|By Shawn Childs, Monday, August 28, 2023
2023 Washington Commanders Outlook
Washington brought Ron Rivera to run the franchise in 2020 after a solid run over eight seasons with the Panthers (76-63-1), including four playoff appearances. His highlight year came in 2015 (15-1 with a loss to Denver in the Super Bowl). Washington has a 22-27-1 record over the past three seasons, with a playoff appearance in 2020. Rivera worked as a defensive coordinator for the Bears and the Chargers over six seasons while having 26 years of coaching experience in the NFL.
The Commanders brought in Eric Bieniemy to run their offense in the offseason while also giving him the assistant head coach tag. He has been ultra-successful over the past five seasons as the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive coordinator, thanks to their star quarterback (Patrick Mahomes). Bieniemy coached in the NFL for 15 years.
Washington continues to rank in the back half of the league in points scored (321 – 24th) and yards allowed (20th). Their offense has struggled to score points over the previous five seasons.
After sitting out two years after losing the head coaching job for the Raiders, Jack Del Rio took over Washington's defense in 2020. They moved from the bottom of the league (27th) to second in yards allowed and fourth in points allowed (329) in his first year. After a down year (434 points allowed – 25th and 22nd in yards allowed), the Commander returned to top 10 defensive status (343 points allowed – 7th), with offenses struggling to move the ball against them (3rd in yards allowed).
Over 12 seasons as a head coach, Del Rio went 93-94 with three playoff appearances. His best success came in 2005 (12-4), 2007 (11-5), and 2016 (12-4). In 2000, he helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl as the linebacker coach. Del Rio has 23 years of experience coaching in the NFL.
The Commanders' top signing in the offseason was RT Andrew Wylie ($24 million for three seasons). Their offensive line also added G Nick Gates, who played last year for the Giants. Jacoby Brissett takes over as their backup quarterback after Taylor Heinicke found a new home in Atlanta.
On defense, LB Cole Holcomb found a new home in Pittsburgh. Washington added LB Cody Barton for one season.
The Commanders' primary focus early in the 2023 NFL Draft was the cornerback position and offensive line. They snatched up CB Emmanuel Forbes and CB Jartavius Martin in the first and second rounds.
Forbes gains his edge with vision and anticipation, allowing him to be better positioned to make impact plays. His speed (4.35 40-yard dash) gives him the wheels to stay with his man over the long field, but he must get stronger to create wins vs. physical receivers. Forbes is light (165 lbs.) for his size (6'1"). As he fills out, his ceiling should reach new heights. He wants to turn interceptions into touchdowns. Early in his career, his attacking style could lead to some blow coverages in double-move situations.
Martin comes to the NFL with experience at cornerback, but his future may look brighter at safety. His playmaking style plays well off the ball while offering the movements to stay connected to his assignment through route transitions. His run support grades well, but Martin loses a notch in his coverage when asked to pick up his man at the line of scrimmage. Physical wideouts and tight ends can create early separation while having questionable long speed to make up for a missed step out of a break.
Washington added C Ricky Stromberg and G Braeden Daniels in the third and fourth rounds.
Stromberg progressed from guard to center over his college career. He understands blocking schemes, allowing him to be the quarterback of an offensive line. His next step in his development is improving his range, starting with his hands and footwork. Stromberg enhances a team's run blocking with the skill set to play physically at the point of contact and find secondary marks on the move.
Daniels gets off the ball quickly with a plan in his attack. His questions come from his base technique and ability to anchor vs. power rushers due to his size (6'4" and 295 lbs.). His ceiling will be higher when he adds more strength and bulk. Daniels understands his job with the vision to be in the right position to create wins.
The Commanders turn back to the defensive side of the ball with two of their final three selections in this year's draft – LB KJ Henry and DE Andre Jones.
Henry brings a pass rushers skill set to the NFL. His attack on the quarterback plays better when given a window or seam to create havoc at the line of scrimmage. He must improve his finishing moves on the outside while developing better counters when stopped in his tracks in the pass rush. Henry has work to do containing the run on the outside.
Jones has yet to develop into a finished product to compete on all downs in the NFL. He has the fight and quickness to help vs. the run out of the gate while needing to develop the depth of his pass rush. Jones has room to grow while starting his pro career with a reasonable floor.
In the sixth round, Washington invested in RB Chris Rodriguez. He projects as an early down runner with a power base to his game. His strikes come from questionable quickness and below-par value when asked to change direction. Rodriguez keeps his balance through contact, pointing a possible goal line and short-yardage opportunity for the Commanders.
