Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
I was in full on Sunny Waver Jr. mode when I signed up for this team at this pick.
There’s still a sticky note attached to my laptop screen that says “Bijan Robinson No Matter What” (BRNMW!) and to be honest I’m a little salty that I didn’t get to write about a generational prospect with the tools that will likely land him in the Hall of Fame one day.
A funny thing happened on the way to the podium with the pick though; I got to feeling super guilty about just flat out ignoring all I’ve read and all I’ve heard from Commander fans around me to serve my own personal interests. So regrettably but for all the right reasons, this isn’t going to be a masterfully penned argument for the Commanders to buck conventional thinking and draft a weapon to take the pressure off of their 5th round rookie turned hope of the franchise QB.
Instead, we’ll leave the Bijan story for the next guy in the line who sees value in drafting talent over perceived positional need or outdated tropes.
With that being said, with the 16th pick in the 2023 NFL draft, the Washington Commanders select Darnell Wright, Offensive Tackle, University of Tennessee.
Darnell Wright is no consolation prize. Ron Rivera and the Commanders brass will feel like they’ve landed their guy if Wright slips this far into the draft and is available at 16, which is entirely likely. There are 4-5 first round graded Offensive Tackle prospects available in this draft. Peter Skoronski (9th to Chicago in the BGN draft) and Paris Johnson (7th to Las Vegas in the BGN draft) are PFF’s top two rated at the position.
Wright comes in at 3rd on PFF’s board and 20th on their big board, mocking him in Washington’s range. While most mocks at this point have Wright slipping into the 22-28 range in the first round, it only takes one team to fall in love to change all of that, and all indications are that the Commanders might be that team; Commanders brass has reportedly met with Wright at least five times in lead-up to the draft.
You can’t blame them for liking what they see in Wright. At 6’5”, 330 lbs, Wright is a mountain of a man who arrived on campus at Tennessee as a five star recruit and started as a freshman at right tackle. Wright has experience at both offensive tackle positions and has, by all accounts, grown and progressed every season during his tenure at Tennessee. He’s durable, playing in at least 10 games per season over his four year career. Scouts see this as a tremendous positive in that Wright comes across as coachable and a hard worker which will make it easier for him to reach his ceiling potential if properly handled once he’s in the league.
Even if Wright doesn’t get much better than he is today, he’s still likely to have a long NFL career. Wright is almost a consensus day one starter when you hear and read scouts talk about his potential. He’s been called a “shutdown tackle” by more than a few - high praise considering the level of competition Tennessee
I’m no scout who can dissect the foot and hand placement of offensive linemen or who’ll talk about (or really even understands) their “punch” or “pull” techniques, but I do know how to find people who do.
Check out this breakdown by The Football Scout as he highlights Wright’s superior technique as he touts him as the best tackle in his class.
While I can’t scout technique, I damn sure know big, mean, and nasty in an offensive lineman because those are traits that are easily identifiable even to an untrained eye. They don’t predict success of a prospect so much as they provide a baseline from which you can measure desire and Wright checks the boxes there. He seeks out contact, plays a physical game, and I stopped counting the amount of times that his physicality, strength, and technique pushed him straight into the second level of the defense.
Submitted for your review, approval, and Caveman Gladiator Football craving satisfaction, 12 minutes of Wright (mostly) mauling the competition.
While I’m not a proponent of the spider chart as a predictor of success, it’s fun to see how prospects measure up to more known quantities in the league and to that end, it would be hard not to be enticed by a lineman who’s closest match is a guy who’s earned multiple Pro Bowl and All Pro nods. That’s not to even mention that another of his comps is a future Hall of Famer in former Eagles OT Jason Peters. The talent and ability are obvious, it will be on the Commanders coaching staff to help Darnell Wright meet those lofty comparisons.
It wasn’t an existential experience that pushed me off of my BRNMW! philosophy headed into the draft. I live in the DMV (DC/Maryland/Virginia Metro Area). Most of my family and many of my friends, associates, and customers are die-hard Commanders fans. My proximity and access to enemy lines and intel was the reason I chose to represent the Commanders in this mock in the first place. It wouldn’t have made sense for me to ignore everything I’ve been told and heard about the team’s needs since their better-than-predicted run ended a couple of games short of a playoff berth.
The message from those who truly know and care suggested that the biggest holes to fill through the draft were, in no particular order, CB, OL, and LB.
There were CBs on the board who would have made good picks here and a quick review of the mocks around tie the Commanders to one of the top 5 prospects at the position who is available by the time the 16th pick comes up. A case could have easily been made for Devon Witherspoon, Christian Gonzalez or Joey Porter Jr. had they been available in this mock. With them off the board the next highly rated corner, Maryland’s Deonte Banks, would probably still have been a pick that Commanders fans could get behind. Who gets mad when their team drafts a CB who posts the kind of tape Banks put up as a Terp and then backs it with an eye-opening combine performance?
Ultimately though, with these both being needs I had to lean toward the (likely) Day 1 starter, at the more premium position - especially when considering that the reigns of the offense will likely be handed to Howell who, in limited live reps as a rookie, showed promise in his performances but also demanded patience. Outside of a game-changing athletic marvel of an offensive weapon (Hmm…if only there were someone like that in this draft) what better way to help your young QB than to ensure that he’ll be standing long enough to give you a shot at sustaining drives?
