By: Mike Patt
Original Date: 12/10/23
Hello sports fans, and welcome back to the IE Sports Radio Blog. Thanksgiving is a holiday that has become synonymous with what I call the three “F’s”; Food, Family, and Football. I had the pleasure (sarcasm) of watching my beloved Washington Commanders get pummeled on national TV by the division rival and long-time hated Dallas Cowboys. The Commanders followed up that performance by playing equally poorly at home against the Miami Dolphins on December 3rd. The back to back 30+ point losses dropped Washington to 4-9 on the season. With the new 17-game schedule, it is not impossible for a team with 9 losses to make the playoffs. The remaining schedule is quite difficult, and given the way the team has been playing, it would be amazing if they won 2 games the rest of the way, let alone all four.
Going with the above knowledge and the general mood in and around the organization, the 2023-24 season is over. It is a pity to have this feeling/revelation with several weeks to go (including a bye week), but everyone around the league would agree that this is reality for the Commanders. Now we as fans get to begin the age-old tradition of prematurely looking to the future for hope. Washington seems to have a few core pieces on both sides of the ball, including an important young player at QB in Sam Howell and one of my personal favorites in WR Terry McClaurin. It is easy to look across the roster and see a significant rebuild with some major needs.
One such need is the Offensive Line. Washington’s O-line has been among the worst in the NFL this season. The team’s off-season efforts of adding mid-level free agents and draft prospects has led to the shocking result of the unit getting worse instead of better. Among those who have played significant snaps, only RG Sam Cosmi has been consistently better than average. This group has the potential to see many changes next year, depending on how the organization chooses to address it. Their situation here leads me to the title question: could the Commanders draft a whole new starting offensive line?
This question does require several assumptions and key components. The first piece is draft capital. After this year’s trade deadline, Washington has five picks in the first three rounds, and there are five starting linemen (the math checks out). We will assume that the Commanders address all other roster needs in free agency, at least to the point where they use later picks to fill in the gaps. Given their excess cap space, this is a plausible component of the scenario.
The final and most interesting part is what to do with the current group of linemen. Free agents would not be re-signed, and current starting LT Charles Leno would be released. Cosmi, while playing well, will be entering the final year of his rookie contract next year and should be an attractive trade piece. Veteran free agent additions Nick Gates and Andrew Wylie either get released (possibly designated post June 1st cut) or relegated to the bench. Whether or not that duo stays, the team has reasonable back-ups in Trenton Scott, Chris Paul, Ricky Stromberg, and Braedon Daniels. If they went in to 2024 with those guys as depth, Washington would be okay.
Now that we have discussed the backbone of the concept, let’s look at the execution. With five early picks, the Commanders have the potential to add high level prospects on the front line. How would they approach selecting these players? Naturally, some positions are more difficult to address than others. Washington will need a certain degree of luck and pick positioning in order to properly execute this plan. Let’s take a look at what I think an ideal scenario would look like.
First Round: One of OT Olu Fashanu or OT Joe Alt
The first round is light on options for a couple of reasons. At the time of this article, Washington owns the 4th overall pick in the draft. Given their difficulty of schedule, it is tough to imagine a scenario where they pick outside of the top 10 (barring a trade as well). With that in mind, there are no interior O-line prospects who I would value in the top 10 of this draft, and few tackles. Fashanu and Alt are your prototypical left tackles. They have all the physical attributes you could want, and both will have at least two full seasons of college experience under their belt. For the most important position on the line, these are the best options, and it may not be close.
Second Round: Two of OG Cooper Beebe, OT Jordan Morgan, OL Troy Fautanu, OC Sedrick Van Pran, OG Zak Zinter
This is where things get interesting. Washington’s two second round picks are going to be very good, possibly within the top 40 overall in the draft. It is tricky to anticipate who will be available at this point, especially with the pre-draft process still to come. I do believe that OT prospects JC Latham, Amarius Mims, and Taliese Fuaga will be off the board by the end of the first round. Outside of them, any O-line prospects could be available by the time Washington picks again. There should be plenty of choices for the front office to pick from for this scenario.
With LT taken care of, we move to the rest of the line. Beebe and Zinter are arguably the two best guard prospects in this class. Either or both would be great additions, although it would be strange from a position value standpoint to solve both guard spots here. Zinter is coming off an injury, which will have some affect on his value. Van Pran is one of the best center prospects. Morgan would form an excellent tackle tandem with Fashanu or Alt. Fautanu played LT in college, but will likely have to move to RT or OG in the NFL. His motor and energy are coveted attributes.
Third Round: Two of OG Donovan Jackson, OT Javon Foster, OT Matt Gonclaves, OL Graham Barton, OC Jackson Powers-Johnson
As unpredictable as the second round can be, the third round is exponentially more uncertain this far out. One thing that adds another layer of difficulty is that one of Washington’s picks will be at the end of the round (from San Francisco, likely around pick 100). There are half a dozen more players I could add to this list. With all that said, I went with guys who I would want on the team and who I believe have a reasonable chance of being available at this point in the draft. Foster and Gonclaves are quality RT prospects to go opposite of Alt of Fashanu. Barton is a LT at Duke who will have to change positions for the pros, but could end up anywhere between LG and RT. I like the skill-sets of Jackson and Powers-Johnson, and see them as long-term NFL starters.
Do I think that Washington will take this approach? No, not in the slightest. I believe they will make a few changes, but nothing to the extent as discussed in this article and likely not to the extent they NEED to. This is a fun theoretical experiment to see how things would work if the Commanders went all in on completely redoing the OL. Let me know in the comments if you think this could work and if you think Washington should do it. Tune it to Let’s Wine About DMV Sports, hosted by Mike Patt, on Fridays at 9PM EST/6 PM PST. Thank you to all you loyal listeners who continue to help our network grow. Thank you for reading, and we will see you next time on IE Sport Radio; your direct feed for ALL that is sports.