The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

With the draft complete, the Commanders focus on filling the gaps

Ron Rivera has some spots to fill, but the Commanders’ roster is just about set. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Ron Rivera’s rebuild of the Washington Commanders is nearly complete.

The front office spent the first 2½ offseasons of his tenure turning over the roster and acquiring players at pillar positions, and in the 2022 draft, it filled in the cracks by adding more scheme-specific pieces — such as an interior receiver (Penn State’s Jahan Dotson), a physical running back (Alabama’s Brian Robinson Jr.) and a two-gapping defensive lineman (the Crimson Tide’s Phidarian Mathis).

In Year 3, Rivera acknowledged, it’s crucial for his team to show improvement from last season’s 7-10 finish. This draft reflected that urgency — seven of the eight picks were seniors, and Rivera said he expected immediate contributions from at least the first four selections — but the front office has a few weeks to apply the finishing touches.

“We’re not done,” Rivera said Saturday night. “As you take a look at your roster and then you kind of reset yourself, there are some things that you may want to fill in.”

Commanders’ draft class: What each player brings and how they fit

On Monday, after signing a handful of undrafted free agents, Rivera will meet with his coaching staff to determine which positions still need help. Last year, in post-draft free agency, Washington found starters at left tackle, free safety and returner. This year, the Commanders could target linebackers, defensive backs and offensive linemen, among others.

Come September, Washington’s success probably won’t hinge on anyone added from April on. It will depend on how the foundations of the team answer the questions swirling around them:

Is Carson Wentz closer to the quarterback that most of the NFL thinks he is or the one Washington believes he can be?

Can defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio get his group to rebound from a disappointing season?

Will star defensive end Chase Young return healthy from a torn ACL and prove his slow start last season was an outlier?

But in the draft and in the meantime, Washington is trying to support its key pieces. One good example is Wentz: The big-armed passer can make all the throws, especially downfield and over the middle, but in the past two seasons, the video and data suggest his accuracy has declined. His expected completion percentage has been among the league’s lowest in that span, according to Next Gen Stats.

In the draft, Washington picked two prospects — Dotson and Nevada tight end Cole Turner — who were praised for their catch radii. Rivera noticed Turner while scouting Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong, and when he described how Turner’s length and athleticism helped him maximize Strong’s skills, it was hard not to hear the parallels to his new quarterback.

“Carson’s a big, strong guy, and he threw … deep balls where the guy had to go get them and make plays,” Rivera said. “You saw this catch radius from a tight end [Turner], and so that’s what’s very intriguing about [him].”

QB Sam Howell — a ‘home run’ pick — highlights Commanders’ Day 3 of NFL draft

Washington has solidified most of its offense, but questions remain on defense. Del Rio has talent at the most important positions — Young, fellow defensive end Montez Sweat, cornerback William Jackson III — but he lacks obvious solutions at middle linebacker and Buffalo nickel, as well as depth at linebacker, cornerback and safety. Those positions may come up at Monday’s meeting.

Buffalo nickel could be the most important. Last year, the defense was at its best with Landon Collins in the role alongside safeties Kam Curl and Bobby McCain. After the season, Curl said the three-safety set allowed the unit to disguise its coverages, most notably in its upset of Tampa Bay.

“We feel pretty good about what we did,” Rivera said Saturday. He mentioned that Percy Butler, the fourth-round safety from Louisiana Lafayette, “helps add to the mix, and we can do some things, I think, with the right personnel on the field.”

Butler, listed at 6-foot and 194 pounds, is about the same size as Curl (6-2, 198), who broke out in the role early in 2020. Others who could contribute at Buffalo nickel: linebacker Khaleke Hudson, who briefly split the role with a safety last season; safety Darrick Forrest, whose body and skill set fit the profile; or a bigger cornerback.

Middle linebacker may be the most troubling spot left. Washington has, despite spending draft capital, not found a fit for its “Mike” linebacker. Earlier this offseason, Rivera said Cole Holcomb may get another shot; after the draft, when Washington picked no linebackers, he may be Rivera’s best option — though productive inside linebackers are available on the free agent market, including Joe Schobert and Kwon Alexander.

Brewer: Quarterback is the No. 1 NFL priority. But it’s okay to pick one last.

In the big picture, Washington has done the hard part. Over the next month, the coaches and players will work at the facility as the front office addresses the roster’s edges. But on Saturday night, after the long draft process finally finished, Rivera felt good about the progress his team had made.

“We’re anticipating a number of these guys, especially the first four, are going to get an opportunity to come out and contribute and play,” he said. “We feel comfortable and confident with those guys.”

What to read about the Washington Commanders

Exclusive: An employee of Washington’s NFL team accused Commanders owner Daniel Snyder of asking for sex, groping her and attempting to remove her clothes, according to legal correspondence obtained by The Post. A team investigation concluded the woman was lying in an attempt to extort Snyder.

Capitol Hill: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, announced that the committee intends to issue a subpoena to compel the testimony of Snyder.

Kevin B. Blackistone: If NFL players care about social justice, why haven’t they rebuked the Commanders’ defensive coordinator?

Penalized: The NFL fined Commanders head coach Ron Rivera $100,000 and docked the team two OTA practices in 2023 for excessive hitting during their offseason program this year, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.