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Why the Commanders couldn't pass up on taking Jahan Dotson

Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) lines up against Ball State during an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Sept.11, 2021. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) lines up against Ball State during an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Sept.11, 2021. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Martin Mayhew got what he wanted last night when he traded back from No. 11 to No. 16 overall, providing the Washington Commanders with more capital in the later rounds. He could easily have done it again, though.

The talks about trading back began in the days leading up to the draft, and even after the Commanders prepared to make their pick, some of those teams were still interested in trading up. They could have pushed their pick back further into the teens, 20s or possibly the 30s, collected more picks and still grabbed a first-round talent.

I*nstead, the Commanders stood firm at 16 and took Jahan Dotson,* feeling that he was simply too valuable at that spot to pass up. Why? Because of everything he brings to the offense.

"Now you have those different skillsets that you need," Ron Rivera said. "We feel that watching him on the tapes that we watch, that this guy's more than capable of getting off the line, using his quickness and getting into his route quickly."

Mayhew said that Dotson was high on their draft board as part of a receiver class stacked with talent, and that was largely anchored by his ability to play bigger than his 5-foot-11, 178-pound frame to make contested catches. Rivera often used the word "tremendous" when referring to Dotson's traits, whether it was his catch radius, ball skills or focus.

It's a fair word to use, because Dotson is, well, tremendous at a lot of things. He had the lowest drop rate (3.5%) among his fellow receivers, and he was fourth in contested catch rate (81.3%).

Rivera had a couple interesting comparisons for his new wideout.

"It reminds me of DeSean Jackson a little bit. He reminds me of Steve Smith. A little bit smaller in stature, but plays bigger than that. And that's what we feel pretty comfortable and very confident about."

Versatility is another reason Dotson stood out to the Commanders. Rivera said they envision him getting a heavy dose of touches, and Scott Turner is going to get him the ball at a variety of positions. He was mostly used as an outside receiver at Penn State -- according to Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle, he had 1,148 career snaps outside the numbers -- but he also had 225 snaps in the slot.

Rivera specifically mentioned Dotson's interior route-running as something that stood out in his evaluation.

"He's got the ability to go vertical and make some plays because he understands route running on how to stack people, how to set people up," Rivera said. "A lot of those highlights really show some of the things that got our attention."

Dotson is more than willing to fill whatever role he's given.

"That's one thing that I feel like is one of my biggest traits in my game is my versatility," Dotson said. "To be able to play anywhere, be able to play inside, play outside. So I'm excited for the opportunity."

The other factor is that Dotson made the Penn State offense better. He routinely corralled difficult catches for the Nittany Lions and set records doing it (he ranks second all-time for the program in receptions, receiving touchdowns and 100-yard games). And while Dotson had solid teammates around him, the Penn State offense wasn't the same caliber as that of Ohio State, which included two eventual first-round picks, Alabama or Ole Miss.

Dotson still found ways to be successful.

"They knew the ball was going to him, but he was still making plays," Rivera said. "And that's what gets you excited when, especially when you put the tape on and you watch game after game and you see him catching seven, eight, nine, 10 balls a game."

Still, why Dotson, and why take a receiver at 16 when other receivers were available in later rounds? The answer goes back to the Commanders' mantra heading into the draft: they wanted to provide Carson Wentz with weapons, and when a receiver with Dotson's ability fell to them, they were compelled to take him.

"When you watch some of the things that Carson has done, we've got to now get guys that can get in that position to make those plays as well," Rivera said. "So, we just feel that getting a guy that's a polished receiver right now and ready to go will fit in very nicely with the rest of [the receivers]."

And in terms of what the Commanders were looking for, Dotson checks all the boxes.

"You got the guy that's gonna go vertical and challenge through the middle post," Rivera said. "You've got a guy that's gonna run a specific type of combination underneath with a guy over the top. You have to be able to threaten and attack zones a specific way.

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