A streaky 2021 season brought the Washington Commanders to a familiar place as they missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. The Commanders hope to at least finish above .500, a record they never held at any point last season, with a new quarterback, revamped weapons and key players returning from injury.
The team from the nation’s capital was led by Head Coach Ron Rivera and quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who showed flashes of promise but lacked the requisite talent and infrastructure to lead them to any progress (a common theme in D.C. during the past few decades).
He replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick in the season opener and never looked back, ending with 3,419 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Washington started 2-2 before a four-game losing streak, their bye week, a four-game winning streak, and another four-game losing streak right after—a whirlwind 13 weeks for the team.
It was the second losing streak, where they lost twice each to division rivals in the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, that truly torpedoed their season.
QB: Carson Wentz, Taylor Heinicke, Sam Howell, Cole Kelley
The most notable move Washington made this offseason was trading a second-round pick and two third-round picks (one being conditional) to the Indianapolis Colts for Wentz. Wentz had a much-improved 2021 after a disastrous season the year before with the Eagles, throwing for 3,563 yards and 27 touchdowns to just seven interceptions while starting every game.
The Commanders hope he will revitalize his career with Washington in a make-or-break year in 2022 since he can be cut after this season with $0 in dead cap. Heinicke may not be a quality starting quarterback in this league, but he is an elite backup, who has proven he can find success if called upon. Howell fell to the fifth round in the 2022 NFL Draft but holds the UNC records for most career passing yards and touchdown passes making him a third quarterback with upside.
RB: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Brian Robinson Jr., Jaret Patterson, Jonathan Williams, Reggie Bonnafon
Washington lacks top-end talent at running back but makes up for it with one of the best running back trios in the league.
Gibson has recorded 2,373 yards from scrimmage and 21 total touchdowns in his first two seasons, but his impressive production hasn’t lent the perception of being an elite back. Part of the reason for this is his proclivity to fumble, as his six fumbles, last season led the league.
Complementing him is McKissic, who is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league. His production dropped to just 43 catches last season after 80 in 2020, but he missed six games due to injury.
Robinson is a third-round rookie out of Alabama who could challenge for goal-line work right away and is waiting in the wings should Gibson falter as the primary running back.
WR: Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, Cam Sims, Dax Milne, Alex Erickson, Kelvin Harmon, Kyric McGowan, Jequez Ezzard, Marken Michel
While far from stellar, this group does have some intriguing talent and a brighter future after the recent extension of McLaurin, and the selection of Dotson at 16th overall in this past draft.
McLaurin has played with seven different quarterbacks in just three seasons with Wentz in line to be the eighth. Despite this turnover, he has averaged 74 catches for 1,030 yards and five touchdowns in the past three years and has been a model of consistency in D.C.
Dotson is a smaller outside receiver with good speed and great hands, who the Commanders hope will slot in nicely as the number two wideout.
Samuel played just 84 snaps in 2021 as he dealt with numerous injuries and COVID-19 during his first year in Washington. If he can get back to the dual threat he was in 2020 with the Panthers, he gives Washington a talented and underrated trio of receivers.
Brown was a third-round pick in 2021 that turned in a disappointing rookie season with just 12 catches in 15 games.
TE: Logan Thomas, John Bates, Cole Turner, Sammis Reyes, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Armani Rogers, Curtis Hodges
Thomas followed up a breakout 2020 season with a slow start in 2021 before missing time with a hamstring injury and then a torn ACL. When healthy, he is a solid short to intermediate target but offers little in the way of explosiveness as a downfield threat.
Bates is a decent blocker but not a noteworthy receiver, which opens up a potential role for fifth-round rookie Cole Turner. At 6-foot-6-inches, he is the biggest receiving threat in this room, and while raw, the Commanders hope he can reach his high upside. Gandy-Golden was a 2020 fourth-round pick, who converted from wide receiver to tight end this offseason.
