Led by head coach Ron Rivera, the Washington Commanders put together an 8-8-1 season in 2022. Now heading into the 2023 campaign, they find themselves firmly in the middle of a rebuild.
The Commanders have assembled a roster full of young talent. On the offensive side of the ball, they have building blocks in wide receivers Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, and Dyami Brown. In the running back room, Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson are set to lead the ground game. Second-year quarterback Sam Howell is also slated to be the starter heading into camp.
On defense, the Commanders have what could quickly become an elite defense. With Chase Young, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, and Montez Sweat leading the pass rush, this unit could regularly get after opposing quarterbacks. With other players such as Jamin Davis, this group could be even better in 2023.
Even with a large amount of talent, this Commanders team can still afford to improve. At pick 16, they could add game-changers on either side of the ball. With needs at cornerback, safety, linebacker, and tight end, they could have several different players on their radar.
With that being said, here are three players the Commanders could target in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
The Commanders find themselves with a significant need at the cornerback position. With Benjamin St-Juste and Kendall Fuller currently the top two cornerbacks on the depth chart, the team could look to add a starter at the position. If they address the position in the first round, Devon Witherspoon of Illinois could be an option.
During his four seasons at Illinois, Witherspoon developed into a star at the cornerback position. From day one, he stepped onto the field ready to make an impact.
Through 41 collegiate games, Witherspoon recorded 157 total tackles, 115 solo tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, one sack, five interceptions, and 25 defended passes.
This past season, Witherspoon took his game to new heights. Over 12 games, he recorded 41 total tackles, 32 solo tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 14 defended passes, and three interceptions.
Witherspoon has all the makings of being a CB1 at the next level. While he isn't the biggest cornerback, he can limit opposing wide receivers. This was clear with his ability to break up passes, while also regularly making tackles by himself.
If the Commanders are looking to add an immediate starter at cornerback, Witherspoon has the potential to come in and do just that. With a loaded draft class at cornerback, he could still be available at pick 16. With the playstyle that he brings to the game, he could be their ideal fit.
Brian Branch, S, Alabama
Similar to their need at cornerback, the Commanders could also look to make an addition at safety. At the moment, the team's starting safety duo is 2020 seventh-round pick Kamren Curl and 2021 fifth-round pick Darrick Forrest. Both players performed well last season but did not do enough that this team should be held back from drafting a player at the position. If the team does look to add a safety, Alabama's Brian Branch could be the best option.
During his three seasons at Alabama, Branch dominated. In total, he recorded 172 total tackles, 111 solo tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 23 defended passes, and three interceptions.
In 2022, Branch took his game to new heights. While appearing in 13 games, he recorded 90 total tackles, 58 solo tackles, 14 tackles for loss, three sacks, seven defended passes and two interceptions.
Branch has proven that he can impact both the passing game and the run game. With his ability to drop back in coverage, while also making plays in the backfield, Branch could fit nearly any defense. Adding him to this Commanders defense that often gets in the backfield, he could be another threat off of the edge. But with his ability to also make plays in the secondary, he could become a key contributor on this defense.
Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
The Commanders have already put together an offense full of talented playmakers, but the tight end position could still look to improve. Heading into 2023, Logan Thomas is once again set to be the starter. But with his injury history and a lack of overall proven talent at the position, the team could add to the tight end room. A player such as Notre Dame's Michael Mayer could be worth taking at pick 16.
In each of his three seasons at Notre Dame, Mayer continued to develop his game. After recording 42 receptions for 450 receiving yards and two touchdowns in his freshman year, he returned even better.
Over his final two seasons, while taking the field in 24 games, Mayer posted 138 receptions for 1,649 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.
Adding Mayer alongside the pass catchers that this team already has could give Howell an elite core of weapons. If they are looking to find out what they have in their young quarterback, Mayer could be an option.