WASHINGTON — Ron Rivera and the Washington Commanders front office talked to quarterback prospects at the scouting combine and planned to spend more time looking into their options.
Then they traded for Carson Wentz, and the team's entire outlook for the NFL draft changed. After acquiring Wentz from Indianapolis, Washington can now focus on giving him or the defense some help with the 11th pick.
In the shadow of pending contract negotiations with Terry McLaurin that could shape the organization's future, another wide receiver is atop the list of major needs early in the draft. Then there's also the possibility of Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton falling out of the top 10 after a disappointing showing in the 40-yard dash.
“He would be a great centerpiece of their defense: It’s exactly what they’re looking for,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “Had he run better, he would have been the second to fourth pick in the draft. Some people think he was the best player in the draft prior to that. So, at 11, he would be a great pick for Washington.”
The Commanders have a need there after cutting ties with Landon Collins, who was designated to be released after June 1 for salary cap purposes. Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio used Collins in a three-safety look with Bobby McCain and Kam Curl also on the field rather than playing a linebacker in that spot.
Former Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said he doesn't believe Hamilton has a future at linebacker. But that doesn't mean the 6-foot-4, 220-pound defensive back wouldn't be a fit with Washington.
"I think he's a safety," said Dominik, who's now a SiriusXM NFL draft analyst. “You can put him at the line of scrimmage and handle tight ends and things like that, but to me that’s what he is. You can be versatile with him in terms of the safety position, but I don’t think you’re going to transition him to a linebacker.”
If Hamilton is off the board by the time the Commanders are on the clock, there's no shortage of other options, especially because they don't need to reach for a QB with a weak crop of top prospects.
USC's Drake London, Ohio State's Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson and Alabama's Jameson Williams all fit the bill of a receiver who can complement McLaurin and boost Washington's offense. Kiper does not believe this receiver class stacks up to Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith from last year, but it's not far off.
“There’s, I think, six or seven could go in the first round,” he said. “It’s a deep, talented group. They’re close to the three last year. Jameson even with the injury could still go top 20, top 10 possibly — who knows.”
Williams is coming off tearing the ACL in his left knee in the national championship game, so he'd require more patience than the other wideouts who could be available. Considering Rivera would like Washington to take a big step forward in his third season, there may not be much time to wait.
Just because the Commanders got Wentz doesn't mean they're completely out of the market for a QB. Wentz's contract structure makes him their guy this season with the ability to move on before 2023 if it doesn't work out.
Washington has a pick in every round, including two in the seventh, so there's reason to believe Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew could target a developmental prospect on Day Two or Three. Mississippi's Matt Corral, Nevada's Carson Strong and Notre Dame's Jack Coan are all potential options.
One of the biggest strengths of Washington's defense when it ranked second in the league in 2020 was the defensive line. Chase Young and Montez Sweat provided the edge rushing, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne were stalwarts inside but depth was also key with Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle rotating in.
Settle left for Buffalo in free agency and the Commanders cut Ioannidis in a cap-clearing move after getting Wentz. Replenishing the position, especially with Payne in need of a new contract soon, is another box to check on the offseason list.
Washington's offensive line in front of Wentz will look much different after the departure of 2020 All-Pro right guard Brandon Scherff and release of left guard Ereck Flowers. The team signed Andrew Norwell to replace Flowers, and veteran lineman Wes Schweitzer is expected to slide into Scherff's old spot.
Even after bringing back tackle Cornelius Lucas, another offensive lineman could be in the cards to make sure Wentz stays healthy and upright as much as possible.
The Washington Commanders enter the 2022 NFL Draft with six selections including picks in the first (11th), second (47th), fourth (113th), sixth (189th) and seventh (230th, 240th) rounds. Washington's six picks this year are slated to be the fewest selections by Washington since 2010.
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