The Commanders offensive line finished ranked in the bottom half of the league in 2022, finishing just a hair below average in most impactful metrics for OL. In quickly evaluating the line play with stats alone, standard metrics don’t account for factors imposed by other positions…like the QBs ability to get the ball out quickly, the RBs ability or inclination to attack the right gaps at the right times, or coverage sacks. At face value though, a unit that ranks as average stands to benefit from an infusion of talent and competition. Wright provides both; the talent is clear and his ability to swap at either tackle spot as well as potentially shifting to guard without a significant drop off in his projection means he’ll raise the floor of the unit overall by pushing those currently in front of him on the depth chart.
Commanders brass clearly agrees that competition will bring the best out of everyone across the offensive line this coming season. In free agency, Washington brought in competition at the tackle and guard spots in the form former Kansas City Chiefs guard Andrew Wylie - Eagles fans may remember Wylie from his noticeable performance as a starter in February’s Superbowl where he’s credited with helping to keep Pat Mahomes upright against a fierce Eagles pass rush featuring Haason Reddick. Wylie bring experience and ability at both guard and tackle.
The Commanders also nabbed part-time starting center Nick Gates from the Giants in hopes that after rehabbing from injury he’s healthy enough to challenge their own oft-injured stater Chase Roullier, added OT Trent Scott who has 20 starts in 60 games and should provide depth if nothing else, and invited in guard/center Tyler Larsen in to compete as well. The message was sent that average or a tick below wasn’t good enough and that competition will determine who runs out on the field as a starter to open the 2023 season. Wright figures prominently into that push.
The Final Word
The Commanders head into the 2023 draft with eight total picks - one in each round and an additional compensatory pick in the 6th round (their 3rd round pick is also a compensatory pick. The Commanders do not own their own 3rd rounder having sent that pick in last year’s deal for Carson Wentz).
The Commanders have the ammo to address all of their perceived needs. There’s likely to be talent at CB and LB headed out of round one so there’s no need to rush to address those needs in the first round.
Offensive tackle is a prime position though and if tackle is among your team needs and you can get a solid (projected) starter in the first round, you’d almost be foolish not to take him regardless of who else is on the board. Keeping your QB clean and letting them play with confidence can be the difference between helping a young signal caller reach their ceiling or ruining them forever. OTs are building blocks in a way that CBs and LBs are not - if you need one, take one. Every. Time.
Washington could possibly do worse than a top three prospect at what might be the second or third most valuable position in professional football with their 16th pick overall, but chances are slim that if Wright is on the board they’d do any better - unless they buck convention completely and choose the one player who seems to have Hall of Fame potential even before he suits up.
I don’t anticipate that happening as bad as I’d like to see it, and when all is said and done and we’re doing a redraft years from now with Bijan being picked much higher in those “hindsight is 20/20” moments - I fully expect Wright will be moving up at least a couple of spots as well. He’ll look like a value and can’t miss prospect on the other side of this if he so much as lives up to his projection as a Day One starter.
If he lives up to his potential though? We might be talking about how the Commanders passed up the chance to draft one future HOFer to take another. Wright is truly that damn good.
Do you approve of this pick?
This poll is closed
2023 BGN Mock Draft Order
1) Panthers (pheebthegoose): QB Bryce Young
2) Texans (Phoenix X Minimus): QB C.J. Stroud
3) Cardinals (alwaysaphillyfan): EDGE Will Anderson
4) Colts (eaglenomics): QB Anthony Richardson
5) Seahawks (The Player Formerly Known as Mousecop): DT Jalen Carter
6) Lions (Sam2TheMaximum): DE Tyree Wilson
7) Raiders (joey2arms): OT Paris Johnson Jr.
8) Falcons (Kephas): CB Christian Gonzalez
9) Bears (chewy wellington): OT Peter Skoronski
10) Eagles (Philly21): CB Devon Witherspoon
11) Titans (RachAttack): WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba
12) Texans (Domonate): WR Quentin Johnston
13) Jets (JawnJam): OT Broderick Jones
14) Patriots (Amish Eagle Lion): CB Joey Porter Jr.
15) Packers (bdawk4ever): QB Will Levis
16) Commanders (the dog did it): OT Darnell Wright
17) Steelers (Dr.MidnightGreen)
18) Lions (DreadPirateRocco)
19) Buccaneers (Neil Dutton)
20) Seahawks (wardbell92)
21) Chargers (Brendanekstrom)
22) Ravens (Rollinpin)
23) Vikings (FierceDisc65)
24) Jaguars (Leo Bedio)
25) Giants (dkays)
26) Cowboys (roberticus01)
27) Bills (EHyungNim)
28) Bengals (mainmanham)
29) Saints (RiverCityEagle)
30) Eagles (ablesser88)
31) Chiefs (Hoosinole)
Now it’s time for you to vote for who YOU think should be selected in the 2023 BGN Community Consensus Mock Draft.
Who should the Commanders select at No. 16 overall?
This poll is closed
OT Darnell Wright
QB Will Levis
QB Hendon Hooker
DE Myles Murphy
DE Lukas Van Ness
OL O’Cyrus Torrence
TE Dalton Kincaid
TE Michael Mayer
CB Deonte Banks
DB Brian Branch
RB Bijan Robinson
1) Panthers: QB C.J. Stroud
2) Texans: QB Bryce Young
3) Cardinals: EDGE Will Anderson
4) Colts: QB Anthony Richardson
5) Seahawks: DT Jalen Carter
6) Lions: DE Tyree Wilson
7) Raiders: OT Paris Johnson Jr.
8) Falcons: CB Christian Gonzalez
9) Bears: OT Peter Skoronski
10) Eagles: CB Devon Witherspoon
11) Titans: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba
12) Texans: DE Myles Murphy
13) Jets: OT Broderick Jones
14) Patriots: CB Joey Porter Jr.
15) Packers: DE Nolan Smith