The following article is based on the opinions of external draft analysts.
We're heading into the fourth season of the Ron Rivera era, and the Washington Commanders have another opportunity to strengthen their roster.
In his first season as Washington's head coach, Rivera took Chase Young, who became the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year, with the No. 2 overall pick. The next season, he drafted Jamin Davis with the No. 19 overall pick, and the former Kentucky Wildcat showed promise in his first season. And last year, the Commanders took Jahan Dotson, who wasted no time in becoming a valuable member of the Commanders' receiving corps.
Now, the Commanders have the No. 16 overall pick, and analysts are predicting them to go with a plethora of positions, from offensive line to cornerback and linebacker, at that spot.
In anticipation for that selection, Commanders.com will highlight one mock draft from a draft expert each week and delve into how that player would fit with Washington. We're starting things off at the cornerback position with Oregon's Christian Gonzalez.
Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Cornerback is considered to be a particularly deep position this year. ESPN's Mel Kiper has four on his first big board of the season, CBS Sports has five in their top 25, and The Draft Network has seven in their top 50. So, theoretically, Washington could wait until the second round to add needed depth at the position.
But the possibility of grabbing one of the best is a hard prospect to pass up, which is why NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah has the Commanders taking Gonzalez as the fourth cornerback off the board in his first mock draft.
"Gonzalez (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) has an ideal blend of size, speed and fluidity," Jeremiah wrote on Jan. 20. "He struggled a little early in the season, but kept getting better throughout the year. Washington has a strong need at the position."
Gonzalez, who received First Team Pac-12 All-Conference honors from coaches in 2022, checks off a lot of boxes in terms of being a first-round prospect. He has started a total of 31 combined games with Oregon and Colorado; he has a nice blend of length (as a reference, he is one inch shorter and one pound heavier than Benjamin St-Juste) and quickness to lock down any player on his side of the field.
One area that Gonzalez stands out better than most is in man coverage. It is fitting that he wears the No. 0, because he routinely gives up no separation to wideouts.
Just ask Stanford's Michael Wilson, who tried to slap away Gonzalez's hands to get open. The effort had little effect on Gonzalez, who batted the ball away for an incompletion.
The analytics also point to Gonzalez being an excellent man corner. Pro Football Focus gave him an 81.4 coverage grade because of his four interceptions and six pass breakups.
"Christian Gonzalez has everything you could want from a top cornerback -- size, speed, length, hips and ball skills," said PFF's Mike Renner.
But Gonzalez is not strictly a man corner; he also gained plenty of experience playing in zone coverages at Oregon, which uses a lot of cover 2 and cover 3 concepts. As Sports Illustrated noted in their scouting report of Gonzalez, zone coverage is where Gonzalez's athleticism is most apparent. Not only does he understand how to get the proper depth, but he also has an instinct for knowing when to jump routes.
His second interception against Buffalo is the prime example of that, as he reads the quarterback and makes a break for the ball.
Gonzalez is also a solid tackler, which is apparent when looking at his 51 tackles in 2022. His tackle grade of 83 ranked 20th among all cornerbacks in the country.
Because of his overall game, ESPN's Todd McShay ranked him as the second-best cornerback in the draft.
"Gonzalez was a two-year starter at Colorado before transferring to Oregon, and he has an impressive blend of size, length and speed," McShay wrote. "There's room for improvement when it comes to turning to locate the ball, but he's an effective press corner. Gonzalez is strong and long enough to reroute receivers, and he's fast enough to stay in their back pocket."
McShay believes that Gonzalez is best suited as an outside cornerback, but he has experience operating in the slot as well. That versatility, combined with his rare talent, would help take a Washington secondary that was already fourth in passing yards allowed to even more impressive heights.