In this preseason series, I’ll take a look at the 2023 Washington Commanders roster and give my breakdown of each position group.
Today I want to look at one of the weak points on the Command List – Offensive Line
Contrary to my predictions last season, the offensive line really isn’t a statistically driven position group. Rather than trying to predict how many sacks/bloated blocks each player along the front five will allow, I thought it best to give an overview of my projected starting front five and what we need to see from each player to make this device “respectable” .
Since Ron Rivera’s arrival in 2020, he has seriously dulled the offensive line through high draft picks and quality free agent signings. Instead of building a team from the foundation up, Rivera has opted to go basement shopping on the O-line while jettisoning some more expensive, higher preform veterans, either by leaving them through free agency or outright cuts .
The results – a 22-27-1 three-season W/L record, an offense that has consistently ranked in the bottom third of the league in both points scored and total yards, and a unit that has allowed an average of 47 sacks per season (bottom 7 in the league during that span), while averaging the 25th worst in rushing yards per game. carry. Last year in this pass-happy NFL, Washington’s line ranked 27th in ESPN’s pass block win rate and 23rd in adjusted sack rate.
To say that the offensive line needs to improve drastically in 2023 for the team to be successful on offense would be a massive understatement. Fortunately (or maybe not so luckily), Rivera and company rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic again. Fans are excited to see three new starters along the front five, but this writer remains skeptical…
Expected start five (left to right):
Charles Leno – Leno returns for his third season in Washington as the team’s most experienced starter. At age 32, he’s still going strong as he hasn’t missed a start in two seasons. However, 2022 was a rough one for him as he allowed 37 broken blocks (tied for 4th most among all offensive tackles) and eight sacks (tied for 6th worst).
Despite his decline in play, Leno is a locker room/community leader and constant presence at left tackle – which the coaches appreciate. With better play in his interior, he could be serviceable for another year while the team searches for his replacement. He will need to do much better in pass protection, especially speed rushers off the edge, and tighten up on range when blocking out of zone plays.
Saahdiq Charles – Saahdiq Charles is battling Chris Paul for the starting left guard position. Given that Charles worked with the first team throughout OTAs and mini-camp, it appears the staff is set to make the position he has to lose.
Charles was a former left tackle at LSU who guarded Joe Burrow during his Heisman campaign. He is very strong and athletic, but has not been able to stay healthy during his short NFL career. Now it’s sink or swim time for Charles, and if he sinks, Chris Paul is waiting in the wings. If he is able to stay healthy, he may be able to provide the Commanders with a physical, athletic presence on the inside.
Nick Gates – Gates came over from the Giants in free agency and is expected to become the Commanders’ starting center after longtime starter Chase Roullier was released this offseason.
There are times when Gates struggles with the bull rush, but he has good overall hand placement, is sound in the run game and seemed to do a good job of setting protection when he played center. He’s a downgrade for a healthy Roullier, but Roullier hadn’t been healthy for a few years. It will be key for Gates to bond with his new teammates and quarterback quickly in training camp while gaining the trust of the offensive coaching staff. If he falters, there’s rookie Ricky Stromberg waiting in the wings.
Sam Cosmi – The third-year pro enters his first season as a starting guard after starting his career at right tackle. Although he saw action at right guard in 2022, this will be the first offseason in which he is solely focused on the position.
This could be a good move for the uber-athletic Cosmi, as suspect footwork and technique plagued him as a tackle. At guard, he can use his powerful hands and quick feet to be a good position blocker, and his ability to move well in space should allow him to easily get to the second level. I’m not suggesting he’ll be an All-Pro overnight, but it wouldn’t shock me to see him play his best football to date inside. Having veteran Andrew Wylie to his right should also help.
Andrew Wylie – The former starting right tackle for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs joined Washington this spring as a priority free agent signing. He started all 17 regular-season games in 2022, but was second in the NFL in sacks (45) and tied for third in sacks allowed (11).
Some blame the blown blocks and sacks on quarterback Patrick Mahomes holding the ball too long and “improvising” in the pocket. Regardless, he will have to clean up here in Washington since we do NOT have Patrick Mahomes under center. What Wylie brings is a nasty demeanor and good run blocking strength and awareness. He is also very athletic for the position and does well when asked to get out in front on screens.
Chris Paul – I mentioned it before, but Paul is in a battle with Charles to be the starting left guard. If he doesn’t win the spot during the preseason, look for him to be the first guy off the bench should one of the guards go down.
Paul is an athletic, powerful lineman with the ability to kick out to tackle in a pinch. He may need another year of development to be considered NFL ready, but there is a glimmer of hope that the staff can eventually turn him into a decent player.
Ricky Stromberg – Taken in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft, Stromberg was considered by many to be Chase Roullier’s replacement at center – that is until ole Ron came out and declared him a “developmental” prospect. Nothing like your head coach spending a top 100 pick on a “developmental” guy and then coming out and calling the player out publicly before you’ve even seen him in training camp. Maybe we can chalk it up to being a Jedi mind trick by the wily Rivera — or maybe we can just call it what it was…stupid. Regardless, Stromberg will have to come out and prove himself this summer if he wants to be in the consideration for playing time this fall.
Braeden Daniels – Another “developmental” guy taken by Rivera in the fourth round, Daniels has tackle/guard versatility and if everything plays right could be in contention for the swing tackle position this season. He’ll be up against incumbent Cornelius Lucas for that role, but Lucas has struggled with speed off the edge, and if Daniels could prove a bit better in that regard, the staff could opt for the younger player over the aging veteran.