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'We're not gonna be for everyone': Quinn, Peters looking for right players to build Commanders' new era

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The NFL scouting combine has become the biggest offseason and pre-draft event of the offseason, enticing scouts, fans and media members from across the country with a chance to hear from hundreds of the best prospects in college football as they prepare for the NFL draft.

Of all the events that take place during the weeklong spectacle, the on-field workouts garner the most attention. No, there isn't any actual football taking place, and yes, most of it is just prospects running around in athletic clothing. But the workouts are the best example of how each player's skill set will translate at the NFL until training camp in August.

There is certainly something to be gained from watching prospects go through these drills, but for the Washington Commanders and the rest of the NFL, it isn't the most valuable information they'll get in Indianapolis. It's the interviews that are more important.

General manager Adam Peters and Dan Quinn to rebu...recalibrate the Commanders from a team that finished 4-13 in 2023 into a playoff contender. To do that, they need to get the right people on the roster. Finding athletes that fit their schemes is part of that, but to Quinn and Peters, getting the right culture fits carries just as much weight.

"You're really trying to get into not the ball player but the man and find out what they are, what they stand for," Quinn said. "We're looking for that kind of competitor, that kind of toughness."

That's not to say that the on-field workouts hold less meaning than they did in previous years, despite top prospects like Marvin Harrison Jr., Caleb Williams and Jayden Daniels electing not to participate. The drills in Indianapolis are still a part of the evaluation process, and doing well in the 40-yard dash, three-cone drills or bench can cause a Day 3 pick to move up draft board into Day 2, and Day 2 picks to possibly move into the first round.

But as film from workouts has become more readily available for coaches to watch from their offices away from the combine, the need to see them in person has lessened for some teams.

So, teams have begun shifting their focus at the combine towards what is harder to evaluate: who the athletes are as people.

"The evaluations with Adam and his guys on the physical traits of the players, that's going to stay consistent no matter where we're at," Quinn said. "But finding who the person is inside the helmet, inside the rib cage, that starts in moments like now."

For Quinn, learning players' stories and their decisions can provide a wealth of insight into whether they are the right people he wants to have on his roster. For example, if they chose not to enter the transfer portal, why did they stay instead of pursuing another opportunity? Depending on the answer, that could show Quinn how resilient a player is and how determined he was to work something out in his current situation. Conversely, if they chose to transfer, what were some factors that went into that decision?

"There's just more stories and more depth to it," Quinn said.

But there's more to it than that. Peters and Quinn also want to see if they are the right kind of players who can fit into the locker room and culture of the team. The Commanders, and every NFL team for that matter, are full of talent evaluators with decades of experience as players, coaches and scouts, so it isn't difficult to spot a prospect that matches the physical checklist.

But finding out whether the other qualities are ideal for the direction Washington wants to go requires more digging.

"It's a huge part of any position, getting to know the person," Peters said. "That's where we've always found that in scouting [that] you make the biggest mistakes more so on the person than the actual talent."

That might be true for every position, but it gets ramped up even higher with quarterbacks. Peters said it's easier to see that someone like Myles Garrett or Nick Bosa can thrive in their roles, but quarterbacks are more nuanced because they influence the entire offense in many ways. Not only do they have to fit the physical traits and show results, but they also need to be leaders and elevate their unit, both from a physical and motivational standpoint.

Washington still has "a lot of work to do," Peters said, when it comes to deciding what to do at No. 2 overall, but it's clear that taking a quarterback is an option. They've already reportedly met with several of the top options like Williams, Daniels, Drake Maye and Michael Penix Jr. among others.

There's no perfect way to evaluate quarterbacks -- Peters joked that he'd probably be retired if had the answer -- but he's learned more every time he's needed to do.

"With quarterback or any position, it's people evaluating people," Peters said. "You're gonna make mistakes, and it's matter of if you have a better hit rate. It's the draft, you try to hit on as many as you can. The more hits you have, whether it's the first-round pick or the seventh-round pick or anywhere in between, that's how you build your team."

Some questions might be a bit more leading; others might be a bit silly or unique (there's stories of that happening every year), but it's all about trying to find the right answers to determine if prospects are worth using a draft pick on.

"It might be running back, it could be defensive end, it could be quarterback, but just digging in behind the scenes about the person first," Quinn said. "And then if we get that part the way that we think it fit and be together, then the tape and that stuff comes in in second."

This isn't the only time that Washington will speak to prospects with top 30 visits and Pro Days on the horizon, but it is the first touch point for the Commanders to find the right people to bring in the building. By the time the draft comes in April, they'll know exactly who they want.

"We want to make sure that we're not gonna be for everybody. Like we were looking for absolute guys that are willing to go for it and show that kind of toughness and speed and finishing ability. And so that's going to be a priority for us. And so, we want to make sure that each and every guy that that has a specific role of how they'll get it on with us."

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