After Looking At The Ingredients, This Should Be One Heck Of A Meal


There is a running argument I’ve had with my younger friends for decades about how to put a team together, be it college or pro. My young friends say it’s all about talent, and if you put the 11 best players on a field, they’ll beat anyone else.

I don’t look at it that way. I’m a believer in chemistry, leadership and getting pumped up enough at certain times that your passion pushes you to levels beyond your ability. It can’t be sustained for very long, but pick the right players who understand their roles and work together as a unit at critical times, and you can beat those 1 in 100 odds and win against a more talented team.

I say this because now having had a few days to think about the Washington Commanders’ draft, I think I now understand what Adam Peters is doing. And I’m pretty fired up about it.

Peters didn’t draft just rah-rah guys this week. He chose undervalued, talented players that on top of that value will bring leadership and an element to the locker room the team has been missing. It’s an element the team had during the Super Bowl winning seasons, and if Peters is right, this draft may be the one that finally gets the team off the exit ramp and back to the main road.

I know critics have harped on how the No. 1 need for the team is left tackle to protect their new rookie quarterback, and I don’t disagree with that opinion. But when you look at rookie quarterbacks who progressed to becoming league stars, the great ones almost always had a security blanket – usually a tight end – who bailed them out.

When Tom Brady was scrambling around in his early days, he probably didn’t think “I wish I had a better left tackle.” Instead he probably thought “find Gronk” and the chemistry those two created became the stuff of legends. You look at the pick of Ben Sinnott through such a lens and you smile. Sinnott can run and block like a fullback, has the speed to get separation as a tight end, and is football smart enough to realize when his quarterback is in trouble and do things to help him out.

That’s exactly what a rookie quarterback – who has the ability to extend plays because he’s an excellent runner – needs. There will be the long passes to Terry McLaurin, but it’s the Pat Mahomes to Travis Kelce type passes on 3rd and 6 at critical junctures of games that will determine just how well this team will do in 2024.

The defense has always frustrated me in that they have had players with great individual stats on the defensive line, but when it was 24-21 with 7 minutes to go, it always seemed like they could not stop an opponents’ offense from making first downs, usually on the ground. The pick of defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton was not only a superb value pick – he was the 36th selection and some services had him ranked as high as 11th in the overall draft – but also sends a not to subtle message to the rest of the defensive line.

You now have one more monster of a defensive lineman to insert into the mix, allowing the lineup to stay fresh late in a game, but if you’re one of those existing DLs with great individual stats, you can’t help but notice a young rookie playing well at YOUR position. Steel sharpens steel, and injecting Newton into the defensive scheme could end up causing existing players to pick up their games to protect their starting roles.

I’m not sure Mike Sainristil – who once verbally committed to Virginia Tech – is the most talented cornerback in the draft (although former Alabama Coach Nick Saban said he was) but he is that kind of guy who fires everybody up and makes plays. We’ve all watched too many games where it’s the fourth quarter, the team is clinging to a lead, and we all just know the defense is going to wilt in the final minutes. Players like Sainristil just exude a “not on my watch” kind of attitude, much like Brian Mitchell did back in the day. And sometimes it only takes one big play at the right moment that cause fellow defenders to stiffen and replicate that effort. Sainristil seems to be that kind of player.

Even linebacker Jordan Magee exemplifies that. He’s Dan Quinn’s kind of player, but what impresses me is that he has always played special teams. Pro football too many times just throws 11 guys out there on special teams who aren’t starters, and it has burned Washington a few times in the past. Magee wants to be out there, and that “I’ll do anything I can to help the team win” mentality is a necessary and refreshing addition.

I realize you can take the whole chemistry thing too far, but there is both talent and leadership in these picks. Peters has immediately established the mindset he wants in his team and is giving the locker room an injection of this with a hypodermic needle the size of Cleveland. And we haven’t even seen yet the fruits of the UDFA signings he’s conducting right now.

Yes, the team needs offensive linemen, although I’d argue that the right offense which maximizes the talents of a mobile quarterback with quick throws and a multitude of offensive players who can catch the ball can live with more average linemen at first than a classic drop back offense. Plus I suspect there’s a plan for that with free agents.

But on a day where Adam Peters had to show the world “I have a plan and I know what I’m doing,” I think he aced the draft. Many have rated each ingredient individually with grades from Cs to As, but I think in doing so, they’ve missed the point. The true test is the actual meal, when all the ingredients get blended together.

If the appetizer (the draft) was any indication, I can’t wait until fall.

The meal in September should be one heck of a main course.      


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