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QB Sam Howell highlights Commanders’ Day 3 in the NFL Draft

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Washington Commanders predicted unpredictability. The 2022 NFL draft class did not have obvious leaders at the top, and the intermediate rounds were muddy but deep of talent. Finding the right fit required digging – and a lot of phone calls to the brokerage.

On Saturday, the third and final day of the draft, the team suspended another trade, this time with Carolina, adding five more players to its roster: safety and specialty team Percy Butler (113th overall), quarterback Sam Howell (144th), tight end Cole Turner (149th), offensive lineman Chris Paul (230th) and cornerback Christian Holmes (240th). Along with first-round wide receiver Jahan Dotson (16th), second-round defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis (47th) and third-round running back Brian Robinson Jr. (98.), Commanders believe they came away with potential starters, a bit of depth and some value.

“When we look at what we did, we have guys who we think will be part of a rotation, be part of an opportunity to play for us and really contribute,” coach Ron Rivera said. “And if we get something from the guys later – that, we feel, would be an added bonus.”

Degradation of the Commanders class

They are also convinced that they have become “tougher”, an unofficial theme for their offseason.

“We will always try to be more physical,” said General Manager Martin Mayhew. “You always want to get through the draft faster. You want to get younger, you want to get healthier. Being more physical is important, especially in our division. ”

The most exciting member of the commanders’ draft class is Howell, a three-year-old starter in North Carolina who Washington studied for several months before taking him in the fifth round.

Knowing Washington would be in the market for a quarterback, Washington began early to review the band of the best quarterbacks and met with all of them in the NFL combination. Even after shopping for Carson Wentz, they traveled all over the country to attend professional days for the best QBs, and after all this, Howell was the one who fascinated them the most.

It turned out that the feeling was mutual.

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“I’ve had a good amount of communication with them, but I just knew it all along,” Howell said Saturday, shortly after Commander’s wide receiver and former UNC teammate Dyami Brown FaceTimed celebrated him. “I had kind of seen a couple of teams that I was interested in. Right after the combined interview and the talk with coach Rivera, I knew this was a place I definitely wanted to be.”

Days before the draft, Rivera alluded to the possibility of taking a quarterback, but assured that it would not be in the first round. The commanders found their starter in March when they traded for Wentz and have a trusted backup in Taylor Heinicke. What they did not have was a third striker, an often overlooked player who in recent years has been asked to start matches.

“When we got Carson as our starter, we mostly got off the quarterback train,” Rivera said. “… Getting Sam to fall for us was something we had to jump on. We had a very good grade on him – he was the tallest guy left on our board at the time. … We feel that this was a home run for us. “

Commanders select a pair of Alabama products on Day 2 of the NFL Draft

Howell, 21, was one of the most prolific passing players in ACC history with 10,283 passing yards in his career and 92 passing touchdowns, the most ever by a player in as few as three seasons. Though he is shorter (he is 6-feet and 218 pounds) than the ideal makeup for a quarterback, he boasts a set of skills that had to appeal to the Commanders. Coordinator Scott Turner’s attack mixes concepts from different schemes, but is still centered on Air Coryell principles and its vertical passing attack.

Howell’s deep ball was a hallmark of his play in North Carolina, especially in his first two seasons. When most of North Carolina’s playmakers traveled to the NFL in 2021, Howell’s game changed and he resorted to using his legs more. Although he is not the most athletic quarterback, he is mobile enough to escape the pressure, which he often had to do in his final season with Tar Heels.

In Washington, he is considered a development player. Rivera said he called Wentz to tell him they would take a quarterback and assure him he was a player-in-learner. Rivera also made it clear that Heinicke would remain the backup.

But Washington believes it found a potential immediate contributor elsewhere.

Butler, a versatile defensive back from Louisiana Lafayette, is in the mix for the “Buffalo” nickel role, a vital position in Washington’s defense. With speed (he ran a 4.36-second 40-yard line) and an ability for big hits, Butler can play nickel as well as safety. He is also a well-known shooter on special teams.

“A guy we feel strongly for,” Rivera said. “He’s a young man who has a very good set of skills and we also have some guys on our current list who have played that position and have played well for us. So Percy just adds to the mix, and we can do some things with the right staff on the pitch. “

The most exciting player for Rivera is Cole Turner, 6-foot-6, 249-pounds from Nevada. Turner is, like many of Washington’s tight-ends the last few years, relatively new to the position, having played his first two seasons in college on wide receiver. But with his size and catch radius, Rivera believes he can be a valuable addition to the Commanders’ offense – especially with Wentz, who has targeted tight ends at the second-highest rate among quarterbacks since 2017 (31.1 percent).

“He’s a dynamic pass-catcher,” Rivera said. “He has played in a spreading style offensive. He is a big target, has a huge catch radius, drives good routes and knows how to differentiate at the right time. It will be very exciting to see the growth and development of these players. from this time until we reach the season. “

Washington added more versatility to Paul, a 6-4, 323-pound offensive lineman from Tulsa who has played both guard spots and both tackle spots. The commanders have emphasized positional flexibility across the board, but especially on the offensive line.

Holmes rounds out the Commanders’ draft class as yet another experienced player; the former Oklahoma State cornerback spent four years in Missouri and then two with the Cowboys.

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