Washington fell to 21st in rushing yards (2,143) with only nine touchdowns. Their runners delivered 20 yards or more on eight plays while gaining 4.0 yards per rush.
The Commanders repeated their 22nd finish in passing yards (3,783) with 24 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 48 sacks.
LT Charles Leno lost momentum in run blocking in back-to-back seasons while continuing to give up too many sacks and pressure his position. He tends to be a league-average player with a limited ceiling.
LG Andrew Norwell came into last season with a long resume of success in pass protection while being a below-par run blocker in recent seasons. He has a slight back in play in all areas in 2022, ending the year with a hip injury. Washington doesn't expect him to be ready for the regular season.
The center position will be a competition between Nick Gates and incoming rookie Ricky Stromberg. I expect Stromberg to get the nod, while Gates may offer coverage at guard until Andrew Norwell is healthy.
RG Samuel Cosmi missed eight games in his rookie season and three more in 2022. He saw most of his action at right tackle last season while gaining some experience at guard. His run blocking was an edge early, but Cosmi was the same player over the second half of the year. His pass blocking has been about league average.
RT Andrew Wylie was a weak link on the Chiefs' offensive line due to a massive amount of pressure allowed on Patrick Mahomes with too much damage in sacks. His run blocking has been a liability in most seasons.
This offensive line lacks a stud at any position. With a step up in play, I expect them to still rank below the league average in all areas.
QB Sam Howell - Sleeper (undervalued)
Howell threw 92 touchdowns over three seasons at North Carolina while gaining 9.2 yards per pass attempt. In 2021, he improved dramatically in the run game (183/828/11 – 4.5 yards per rush). Howell finished his college career with 10,283 passing yards, but his passing touchdowns declined each season (38, 30, and 24) while only tossing 23 interceptions.
Despite success running the ball in his final year in college, Howell didn't win with his speed. He showed the ability to take a hit and stay upright with the vision to make extra yards. This style of play won't translate well in the NFL, meaning that Howell will need to pick his spots better in the run game and know when to slide. On the positive, he will be a dual threat to score near the goal line. The Tarheels lined him out of the shotgun almost exclusively. Howell has the arm to fire deep downfield on time. He was willing to use his tight ends, and some speedy wideouts helped his success in big plays. His next step is removing some wasted motion in his release (ball taps) on some plays. Howell handles himself well in the pocket, thanks to his legs.
In his rookie season, The Commanders only had Howell on the field for one game (204 combined yards with two touchdowns and one interception). Four of his 11 completions gained 20 yards or more.
Fantasy Outlook: The keys to Washington's offense are in the hands of Howell. He has a slickness to his movements with the look of a competitive passer in the NFL. The Commanders have three viable options at wide receiver, and Dyami Brown had his best seasons (51/1,034/12 and 55/1,099/8) at college with Howell throwing him the ball. He projects as a backend QB2 in the fantasy market. I'm intrigued, but Washington will taper his passing chances in his rookie season. With a 75/300/2 line in the run game, Howell should gain more than 4,000 combined yards with only a league-average ceiling in touchdowns.
Other Options: Jacoby Brissett, Jake Fromm, Tim DeMorat
RB Brian Robinson - Bye Week Fill-in
Robinson worked his way into a high-volume role in his fifth season at Alabama. He finished with 306 touches, leading to 1,639 combined yards with 16 touchdowns and 35 catches. Over his first four years, Robinson gained a combined 1,511 yards with 15 touchdowns and 17 catches. In 2021, he didn't score a touchdown over his final five games while struggling in three matchups (16/71, 16/55, and 22/68) in the run game.
There is something to be said for a running back gaining experience in touches. Robinson is a power back with the ability to make yards after contact. He runs with patience while having the drive to cut fast into daylight at the line of scrimmage. When asked to pass block, Robinson understands his role and stays in tune with his quarterback to become a late passing option out of the backfield. His improved opportunity in 2021 should only make him better in the NFL.
An unfortunate gunshot injury led Robinson missing on the first four games with Washington. By his second game, the Commanders gave him a bulk of carries, leading to a productive final 11 weeks (196/775/2 with nine catches for 60 yards and one score). He gained more than 100 yards in three consecutive starts from Week 12 to Week 14. His season ended with a knee injury in Week 18.
