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2023 NFL Draft Preview – Washington Commanders

The Commanders need help in the trenches and defense - could there be help on the way in the 2023 NFL Draft?

Credit for the mock draft simulation goes to NFL Mock Draft Database. Team needs are also generated from this site. Compensatory picks have not been assigned and will not be included in this exercise.

The Washington Commanders had a rocky 2022 season finishing 8-8-1 on the year but finishing last in the NFC East. They did the Carson Wentz experiment, and that failed terribly. Taylor Hienicke saw another shot at the starting job, but he is just a guy, unfortunately. Now the team is likely to give Sam Howell the keys to the starting job in 2023, where he played decently in his one start of 2022. The run game disappointed, but a healthy offseason for 2022 rookie Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson will give the Commanders a nice one-two punch. 

The receivers are a solid unit, as Terry McLaurin led the team, but he needs to find chemistry with Howell. Curtis Samuel and 2022 rookie Jahan Dotson are nice WR2/WR3, and Dotson has a chance to be better if he can stay healthy, as he did lead all rookies in touchdowns. The tight-end position could use an upgrade over aging Logan Thomas. They did take Cole Turner last year, but he didn’t make any noise as a rookie. Rookie guard Chris Paul did flash in the season finale game, but he didn’t play most of the season. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Commanders’ big three had 26 sacks between Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, and Jonathan Allen. They are hopeful Chase Young can come back healthy in 2023. They drafted Phidarian Mathis in the second round last year, but he missed the season. In the secondary, they need help, with just nine interceptions on the season. They drafted two players in the secondary but were only on special teams most of the season. 

1.16 Paris Johnson Jr., OL, Ohio State

The Washington Commanders’ first pick in the 2023 draft was Paris Johnson Jr, an offensive lineman from Ohio State. Johnson is a perfect fit for a needy Commanders team who allowed 48 sacks on the season in 2022. Johnson brings size and athleticism that could fit on either side of the line. He has an explosive range to be trusted on run blocking and executing long pulls. For a big man, he has top-end mobility and is a natural tackle for the next level. I’ve seen Johnson on film recover in bad situations during plays with quick footwork to establish his blocks. The losses of Brandon Scherff and Trent Williams over the last few years have hurt the Commanders from genuinely being an elite option. For the most part, the unit has been solid, but many journeyman linemen are on the line, and they need to get an anchor who will be there for the next ten seasons. It’s essential to build off that because having a running back like Brian Robinson behind there, it’s essential to give him holes to excel. Johnson’s talent will push him to be the team’s next great tackle. 

2.47 John Michael Schmitz, IOL, MInnesota

Schmitz projects as a center at the next level, which they could use an upgrade there. Schmitz offers power in the middle of inside zone runs and between the gap blocking. The Commanders are giving Sam Howell a chance as the starter in 2023, so providing the young quarterback more time in the pocket will be essential for his success. Schmitz is stout in pass protection and can block anyone on the defensive lines. His mobility allows him to get to the second level as a blocker, even if he has to play guard, and get around the edge for outside runs. Schmitz will be a fantastic addition to the offensive line in 2023. It’s not an exciting pick taking two offensive linemen over the first two picks. Still, the NFC East has rigid defensive lines, so ensuring you project your young quarterback and establish the run game is essential. 

3.96 DJ Turner, CB, Michigan

The Commanders are revamping their secondary with younger and faster defensive backs selecting another cornerback in the third round. Turner was a cornerback with Michigan who had a solid overall career. He has coverage versatility to play everywhere in the secondary as needed. His superb athleticism allows him to quickly get from sideline to sideline to break up a play or make a tackle. Speed, hip, and light feet stand out when watching Turner play, making him an underrated pick in the third round. Turner’s IQ to eliminate routes for receivers is next level and forces the quarterback to look for other directions. Hence why folks may say his lower interception ratio is a negative which could be, but his ability to stop receivers from producing has been elite-level. He may have some issues with bigger and taller receivers, but his speed and instincts will make up for that. 

