blake Cashman, and Nicholas Morrow to back up the front seven and provide great flexibility
- CB: Tariq Woolen, DaRon Bland, DJ Reed (with experienced depth coming from Josh Norman and Darious Williams)
- S: Quandre Diggs, Talanoa Hufanga, Jordan Poyer, in case you want to run a buffalo nickel (Micah Hyde and Eddie Jackson are on your bench)
Your punt returner is Jamal Agnew, and because we don’t want to wear him out. Your kick-off returner is KaVontae Turpin. Matt Gay is your kicker. Michael Dickson does your punting. And, just because I have the spot free, you can have Matthew Slater for special teams.
So tell me – do you like the roster? It’s full of Pro Bowlers. A nice blend of youth and experience. Depth. A stalwart offensive line and dynamic pass rushers and run stoppers on defense. I think it’d be a pretty good team.
Commanders must put newfound draft capital to good use
This team consists of Day 3 draft picks or undrafted free agents. That’s right, every single player on this hypothetical roster came in Rounds 4-7 or was undrafted.
Of course, you could put together an even better roster using the first three rounds. I’m not suggesting the draft - or any specific position - doesn’t matter. I’m just saying it doesn’t matter as much as we have all been led to believe.
This is why you never, ever tank for a player. Any given prospect is far too unpredictable.
I know all of our hindsight is 20/20, and now we all claim to have known C.J. Stroud was the real deal and Bryce Young would be a bust. But that isn’t what most people were saying just six months ago.
Back then, Young was next in the line of “can’t miss” prospects. Like Kyler Murray. Like Sam Darnold. Like Josh Rosen. Like Tua Tagovailoa. And Baker Mayfield. The list goes on.
We should all know by now - there is no such thing as a can’t-miss player. If you’ll permit me a mixed metaphor, can’t-miss players have a very poor batting average.
Do you know what has a great batting average? Math.
Math doesn’t lie. If it did, all the actuaries in the world would be out of work.
With that one piece of information, here is the best way to build a team - accumulate as many draft picks as you possibly can. If the selection process is a hit-or-miss proposition, then you must increase your odds. Get more throws at the dart board. That’s the only way to beat the system.
There used to be another way. Previous owner Jack Kent Cooke perfected it.
Wait to see which players from the draft hit and which missed - then scoop up the best of them once they hit free agency. You determined the best by hiring brilliant football minds like Bobby Beathard and Joe Gibbs to do your scouting and coaching. You left them alone.
The salary cap changed all that.
Proven free agents are more expensive than rookies. You can’t stock a roster with them. You need to hit on as many rookies as you can. Even if you could find creative ways around the cap - as the owner who succeeded Cooke attempted - part two of the plan was also necessary.
Commanders ownership must trust their football men
The Commanders have to rely upon brilliant football minds to make the decisions. Those minds need to be unencumbered by interference from ownership. The previous regime failed on both counts.
Draft capital is still the way to go because it is a far more forgiving strategy. Even if you finagle the cap, you can only sign a couple of big-ticket players in an offseason. But picks from the college ranks are practically free and you can load up on plenty.
If you hoard a dozen draft picks in a given year and you miss half of them - that means you come away with six quality players at a very cheap price. This is the path that the San Francisco 49ers have followed to success in recent years. It is also what traditionally strong franchises like the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, and even the Dallas Cowboys have done.
Quick example - the Cowboys' 2005 NFL Draft. Dallas had eight picks.
In the first round, they got one of the best players in franchise history, future Pro Football Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware. In the fourth, they got a Pro Bowl running back in Marion Barber. And with their final pick in the seventh, they picked up Jay Ratliff, who would play alongside Ware and go to four Pro Bowls himself.
They missed in the second round, and the Cowboys had previously acquired another first-rounder which yielded a better studio presence than a player in Marcus Spears. The point is, Dallas hit and missed throughout the entire draft.
That's why more draft picks matter to the Commanders. Especially considering the prospect of more changes and transactions cannot be ruled out as Josh Harris' ownership group begins to set the wheels of change in motion.