Fantasy Outlook: Washington will rotate two running backs in 2023. Robinson had nine catches for 60 yards and one score last year, with higher usage in the passing game (35/296/2) in his final year at Alabama. The Commander should give him between 17 to 20 touches this year, pointing to 1,200 combined yards, six to eight touchdowns, and about 20 catches. As the 36th running back drafted in mid-June, Robinson is on a path to post an RB2 season in PPR formats.
RB Antonio Gibson - Bye Week Fill-in
In his sophomore year with the Commanders, Gibson gained 1,331 combined yards with 10 scores and 42 catches on 300 touches over 16 games. However, he missed Week 17 with Covid-19. On the downside, Gibson gained only 4.0 yards per carry, with four of his 258 rushes gaining 20 yards or more. Washington gave him a high-volume opportunity (23.4 touches per game) in seven of his final eight starts, leading to 687 yards with five touchdowns and 23 catches. His only two games with over 100 yards rushing came in Week 12 (29/111 with seven catches for 35 yards) and Week 18 (21/146/1 with one catch for five yards).
Gibson failed to take advantage of the four games (56/179/2 – 3.2 yards per rush with 16 catches for 134 yards) missed by Brian Robinson to start 2022, leading to him working as Washington's RB2 over his final 11 matchups (missed Week 17 and 18 with knee and foot issues). He finished the year with 899 combined yards with five touchdowns and 46 catches (28th in running back scoring in PPR leagues). Gibson had foot surgery after the season.
Fantasy Outlook: With J.D. McKissic no longer on the roster, Gibson looks primed to be the Commanders' top passing-catching back in 2023. Washington should get him the ball between 10 and 12 times a game while giving him some scoring chances. His biggest strike is his decline in yards per rush (4.7, 4.0, and 3.7). Gibson should gain more than 1,000 combined yards with about five scores and 60 catches, making him a viable RB3 option.
RB Chris Rodriguez - Dynasty Only
Over five seasons at Kentucky, Rodriguez gained 3,759 combined yards with 33 touchdowns and 20 catches. His game was on the ride in 2021 (225/1,378/10 with 13 catches for 61 yards and three scores), but he missed four starts (suspension) in 202 due to an off-the-field incident. Rodriguez had 175 rushes for 904 yards and six touchdowns over eight games last year with only five catches for 41 yards. His best value came in two matchups (31/197/2 and 18/162/2).
Fantasy Outlook: Rodriguez gives Washington early down insurance with a power theme to his runs. He'll take what the defense gives him and breaks some tackles, with minimal usage in the passing game.
Other Options: Jonathan Williams, Jaret Patterson
Injury Status: Injured Reserve
WR Terry McLaurin - Solid/Safe Pick
Over his first three seasons with Washington, McLaurin caught 222 of his 357 targets for 3,132 yards and 16 touchdowns. He averaged 4.8 catches for 68 yards and 0.35 touchdowns (13.7 fantasy points per game). In 2021, McLaurin had a regression of 10 catches for 65 yards with four fewer targets from 2020 (87/1,118/4). McLaurin gained over 100 yards in four matchups (11/107/1, 6/1123/2, 7/122/1, and 5/103/1). However, he failed to score over his final seven starts with weaker production (23/318).
Last season, McLaurin had a three-year low in targets (120), but he still set a career-best in receiving yards (1,191) while repeating his 2021 stats in catches (77) and touchdowns (5). He gained 40 yards or more on six plays with a bump in chances in the run game (7/29). Two of his best showings (6/102 and 8/128) came against the Eagles. McLaurin gained more than 100 yards in two other matchups (6/113 and 8/105/1). His downside came from Washington running the ball so much, leading to nine games with six targets or fewer.
Fantasy Outlook: UPDATE: McLaurin injury is being called a turf toe. This has to be considered. Jahan Dotson gets a serious bump.
McLaurin scored 224.80 (20th), 213.50 (25th), and 229.70 (14th) fantasy points in PPR formats over the past three years, making him one of the most consistent wideouts. The arrival of Jahan Dotson does steal some of his chances but also gives Washington a better chance to move the ball. McLaurin is a value as the 25th wide receiver selected in the early draft season in the high-stakes market. With minimal growth, he has the talent and opportunity to be an 80/1,200/7 receiver, and I trust Sam Howell to get him the ball.
WR Jahan Dotson - Sleeper (undervalued)
Dotson progressed in each of his four seasons (13/203, 27/488/5, 52/884/8, and 91/1,182/12) at Penn State. In 2021, he worked more as a possession-type receiver (13.0 yards per catch) than in his first three years (15.6, 18.1, and 17.0). Dotson had two dominating games (11/242/3 and 8/137/2) with success as well against Ohio State (11/127).