4.117 Daiyan Henley, LB,  Washington State

Henley had a great college career, especially in 2022, with 106 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and four sacks. The beginning of an outstanding linebacker for the commanders to plug in and play.   Henley has a nose for the ball and seemingly made big plays in challenging situations. He has the athleticism to make open-field tackles and not let ball handlers get past him. Henley has a three-down skill set as he can cover in passing situations as he had five interceptions in college. He has the ball skills to make turnovers in passing plays which is rare for many linebackers. He needs to show more patience as he can overcommit on plays, struggle against stack boxes, and take him out of plays. Henley could be a day-one starter if he puts the work into getting better this offseason.

5.125 Riley Moss, CB, Iowa 

As mentioned earlier in this article, the Commanders need players to create turnovers, and Moss does that. He has 11 interceptions in his career, three of which went for pick-sixes. He had 47 tackles and 11 pass deflections in 2022. Moss is an instinctive defender with a high IQ and ball skills like a receiver. He understands how to cover in zone coverage by creating spacing and attacking at the catch point to create turnovers and break up the pass. He has toughness and will compete for the ball in any route that comes his way. Moss needs help in man coverage if he has to deal with the twisty or dynamic receivers. He also is a solid run defender that follows the run and attacks to make contact. Moss isn’t a complete defensive back, but his ability to create turnovers is something that the Commanders need. 

6.193 TE Cameron Latu, Alabama

While it’s later than the Commanders may have wanted to wait for the tight end position, they found a good one in Latu. The former Alabama tight end had a solid two seasons where he produced 787 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is a brilliant football player and has versatility in the offense. He isn’t a burner, and he will not draw comparisons to Kyle Pitts and Travis Kelce, but he has a Benjamin Watson-like career ahead of him. He plays the more traditional in-line tight end as he does a tremulous job blocking to give the line another high-end blocker. He likes to see shorter and intermediate throws and knows how to find the soft spot in the zone. If Howell is the quarterback next year, he’ll discover Latu as a safety blanket in the middle of the field and the red zone. I do not see him being a top-five tight end but a consistent low-end TE1 over his career. 

7.215 Jaxson Kirkland, OT, Washington 

The first pick in the seventh round goes with Jaxson Kirkland, an offensive lineman from Washington. This pick gives the Commanders an intelligent and experienced blocker. Kirkland has good timing within the run game and has excellent awareness of pass protection on passing plays. He does well against angles from defenders and positions his body to be the most effective in pass protection. He can be thrown off his blocks because his body control is a weakness he has. Kirkland is also coming into the league at 25, which isn’t always great, but the Commanders need depth and experience at the offensive line.

7.235 Demario Douglas.WR Liberty 

In the last draft pick for the Commanders, they selected Demario Douglas, a wide receiver out of Liberty. Douglas had a solid college career, finishing it with 79 receptions, 993 yards, and six touchdowns. He also showed his ability on the ground with five carries for 105 yards and a touchdown. When you watch him on film, you need the speed and swiftness that he can make big-time plays for a team. Douglas has excellent footwork in the short area to easily evade tackles and give game-breaking acceleration. He even made impacts on special teams with two punt returns in college. The biggest issue is his size, as he is only 5’8″ and weighs 165 points. Douglas isn’t the best route runner, and coming from a smaller school; it could be a big adjustment for the NFL level. He could take over the Dyami Brown role or even be an impactful special teams guy in return.

Fantasy Impact

On the offensive side of the ball, there is only Latu and Douglas to worry about. Latu is likely a late-round rookie pick in drafts. He won’t make a significant impact in year one, but there is a chance if he gets the starting or back job. He would have touchdown upside if that case. As a seventh-rounder, I see Douglas being undrafted in most rookie drafts and a wavier pick-up if he does produce. As a seventh-rounder in this crowded core, 2024 is his chance.

Henley would be someone I’d target on the defensive side of the ball because the Commanders need linebacker help, and Henely could be a day-one starter. His upside for interception could be beneficial to an IDP team. DJ turner likely wouldn’t touch since he doesn’t get many turnovers, and I’d take a shot on Moss, for his ability to create turnovers could land him playing time.

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