As a part of the NFC East, the Washington Commanders are always locked into a race to the finish line where any of the division’s four teams have a chance to take the crown once the 17-game season is done. While seven wins were enough to lead the division in 2020, it was not enough in 2021, as the Commanders finished third, behind the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.
For head coach Ron Rivera, finishing in third place won’t be good enough in 2022. General manager Martin Mayhew knows it too. But last year was last year, and now a new season’s about to begin, and there are many reasons to be excited about the Washington Commanders.
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Carson Wentz provides fresh start on offense
Let’s face it, the Commanders were a middle-of-the-pack team last season. They weren’t good on offense or defense, yet they still managed to win seven games. But scoring 19.7 points per game as they did in 2021 won’t punch your ticket to the postseason. Nobody planned on backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke starting 15 games, but those are the risks involved when entering a season with a 39-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick installed as the starter.
|Player (stats from 2021)||Completion rate||Passing yards||Touchdowns||Interceptions||Record|
Now the Commanders have a former MVP finalist under center, though he hasn’t shown the same scoring potential as he did in 2017 when 6.2% of his attempts were considered ‘big-time throws’ according to Pro Football Focus. Maybe that’s due to the quality of receivers Wentz has had to work with. They quickly realized pounding the rock was the best offensive formula with the Colts, and the Eagles haven’t exactly been known to have a strong cast of receivers in recent years either (until now).
It’s possible we see Wentz in a new light in 2022, with a bigger chip on his shoulder, knowing it could be one of his last chances to enter a season as a team’s starting QB. Either way, even Wentz’s floor can’t be lower than Heinicke’s ceiling, and that alone is likely worth a couple of extra wins.
Related: NFL QB Rankings: Carson Wentz not a top-20 QB?
Revamped receiving corps; How good can Jahan Dotson be?
Not only has the Commanders’ QB room dramatically improved, but the wide receiver depth chart has also added a lot of talent. Terry McLaurin is fresh off signing a three-year, $68 million extension after racking up 3,090 receiving yards in his first three seasons. He’s joined by a healthier Curtis Samuel as the No. 2 receiver for now, but rookie first-round receiver Jahan Dotson may steal the starting gig before the year is done.
The 16th overall pick in April’s draft, Dotson has superb speed and agility. He’ll have no trouble separating at the next level, which only gives Wentz another weapon, either underneath or downfield like Scary Terry has so much success with.
With rookie wideouts exploding on the scene each of the past two years with Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, CeeDee Lamb, and so many others, maybe Dotson can be the next impact rookie to take the league by storm.
Related: Top 2022-23 NFL Rookie of the Year candidates: How about Jahan Dotson?
The year the defense takes command
The Commanders spent five consecutive first-round selections on the defensive side of the ball from 2017 to 2021. Four of them were defensive linemen, and one, Jamin Davis, a linebacker. With so much invested into the front seven, one would think Ron Rivera’s crew would be among the very best in football. We haven’t seen any evidence of that just yet.
Perhaps this is the year we finally see Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, and Daron Payne wreak havoc in the trenches. Washington ranked just 17th in total sacks, finishing with 38 a season ago. Unfortunately, Young still has to recover from the torn ACL that wiped out the last half of his season, but once he gets back in the lineup, this front seven should do a lot of damage.
Much of their struggles a season ago likely had to do with the secondary not holding up their end of the bargain, allowing the most passing touchdowns in football. Interestingly, the Commanders didn’t invest heavily in the back end, but returning starters Benjamin St.-Juste, and Kamren Curl should take a step forward as they enter their second and third seasons in the NFL.
Related: 2022 NFL defense rankings: How do the Washington Commanders stack up?