He should transition into a complete player with more bulk and strength. Dotson runs good routes with the speed and quickness to beat a defense over the top or in the open field. He takes a hit when facing press coverage while needing to prove he can win heavily contested passes. Dotson comes into the league at 5'11" and 185 lbs., which invites some durability concerns and questions about his value over the middle of the field.
Washington gave him WR2 in three of his first four games, leading to 12 catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns on 22 targets. A hamstring issue pushed him to the sidelines from Week 5 to Week 9, followed by empty stats over the next three games (1/14, 1/16, and 0/0). Dotson played well over his final five starts (5/54/1, 4/105/1, 6/76/1, 3/37, and 3/72).
Fantasy Outlook: As a WR4 option this draft season, he fits the vibe of a developing player with a ceiling and floor to outperform his price point. His missed time is a concern, along with his potential in chances. Washington gave him 57 targets (6.3 per game) in his nine best showings. I view him as a four-catch guy on a path to gain more than 900 yards with six to eight scores.
WR Curtis Samuel - Sleeper (undervalued)
It took four seasons for Samuel to shine in the NFL. Carolina drafted him in the second round in 2017 after a dominating season at Ohio State (1,636 combined yards with 15 touchdowns and 97 catches). He worked in a split role at running back and receiver.
His catch rate (55.1) was short over his first three seasons before pushing to an elite level in 2020 (79.4). He finished with a career-high in catches (77), receiver yards (851), and rushing yards (200). Samuel had a quiet start to the year over five games (19/246) while also missing Week 6 with a knee issue. Over his final 10 starts, he gained 805 yards with five touchdowns and 58 catches (16.9 FPPG).
In his first year with Washington, Samuel gained only 38 yards with six catches while missing 12 games with groin and hamstring issues. In 2022, he played in all 17 games, leading to 843 combined yards with five touchdowns and 64 catches. His value in the run game (38/187/1) helped him finish 32nd in wide receiver scoring (177.90) in PPR formats. His best opportunity came over the first three weeks (22.20, 22.90, and 13.10 fantasy points – 8/55/1, 7/78/1, and 7/48 with eight rushes for 51 yards). Over his final six games, Samuel posted three empty scores in fantasy points (1.30, 1.60, and 1.00) despite being on the field for more than 60% of the Commanders' plays.
Fantasy Outlook: In a way, Samuel could almost be considered a pass-catching back option this year. With J.D. McKissic out of the mix, he could steal some of the receptions from Antonio Gibson. This thought will be a factor when developing the opening projections for Washington. His floor should be 60 catches for 800 combined yards and about five scores with an entire season of snaps. He ranks 74th at wide receiver and well below his 2022 results. Samuel is a backend roster option in PPR formats.
WR Dyami Brown - Dynasty Only
Brown gained over 1,000 yards in his final two seasons (51/1,034/12 and 55/1,099/8) at North Carolina with Sam Howell behind center, leading to an impressive 20.1 yards per catch. His catch rate (60.2) needs work, but the distance of his targets was part of his weakness.
He gives Washington an explosive deep threat option, who will have limited value over the short areas of the field. Any chances close to the line of scrimmage come from scripted plays where his speed can create winning seams. Brown battles his hands in tight coverage.
In his rookie season, He caught 12 of his 25 targets for 165 yards. Last year, Brown teased in one game (2/105/2), but Washington only gave him 10 more targets on the year (3/38).
Fantasy Outlook: His ties to Howell bode well for a bump in opportunity this year. He should emerge as the Commanders' WR4 with up-and-down production from week to week.
Other Options: Dax Brown, Marcus Kemp, Kyric McGowan
TE Logan Thomas - Bye Week Fill-in
After kicking around the NFL for four seasons from 2014 to 2019, Thomas broke through for a career season (72/670/6 on 109 targets). Over the first 11 games, he managed only 34 catches for 328 yards and four touchdowns on 60 targets. Thomas gained fewer than 40 yards in eight games while offering playable value when scoring (4/37/1, 3/42/1, 4/60/1, and 4/20/1). The change to Alex Smith at quarterback made him a relevant fantasy option over the final six weeks (43/416/2 on 58 targets). His best success came in Week 13 (9/98/1) and Week 15 (13/101).
