The Washington Commanders are nine days away from the start of the 2022 NFL Draft, and that means there will soon be a new player wearing the Burgundy & Gold once they officially make their first-round pick.
In that moment, months of preparation and planning will become a reality. Making sure the player is the right fit on the field is at the center of that, but it also includes determining whether they're the right person off of it. That process began back in March during the Combine, which according to Ron Rivera, is like speed dating.
"You got 20 minutes to talk to a guy, and then you go on to the next player," he told team analyst Logan Paulsen.
Of course, the Commanders are well past the "get to know you" phase. They're getting ready to make a long term commitment, and for the past month, they've been rolling through 30 in-person visits allowed by the league with their top prospects. It's the final phase to see if the player they end up using their 11th overall pick on is the right kind of person for the organization.
"Once you get into this phase, it's an opportunity to really get to know these guys, not just on watching tape," Rivera said.
The Washington Commanders' players have begun reporting to the team facility for Phase 1 of the voluntary offseason workout program. Check out the top photos from the first day of work. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
The 30 players the Commanders have been hosting come from a larger pool of prospects that has been whittled down for months. After the Combine meetings, which provide limited insight, the team sent out scouts to pro days across the country to dig deeper on certain players.
"Guys that you're really interested in…or guys you want to know more about, you can go spend time with them," Rivera said.
Those pro days are where the list for the 30 visits comes from, and it allows the Commanders to spend even more time with prospects. The visits can accomplish a variety of things, such as allowing their medical team to evaluate players, but the core goal is to get a better understanding of what each prospect is like as a person.
"This is an opportunity for us to dive into who these guys are as not just football players and not just as athletes, but as young men as well," Rivera said.
As to what prospects will do during their visits, it involves a lot of mingling with various members of the organization. That includes getting to know the position coaches, coordinators, the team's psychologist, the director of player development and Rivera himself. It even involves the interns, because they're the ones who help the prospects with their travel.
"Everybody that's here in this building will or could have a chance to help us get to know who these men are," Rivera said.
There's a stark contrast in the tone surrounding the meeting at the Combine and the team facility. The setting is much more relaxed, which is by design. It encourages the prospects to "let their hair down," Rivera said, and that helps the coaches learn more about who they are.
For some, the visits can partially be about the gamesmanship of making other teams believe they're interested in certain players. Rivera can understand that philosophy, but for him, it's purely about evaluating each player to see if they're the right fit.
"We really wanna get to know them," Rivera said. "Because you're about to make a serious investment, and you have to know the ins and outs of who these young men are."
The Commanders have done a solid job of finding the right players who match their culture without hosting players prior to the draft the past two seasons, when COVID-19 protocols limited in-person interactions. They took Chase Young with the No. 2 overall pick in 2020, and the defensive end has been a team captain for the last two seasons.
In 2021, the Commanders drafted Jamin Davis with the 19th overall pick. Rivera said Davis was "the right fit for us" because of his family background and intelligence. While Davis still has room to grow as a player, it's clear that he's a match for Washington's culture.
Those picks were made with almost no physical interaction before their names were called by the commissioner. Having these personal experiences with the prospects should be able to inform those decisions even further.
And with the Commanders picking in the top half of the first round, it's a selection they want to get right.
"We've just got to make sure we make some really good decisions...going forward," Rivera said.