Commanders look to draft to add weapons for Carson Wentz

ASHBURN — Ron Rivera had to pivot. The Washington Commanders coach spent months reviewing film of this year’s top quarterback prospects, even honing in on “a guy” that he became enamored with. But when the Commanders traded for Carson Wentz in March, more than A month before the NFL draft, Rivera’s priorities shifted.

The coach went from trying to find a starting quarterback to now scouting players who would best fit around Wentz.

“We have a guy like Carson you gotta be able to protect him,” Rivera said. “But then you do gotta put a dynamic playmaker around him. So we’ll go into this draft with that mantra, that mindset that if you can ‘t get one to make sure we get the other to help him.”

Wentz’s arrival in Washington is why many draft analysts predict the Burgundy and Gold will end up selecting a wide receiver at No. 11 when the league’s three-day draft begins Thursday. Rivera was seen at Ohio State’s Pro Day to watch receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, and the Commanders also brought in USC wide receiver Drake London for a private visit. Of that trio, Olave and London have been the two most linked to Washington as Wilson will almost assuredly be gone before Washington is on the clock.

If Washington doesn’t choose a receiver at No. 11, the team also needs help in the secondary, making Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton an ideal fit. The team will still need offensive help later in the draft. Washington was one of two clubs last year without a second receiver top more than 400 yards, and the Commanders finished this past season ranked 21st in passing yards.

NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said that Washington will be able to find value even if it passes on a wideout in Round 1. Other wideouts like North Dakota State’s Christian Watson or Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore could be appealing options for Day 2, Jeremiah said.

“You’ll be able to find some guys,” said Jeremiah, who has praised this year’s receiver depth.

Jeremiah said he doesn’t see Washington desperate to add a receiver — something that Rivera has expressed, as well. Rivera has maintained that he liked the overall makeup of the position. The Commanders expect Curtis Samuel, who just played five games last season because of injuries, to bounce back in 2022, Rivera said.

Rivera, though, said Samuel’s return won’t affect Washington’s draft plan. And no matter how confident Rivera seems to be, Samuel ultimately needs to prove he can produce at a high level before penciling him in as a reliable option.

In Philadelphia, Wentz’s success came when throwing to bigger targets like Alshon Jeffrey and tight end Zach Ertz. Washington lacks size at wide receiver, but Rivera said he sees Wentz’s past success as more circumstantial than an indication that he thrives with size.

If Washington wants to add size, USC’s London — at 6-foot-4 — would be an appealing option.

“It’s about getting the most talented guy, and everybody brings something different to the table,” Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew said. “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.”

Washington’s search to upgrade its offense, however, doesn’t just extend to wide receiver. The Commanders will likely look to address the interior of their offensive line after All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff departed for the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency. Veterans Wes Schweitzer and Saahdiq Charles will be candidates to start in Scherff’s place, but Rivera values ​​depth.

Rivera also mentioned the need to play complementary football. Last season, Washington’s best stretch of the year came when the team started to emphasize running the ball to help grind out games. Antonio Gibson remains the starting running back, but the Commanders have hosted multiple backs such as Iowa State’s Breece Hall and Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III for top 30 visits this spring.

Adding another back could be an option to spell Gibson and JD McKissic. In Indianapolis, Wentz’s last stop, the Colts relied on a strong running game as Jonathan Taylor emerged as the league’s leading rusher.

Yet Rivera knows that Wentz will allow the Commanders to do different things on offense — making it that much more important the team adds playmakers around him.

“You look at what Carson can do in terms of some of the other throws that he makes that are pretty dynamic,” Rivera said. “It does have add a whole new element to what we want to do offensively as far as complimentary football goes .”

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