Thomas missed 11 games in 2021 with a hamstring issue and a year-ending torn ACL in his left knee. He finished with 18 catches for 196 yards and three touchdowns while failing to gain over 50 yards in any matchup.
Last season, Thomas missed three games with a calf injury. The Commanders had him on the field for 57.2 of their plays as their TE1. He failed to regain his previous form, highlighted by his 8.3 yards per catch and three games (3/37/1, 5/65, and 6/56) with more than 10.00 fantasy points in PPR leagues. Thomas finished the season with 39 catches for 323 yards and one touchdown.
Fantasy Outlook: At age 32, his better days are behind him, and Thomas lacks a career resume to support any investment in the fantasy market. He'll be found in the free-agent pool in all formats in 2023.
TE John Bates - Not Draft Worthy
Washington took a dance with TE John Bates in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, his quickness doesn't create too many wins over the short areas of the field, leading to minimal separation. However, when given a free run, he does have the speed to win deep in the secondary. His hands project well while needing to get stronger to handle his blocking responsibilities.
In his rookie season, Bates caught 20 passes for 249 yards and one score. With Logan Thomas back on the field in 2022, he finished with a setback in production (14/108/1 on 22 targets) while working as the Commanders' TE2.
Other Options: Cole Turner, Curtis Hodges, Brandon Dillon
PK Joey Slye - Not Draft Worthy
Despite success in 2020 in field goals (29-for-36), with five of his misses coming from 50 yards or more, Slye kicked for three different teams in 2021. He made 23 of his 25 field goals, but Slye did miss four of his 22 extra-point tries and four more in 2022 (28 chances). Last year, his leg regained lost value from long-range (4-for-6) while going 25-for-30 in his field goal chances. Slye made 17 of his 27 career tries from 50 yards or more.
Fantasy Outlook: Washington scored 35 touchdowns in 2022 while creating 30 field goal chances. Slye will rank well outside the top 12 kickers this year, with some job loss risk if he doesn't clean up his extra-point kicks.
Washington - Bye Week Fill-in
Washington slid to 11th in rushing yards allowed (1,926). Ball carriers gained 4.4 yards per rush with 10 touchdowns on 25.9 rushes per game.
The Commanders jumped to fourth in passing yards allowed (3,252) with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. They sacked the quarterback 43 times.
DE Chase Young missed 22 consecutive games between 2021 and 2022 due to his slow recovery from a significant knee injury (ACL and MCL tears). Washington drafted him second overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, and he played well in his rookie season (44 tackles and 7.5 sacks). The Commanders didn't pick up his fifth-year option, putting Young in a contract year. DE Montez Sweat has 29 sacks over his first four seasons with 165 tackles. His run defense has been an asset over the past three years.
DT Daren Payne broke through last year to set career-highs in tackles (64) and sacks (11.5), leading to the Commanders signing him to a $90 million contract for four seasons. Despite his success, he missed many tackles in 2022, leading to weakness in his run support for the second straight year. DT Jonathan Allen will pressure the quarterback while showing league-average value against the run. He tends to rank below the league average in run support.
LB Cody Barton saw his first starting action for the Seahawks last season, leading to 136 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, and six defended passes. His run defense was slightly below-par, with risk in coverage. LB Jamin Davis has a first-round pedigree (2021) while showing growth in his second season (104 tackles and three sacks). He played much better in all areas than in his rookie campaign. The other linebacker position is an open competition, with incoming rookies K.J. Henry and Andre Jones offering the most upside.
CB Kendall Fuller continues to play well in coverage, but he did allow more explosive catches last year. He also adds value to their run defense. CB Emmanuel Forbes is slated to start in his rookie season after getting drafted 16th overall. Washington doesn't have another standout cornerback on the roster, but rookie Jartavius Martin may work in a hybrid role between safety and cornerback.
S Kamren Curl blossomed into a solid asset in the Commanders' secondary. He improves their run defense while being a sure tackler. S Darrick Forrest set career bests in tackles (88), interceptions (4), and defended passes (9) in his sophomore year in the league. He did give up some touchdowns, but his coverage was an asset on many plays.
If DE Chase Young can reach his potential, Washington will continue to show growth on the defensive side of the ball. Their defensive line is loaded with talent, with an improving secondary. The second level of the defense only needs to fill the run lanes and add some value to the pass rush.
In the high-stakes fantasy market in June, the Commanders' defense ranks 14th. I see a top-10 fantasy defense with playable value in multiple games in 2023.