Players like Chase Young and Jamin Davis received the majority of the hype surrounding the Washington Commanders' two previous draft classes, but the team has done just as good of a job finding value beyond the first-round pick.
The Commanders have drafted 16 players outside of the first round during Ron Rivera’s tenure, and of that group, nearly half have started at least five games and all have seen the field in some capacity. Even in the year before Rivera became the head coach, Washington found key contributors in Terry McLaurin (a third-round pick) and Cole Holcomb (a fifth-rounder).
With six picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Commanders are primed to find more gems in Days 2 and 3. And with this class considered one of the most dense in years, there will be plenty of opportunities to address their positions of need.
"I think there's a really, really good middle to this draft," general manager Martin Mayhew said during his and Rivera's pre-draft press conference. "The middle starts pretty quickly."
The sheer amount of players available is a stark contrast compared to last year's class. There were 657 players who had signed a standard representation agreement with an agent ahead of the 2021 draft, per Defector. That number has ballooned to 1,621 this offseason -- a 147% increase -- which falls more in line with the 1,972 in 2019 and 1,839 from 2020.
The class is also more experienced. From 2017-21, Defector notes that the average of prospects was about 23 years old. In 2022, that average has risen to about 24 years old.
"I think there are a couple of different things that have been factors with that happening," Mayhew said. "One is the COVID year. A lot of guys came back to school and played one more year. And two, I think the NIL [name, image and likeness marketing deals], where some guys are now staying in longer and guys that are coming out now would've come out last year. It's a lot deeper this year."
Regardless of the reason, it makes for a larger pool for the Commanders to choose from. The wide receiver position is perhaps the biggest example. Players like Alabama's Jameson Williams, USC's Drake London and Ohio State's Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson -- all of which have been tabbed to Washington in mock drafts -- sit at the top of the class, but the consensus among analysts is that there are impactful playmakers deeper in the class.
That gives the Commanders some flexibility. If they do decide they need to bolster their receiver corps, they can wait until Day 2 and use the 11th overall pick on another position.
"I think it's about getting the most talented guy, and everybody brings something different to the table," Mayhew said when asked about receiver evaluations. "It's about guys fitting us and fitting what we try to do offensively and guys having the most ability. Size comes into play obviously, but I think it's more about talent."
Cornerback is another position that has been highlighted as an area the Commanders could address this year, and like receiver, there are players at the top of the class like LSU's Derek Stingley, Washington's Trent McDuffie and Cincinnati's Sauce Gardner who will be picked Thursday night.
But there will likely be heavy contributors in later rounds with that position as well. Players like Auburn's Roger McCreary, while in need of some tutelage with zone coverage, could rely on their abilities in man coverage during their rookie seasons. At safety, Maryland's Nick Cross and Penn State's Jaquon Brisker are projected second-round picks who could be more involved in rotations and even start in the right circumstance.
At the linebacker position, which only has two players (Utah's Devin Lloyd and Georgia's Nakobe Dean) projected to go in the first round, most prospects are expected to be picked up on Days 2 and 3. It's a spot the Commanders have needed to reinforce with the losses of Jon Bostic and other depth players to free agency.
Rivera said the Commanders will rely on their draft board, which was finalized last Friday, to dictate how the weekend unfolds for them, but Mayhew sounds like he already has high expectations for the later picks.
"We think in the middle rounds for the second, third, fourth, fifth, they're gonna be starters, I think, going into the third and fourth round here in this draft," he said. "There's opportunity for us there."
And there likely will be opportunities for the Commanders during the second round and beyond, but as of right now, they only have five picks in that range to work with. They traded their third-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for Carson Wentz, and their fifth-round pick was used last year to trade for Camaron Cheeseman.
Mayhew did hint, however, that the number and position of their picks could change.
"We have six picks now," he said. "I doubt we'll end this draft with those same six picks. I believe there will be some movement whether up and back up or back in those rounds, in those middle rounds."
With the board already set, Rivera and Mayhew have a plan for how to address the middle rounds, and they aren't going to reveal those plans less than 72 hours before the draft starts. But considering the team's track record in recent years, there should be confidence in their strategy.
"There are a couple groups, and we can talk about it on Sunday after we get done," Mayhew said with a slight smile. "But there are some groups where we feel there is a lot of depth."