OL: Charles Leno Jr., Andrew Norwell, Chase Roullier, Wes Schweitzer, Sam Cosmi, Saahdiq Charles, Cornelius Lucas, Beau Benzschawel, Trai Turner, Tyler Larsen, Willie Beavers, Chris Paul, Nolan Laufenberg, Keith Ismael, Aaron Monteiro, Tyrese Robinson, Jon Toth, Shaq Calhoun
Washington lost one of the best guards in the league in free agency with Brandon Scherff departing for Jacksonville but still maintains a solid offensive line.
Leno took an unexpected leap last season to perform as one of the best left tackles in the league and will be a crucial part of the unit tasked with protecting Wentz.
Cosmi missed eight games with injuries last season but is a solid offensive tackle, while Roullier is now the longest-tenured member of the offensive line. He’s one of the best centers in the league even though he missed nine games with a fibula injury last season.
Norwell comes over from Carolina and will replace Scherff in a move that is inevitably a downgrade barring a resurgence to the first-team All-Pro form he played at in 2017.
Schweitzer is a very capable guard and rounds out a unit that may not be spectacular but does not appear to have a significant weak link.
DL: Chase Young, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill, Phidarian Mathis, David Bada, Daniel Wise, Shaka Toney, Justin Hamilton, Tyler Clark, William Bradley-King, Bunmi Rotimi, Efe Obada, Jacub Panasiuk
By far the most talented position group on the roster, this group should feast on opposing offensive lines and pummel quarterbacks all year long. It remains to be seen if Young will be ready for Week 1 since he’s recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 10.
Nonetheless, he is one of the best defensive ends in the league and one of the elite few offensive coordinators have to gameplan around. Across from him is uber-athlete Montez Sweat who recorded five sacks in just ten games as he missed time with a fractured jaw. Together they form one of the best defensive end tandems in the league.
On the interior are two formidable pieces out of Alabama in Payne and Allen. Payne is entering the final year of his contract and another solid performance is sure to get him paid handsomely in a league enamored with interior defensive linemen. Allen recorded nine sacks as a truly dominant force on the interior and is a handful for even the best lineman.
Mathis is a second-round rookie (also out of Alabama, no less) who can provide solid depth and spell the two starters though his long-term pass-rushing upside is capped due to his limited burst.
LB: Cole Holcomb, Jamin Davis, David Mayo, Khaleke Hudson, De’Jon Haris, Mile Eifler, Tre Walker, Drew White, Bryce Notree
This linebacking corps is incredibly dependent on Holcomb because there is very little behind him despite Davis’ first-round pedigree. Holcomb stuffed the stat sheet as he ranked 15th in the league in total tackles with 142 while chipping in two interceptions but still had his struggles.
Davis struggled in his rookie year as an on-ball linebacker and has a long way to go to be a contributing member of this defense, but the Commanders hope he can fast-track his development this season.
CB: Kendall Fuller, William Jackson III, Benjamin St-Juste, Danny Johnson, Corn Elder, Troy Apke, Josh Drayden, Christian Holmes, DeJuan Neal, Channing Stribling
Fuller had a solid year last season despite just one interception and is by far the most reliable cornerback on this roster. The Commanders hope he will be a key piece moving forward as they now play A.J. Brown twice a year.
Jackson had a disappointing season in year one of a three-year, $40.5 million contract. He recorded just two picks in 12 games and failed to live up to the hype he entered free agency with.
St-Juste is a big (6-foot-3-inches, 200 lbs.) who battled concussion effects and played in just nine games last season. Washington has moved him to the slot this offseason in an effort to find a better fit for him.
S: Kamren Curl, Bobby McCain, Jeremy Reaves, Percy Butler, Ferrod Gardner, Darrick Forrest
Curl is a playmaking safety who is one of the top candidates on this roster for a breakout season in 2022. He posted 99 combined tackles in a productive sophomore year for a shoddy passing defense.
The Commanders resigned McCain to a two-year extension after he led the team with four interceptions last season. Butler is a fourth-round rookie, who is listed as a safety and also in the mix at nickel cornerback. He will be a core special teamer and will have to develop further for the rest of his game to match his explosive athletic traits