Forgive anyone who questions the judgment of Washington front-office personnel — this wasn’t Bobby Beathard making the pick, after all — and defers to the judgment of Bill Belichick, et al. Yeah, in New England, they’re picking apart Belichick’s drafts over the past decade or so, and the reviews aren’t kind. But give D.C. those problems. They apparently come with rings.
From a Washington perspective, there’s a lot to digest here, and it really has more to do with who the Commanders didn’t select than who they did. There’s Will Levis, the Kentucky quarterback who tumbled down the board to the point you worried he would get a concussion. For Washington, it’s fine to leave Levis sitting there, because evaluations of him were all over the place. But it further casts Washington’s lot with Sam Howell, a fifth-round pick a year ago. Cross your fingers. Look to the heavens. There’s no other strategy. The never-ending search for a quarterback didn’t conclude Thursday night.
But it wasn’t just Levis left on the board. Nolan Smith, the outside linebacker from Georgia, similarly free-fell. Do the Commanders need more pass rushers, given they have Chase Young and Montez Sweat and … wait. We’ll get to that.
What about Christian Gonzalez, the cornerback from Oregon? He has 30 pounds on Forbes, but what does that matter? If you trust the leadership of Coach Ron Rivera and the Marty Party — General Manager Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney, the executive vice president of football/player personnel — well, then, congrats on your optimism. What’s it based on? The Patriots stepped in and scooped up Gonzalez a blink after the Commanders passed on him. Sorry if that engenders skepticism. It’s ingrained by now.
Here’s the thing: The major roster news involving the Commanders this week wasn’t the fact that they took Forbes with the 16th pick Thursday night. Maybe that’ll work. Maybe it won’t. Let the prognosticators parse it out. I’ll see you at training camp to start seeing for real.
The important part of what went down his week involves not Forbes but Young, and it forces any fan to question the judgment of the people who took Forbes at 16. That might seem harsh. It’s also fair. Rivera is entering a season in which he is coaching for his job as both football coach and football czar, and any evaluation of whether he’s worth keeping around for a fifth season has to include his record of selecting players.
Long before Forbes, that started with Young. So inarguably, Young matters more. It’s worth figuring out whether Forbes, a nifty little playmaker, will be a better pick than, say, Gonzalez, whom the Patriots nabbed immediately after Rivera and Co. took Forbes. There’s a whole summer ahead of wondering whether banking on Howell rather than spending first-round capital on a prospect such as Levis or Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker was wise.
But in all of this, go back to the first pick of Rivera’s regime: Young. This was the second pick of the 2020 draft, when the only player off the board was LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. (And if you’re a Commanders fan, and you don’t rue the victory the old 2019 Redskins pulled out in Miami under interim coach Bill Callahan, thus costing the franchise the top pick in that ’20 draft … well, you’re doing it wrong.)
The three-years-later view of that draft is this: Young was the defensive rookie of the year in 2020, but got hurt midway through 2021 and has just 1½ sacks since. Tua Tagovailoa appears to be the franchise quarterback in Miami. Justin Herbert is the franchise quarterback in Los Angeles with the Chargers. Those were the fifth and sixth picks in that draft, respectively. It’s not revisionist history to say that either could have been in Washington. It’s asking the football decision-makers at the helm at the time to make the best evaluation possible.
Yeah, Rivera and Co. were inheriting Dwayne Haskins as an incumbent, and that was awkward. But it remains a fact that they chose Young, and by default Haskins, rather than deciding, say, Herbert could stabilize the sport’s most important position forever and ever, amen. Did the pandemic hinder Rivera’s ability to evaluate Haskins? Sure. Could an elite operation have decided Herbert or Tagovailoa would have been a no-brainer option? Absolutely.
Young’s story in Washington isn’t completely written, and it’s possible the decision to not pick up his fifth-year option — so rote for a player chosen second overall normally — will motivate him. He still has extraordinary physical skills, and the further he gets from the injury that shredded his knee in 2021, the better he figures to be. There’s a chance 2023 isn’t the end in Washington. A chance.
But there’s little doubt that the decision this regime made about Young’s future reflects on this regime. It’s probably way too late in this column to bring up the factor that matters more than anything else in these evaluations: No one in the Commanders building is 100 percent sure of who they’ll be answering to in — forget two years. How about two months? That colors it all.
Rivera and the Martys are auditioning not for the man who hired them, Daniel Snyder, but for the man who’s buying the team from Snyder, presumed to be Josh Harris. That’s decidedly odd: Performing tasks to impress a boss with whom you’ve never met and who has never articulated her or his vision to you.
When the history of this franchise is written, the transition from Snyder to Harris will so far trump Rivera’s selection of Forbes over Gonzalez and Smith to the point it will be laughable.
But the people in charge right now are Ron Rivera and his chosen Martys — Mayhew and Hurney. And this week they decided against committing to their first draft choice while taking a flier on another. Maybe it’ll work out on both fronts. Does anyone in Washington have reason to feel confident that it will?