Commanders' roster has a ton of question marks, but WR isn't one originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Quarterback is not the only position the Commanders must address in some capacity this offseason, either. The offensive line could use multiple upgrades. Depth on defense, especially at linebacker and cornerback, is a necessity. The decision to retain standout defensive tackle Daron Payne, who's set to become a free agent, looms large.
There is one area of Washington's roster that the Commanders' decision-makers must feel quite good about moving forward, though. That would be at wide receiver, a position that 22 months ago was one of the weakest on Washington's roster.
Between Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel, the Commanders have a tremendous trio of wideouts that should only get better moving forward, too. All three are under contract for next season, with McLaurin and Dotson signed each through the 2025 campaign (Dotson's contract has a fifth-year team option in 2026).
McLaurin has been a stud for Washington since his NFL debut in 2019. He's arguably gotten better each year, too, and the Commanders' brass made the brilliant decision to extend him long-term this past July. McLaurin returned the favor with a career-high in yards, his third-straight 1,000-yard season and his first Pro Bowl nod.
Samuel, whom the team signed to a three-year deal in 2021, turned in a productive season after an injury-riddled campaign the year prior. Samuel was used in a variety of ways in Washington's offense in 2022, both as a pass-catcher and a rusher. His production dipped towards the end of the year, but that largely had to do with instability at quarterback. More consistent QB play in 2023 should help fix that.
The last of the trio is Dotson, Washington's first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The rookie scored two touchdowns in his first career game and didn't look back. A five-game absence due to a hamstring injury prevented him from putting up gaudy season-long numbers, but he still led Washington in receiving touchdowns (seven), which tied McLaurin's franchise rookie record. The former Penn State star is poised to make a Year 2 leap in 2023, a trend that's become quite common among receivers the past few seasons.
"No, not at all," Dotson said when asked if he suprised himself with the success he had as a rookie. "I know what I’m capable of, I know the hard work that I put in. It just pays off. I know that I trust in my ability to make plays for this team. That’s what I’m going to be able to do in the future."
With three talented pass-catchers headlining the receiver group, it would be understandable if egos became a factor. It never did. During locker cleanout, the unselfishness in the wideout room was something they each pointed to as for what made the group a special one.
"I know I’m quote-unquote the No. 1 wide receiver but I'm just one of the guys," McLaurin said. "It’s not all about me. I don’t have to touch the ball the most to have success or be happy. I’m happy for Jahan. I’m happy for Curt. I’m happy for Cam [Sims]. I can go down the line. This is really a brotherhood that we developed this year because nobody cared who got the credit. We were just excited to make plays for the quarterback."
"We're all out there happy for one another when somebody makes a play," Samuel added. "You see it on everybody's face. Guys that even play special teams for us. When they make a play, you see us running out there hyping 'em up. It's just a close group."
Under Ron Rivera's leadership, versatility is one trait the Commanders have prioritized in roster construction. That thought process has been more noticeable on the defensive side of the football, especially in the secondary, where almost every one of Washington's starters has played multiple positions.
Position flex was also quite notable in the receiver room and a significant reason why the group had success, too. McLaurin, Samuel and Dotson all showcased the ability to produce both on the outside and in the slot, something that kept defenses off guard, especially when the offense was rolling.
"When you’re able to have a group like that, that’s cohesive, that has anything we needed skill-wise we had in that room — guys that can play all the positions, can run routes, size hands, all that — we had in that room," McLaurin said. "We were always up for the challenge."
The 2022 season was largely a successful one for Washington's receiver room, but the group understands there's plenty of room for improvement entering next season and beyond.
One area specifically the Commanders' wideouts hope to make a bigger impact in 2023 is in the red zone. Just 51.1% of Washington's red zone possessions ended in touchdowns last season, the 24th-best mark in the NFL. For comparison, all three of the Commanders' NFC East rivals were in the top seven in red zone efficiency.
With talented pass-catchers like McLaurin, Samuel and Dotson, along with another big-target in tight end Logan Thomas, the Commanders know they should have been a lot more successful in the red zone. Their inability to score touchdowns hurt them down the stretch, especially in their Week 15 Sunday night loss to the Giants.
"We just [have to] execute better, especially in the red zone," Samuel said. "I feel like that really sets us apart. ... I feel like if we execute and score in the red zone, our defense is going to play good as anybody in this league. So, if we're able to get them that lead, I feel like we'll beat a lot of teams."
Off the field, the receiver room was tight-knit, too. In the locker room following practice throughout the year, the wideouts were some of the loudest present. They were constantly joking with one another and engaging in lighthearted yet passionate arguments about non-football subject matters. Deep, real-life conversations took place, too. It was clear the group was close even away from the pitch.
"I didn’t know what to expect honestly, coming in with a completely different group," Dotson said. "I’m super thankful for the guys that are in this room. They brought me in just like I’m one of theirs, treat me like a brother. I’m super thankful.”
In 2020, the Commanders' receiver room, even with McLaurin, was considered one of the NFL's worst. Now, it's one of the brightest spots for the franchise moving forward.