MOBILE, Ala. — It was a surprisingly hot and sunny Tuesday at the University of South Alabama for the start of Senior Bowl week. The Washington Commanders’ brass, minus Coach Ron Rivera, was in town for the college showcase.
Based on the roster, as well as observations Tuesday, here are four positions the Commanders will look at hardest during Saturday’s Senior Bowl game.
Washington needs cornerbacks, and the attendance of Del Rio and Vieselmeyer suggests the team is looking hard at the position. As usual, the top prospects are juniors, but in Mobile, the long, athletic seniors could be targets on Day 2 of the draft — because rookie cornerbacks, like rookie receivers, are becoming more valuable around the NFL.
Jim Nagy, executive director of the Senior Bowl, pointed out that Kansas City is going to the Super Bowl with two unheralded rookie cornerbacks, Joshua Williams (fourth round) and Jaylen Watson (seventh), who fit the tall, long mold.
“That body type works,” Nagy said. “I saw it too many times [as a scout in Seattle]. … The top juniors fill out those first couple rounds, so we usually figure into that third [or fourth].”
Washington could target Oregon State’s Rejzohn Wright (6-foot-2, 196 pounds), who is about the same size as Benjamin St-Juste, or opt for one of the slightly smaller top prospects: Miami’s Tyrique Stevenson (6-0, 204) or Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly (6-0, 193).
During the team’s end-of-season news conference, Rivera emphasized that the Commanders want to improve the line generally and get younger at center specifically. During the first day in Mobile, Hurney watched seemingly every line drill.
Commanders executive VP of football/player personnel Marty Hurney has been front and center for OL drills at Senior Bowl practice. pic.twitter.com/SNrFk1HrYQ— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) January 31, 2023
Though the top line prospects are juniors, the Senior Bowl includes arguably the best center in the class (John Michael Schmitz of Minnesota), a few well-regarded tackles (Dawand Jones of Ohio State and Blake Freeland of BYU) and a few top guards (Cody Mauch of North Dakota State and O’Cyrus Torrence of Florida).
For positional value, it seems unlikely Washington would spend its first-round pick on anyone here. But it could target those linemen on Day 2 and project them as immediate contributors.
If the Commanders indeed want a run-first offense in 2023, Schmitz seems like a fit. He has a lot of traits Washington values, including experience (he’s a sixth-year senior), size (he’s 6-3 and 306 pounds), athleticism and smarts. Run-blocking is a strength because last season, he joked Tuesday, Minnesota’s offense ran the ball about 80 percent of the time.
What part of his game is he proudest of?
“My refusal to be beat,” Schmitz said. “My toughness, my grit factor. The way I finish plays.”
If the Commanders use a first-round pick on a prospect from this week, Oregon State junior Luke Musgrave might have the best odds. He’s generally considered to be in the second tier of tight ends behind junior Michael Mayer of Notre Dame, the consensus top prospect at the position, along with Utah senior Dalton Kincaid and Georgia junior Darnell Washington.
Musgrave played just two games this past season because of a knee injury, but on Tuesday, his size (6-5, 255) and fluid route-running stood out. The Commanders could use his build as a complete tight end if Logan Thomas becomes a salary cap casualty this offseason.
One disappointment for the Commanders: Kincaid pulled out late with an injury.
“Luke Musgrave’s a guy that people are sleeping on a little bit right now because he didn’t really play this year,” Nagy said. “But I think [Musgrave could be one of the] guys that could move up into the first round coming out of the week.”
If Washington doesn’t re-sign Cole Holcomb, it seems likelier to pursue a starter to pair with Jamin Davis in free agency than in the draft. But while here, the Commanders could look for much-needed depth at the position. Unfortunately for them, the class is weak.
“Of all the groups, that’s probably the thinnest — at least for the senior class,” Nagy said. “Off-the-ball linebackers was tough this year.”
Nagy pointed out the Senior Bowl classified two edge rushers, Andre Carter II of Army and Will McDonald IV of Iowa State, as outside linebackers in the interest of bringing the most draftable players to Mobile.
The other best linebackers here appear to be Ivan Pace Jr. of Cincinnati, Isaiah Land of Florida A&M and Daiyan Henley of Washington State.