The Washington Commanders head into the new NFL season with some intriguing rookies who will push veterans for roles and playing time after a productive 2024 NFL Draft. It’s been nine years since the Commanders franchise last had a winning record, so bringing in new blood to up the overall talent level is crucial. For Washington to win this season, young players will have to step up, and these are three rookies who could do just that, starting with wide receiver Luke McCaffrey gunning for Jamison Crowder’s job.

Before we talk about the Commanders rookies who will push veterans for spots on the depth chart, we have to acknowledge the first-year players who seemed to have already earned their starting spot before a single preseason snap takes place.

Quarterback Jayden Daniels, the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft will start the season under center barring something unforeseen. The same is likely true for second-round cornerback out of Michigan, Mike Sainristil, who likely join the team’s weak secondary as the starting nickel corner from day one.

Outside of those two, though, the rest of the Commanders rookies will have to compete with veterans for time, and these three battles should be interesting to watch in training camp.

Luke McCaffrey vs. Jamison Crowder

Washington Commanders wide receiver Luke McCaffrey (12) catches a pass during an OTA workout at Commanders Park.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Luke McCaffrey is a fascinating player. His father, Ed, was a three-time Super Bowl champion. His brother, Christian, is arguably the best running back in the league. Now Luke enters the NFL as a third-round pick who could start right away.

The Commanders obviously have Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson who make up one of the better young WR duos in the league. Still, in today’s NFL, you need a minimum of three difference-making receivers to have a top-tier offense and McCaffrey could be that guy.

Last season, Curtis Samuel — now with the Buffalo Bills — was the team’s second-leading wide receiver with 62 catches for 613 yards and four touchdowns. Jamison Crowder was fourth with 16 catches for 189 yards and a TD.

Crowder, a nine-year NFL veteran on his second stint in Washington is more than capable of putting up a 600-yard or so season, even at 31. However, if the Commanders can find a young player with more upside to replace Samuel, that would be ideal.

Despite his pedigree, Luke McCaffrey took an interesting route to the NFL. He started out as a quarterback at Nebraska before transferring to Rice and becoming a wideout. So, he’s not the most seasoned pass catcher, but he comes from a family of pass catchers and has the unique experience of seeing the game from a QB’s perspective, which could make him a valuable asset for a rookie quarterback like Daniels.

The Commanders' roster also includes veterans like Dyami Brown and Olamide Zaccheaus, who are also OK at best. With that as McCaffrey’s competition, there’s a good chance he starts the season as WR3.

Ben Sinnott vs. Zach Ertz

Zach Ertz was a criminally underrated tight end in his prime, making three Pro Bowls and putting up six straight seasons of 700 yards or more. However, Ertz is now 33 and turns 34 in November. His numbers have also dropped off as well, going from 763 yards in 2021 to 406 yards in 2022 to 187 yards last season.

While Ertz is a solid veteran who could be a great mentor for both Jayden Daniels and the young TEs behind him, look out for second-round pick Ben Sinnott.

Sinnott hails from Kansas State and the 6-foot-4, 250-pound player brings speed, versatility, and route-running ability to the Commanders this season. He can run routes at all three levels and made the All-Big 12 team as a fullback last season.

Sinnott won’t be the in-line blocker that Ertz is right away, but with Sinnott’s ability to move around the formation, he should see a good amount of time on the field with Ertz. And if he and Daniels can establish a connection early or if play-caller Kliff Kingsbury can figure creative ways to use him, look for Sinnott to be one of the Commanders' rookies who pushes a veteran like Ertz out of his spot.

Jer’Zhan Newton vs. Jonathan Allen

The last of the Commanders rookies who could challenge veterans for playing time is second-round pick out of Illinois Jer’Zhan Newton.

This slightly undersized defensive tackle has his work cut out for him as the Washington starting DTs are Pro Bowlers and first-round picks Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen. These two will be tough to unseat, although both took a dip last season when the team traded away Montez Sweat and Chase Young.

What these two lack is QB pressure, for the most part. Allen has never had a double-digit sack season, and while Payne had 11.5 sacks in 2022, that was an outlier season after never getting more than 5.0 sacks in a campaign (and last year he regressed to 4.0).

Newton was productive in college and has the strength and quickness to give interior linemen trouble at the next level.

If Newton excels right away, it is hard to predict which DT he could supplant. Allen has two Pro Bowls to Payne’s one, but Allen’s contract is a lot easier to get off of next season. Either way, these two Commanders veterans better watch out for this disruptive interior force coming for their jobs.