SNIDER: Commanders look for overlooked passers


The Washington Commanders may not use their 11th overall selection on a quarterback, but don't be surprised to see them draft someone by the fourth round.

Coach Ron Rivera hinted at such during NFL league meetings on Tuesday. Trading for Carson Wentz has Washington no longer considering other needs, but Rivera wants a developmental passer along with veteran Taylor Heinicke. After all, persistent injuries in recent years show Washington needs a starter, heir and spare on the roster.

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Taking Kirk Cousin in the 2012 fourth round made it look so easy. After choosing Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick under owner Dan Snyder's direction, coach Mike Shanahan opted for his own Plan B in Cousins. And, Shanahan was right. After injuries derailed Griffin's career, Cousins posted three straight 4,000-yard seasons.

But it's not easy to find a good quarterback in any round. That teams miss so often in the first makes it a pricier gamble, but it's so seldom that a later-round pick excels. Washington hasn't found a quality late-rounder since Mark Rypien went in the 1986 sixth round as the 146th overall pick. Rypien went on to win a Super Bowl as the game's Most Valuable Player. Still, Rypien didn't play until 1988, showing patience like Rivera's does sometimes work.

Meanwhile, Washington has since wasted first-rounders on Heath Shuler (1994), Patrick Ramsey (2002), Griffin and Dwayne Haskins (2019), while Jason Campbell (2005) endured a lukewarm career.

Rivera's hope is to get a few good seasons from Wentz with Heinicke as a spot reliever and let the successor spend a couple years watching. First-rounders don't enjoy that luxury of time, but a latter-round pick will.

How many NFL passers come after the first two rounds? Dallas' Dak Prescott was a 2016 fourth-rounder as the eighth passer selected, four picks before Cardale Jones became a bust. Russell Wilson was a 2012 third-rounder. Matt Schaub was a 2004 third-rounder. And, of course, Tom Brady was a 2000 sixth-rounder.

That's the list from the draft's post-second round passers. Most coaches won't consider a developmental passer for fear of not being around for the quarterback's development. They'd rather risk later picks on a receiver, defensive back or simply a special teams contributor who will play.

This year, after Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett and Matt Corral likely go in the first round, teams will gamble over the draft's third day on Western Kentucky's Bailey Zappe, Brown's EJ Perry and Kent State's Dustin Crum. If you hadn't heard of them before, don't worry cause history says you won't hear much from them later.

If Wentz falters, Rivera won't likely be around to see his developmental passer play. But, at least it won't saddle the next coach with a pricey passer they won't want. That's happened regularly in the past.

Rivera's optimism of taking a passer later shows he's still thinking long term in a job that's always short term. Maybe a flower will bloom among the weeds.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.

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