Jahan Dotson is stuck in the middling vortex of NFL wide receivers. His future as a dominant wide receiver is as shrouded in uncertainty as his status on a rebuilding team in a tough NFC East division. There are a lot of questions with few answers. Fans have heard it all before. Yet, the 2024 offseason is decision time for the Washington Commanders brass to push their chips in on the explosive wideout.
Dotson was plucked up by the team in the nation’s capital with the 16th overall pick in the 2022 draft. The club was enamored by the Penn State University product’s contested catch ability and 36-inch vertical, despite his relatively slight frame. He came in with more muscle mass than the Philadelphia Eagles’ DeVonta Smith while ceding an inch of height.
As Dotson’s 4.43 40-yard dash time is adequate, his catch radius is off the charts. In a draft shallow with wide receiver talent, he was the fifth wideout taken in picks eight through 16. The Nittany Lion dropped 10 passes in 288 college targets for an incredible 3.5% drop rate. During his college career, he snared 183 balls, with nearly half coming as a senior in 2021 (91).
In addition to his sticky fingers, Dotson was compared favorably to the elite route runners at the NFL level. Some scouts even likened his ability to get off the line and make precise cuts to that of Keenan Allen. While not Allen’s size, they do share a common trait. A player’s most important ability is availability. The Commanders’ wideout’s route running skills make Dotson’s capacity to line up at every receiving position means that he may well be open on any given play under the right coordinator.
NFL Learning Curve
Dotson’s first season in the NFL saw him catch passes from three different quarterbacks. Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner plugged in new quarterback Carson Wentz who was then relieved by Taylor Heinicke. Sam Howell rounded out the holy trinity for a .500 club that scored just 321 points.
In 2023, neither the Commanders’ defensive-minded Ron Rivera (fired) nor offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy (future uncertain) could right the ship, as the Commanders stumbled to a measly 329 points scored, even while playing consistently from behind.
In two seasons in Washington, Dotson has mustered just 84 catches for 1,041 yards and 11 touchdowns. That confounded fantasy football players, who labeled him a bust. Fans of the Commanders know the potential of “The Sponge,” though. Is he being underutilized? Is the pass catching room too crowded? It would be hard to believe the latter, however, fans do think he has been misused in the offensive scheme.
After being peppered with targets at Penn State, he has just one game in two seasons where he earned 10 looks from quarterbacks and only two contests out of 29 that saw him eclipse 100 yards.
2024: Time to Turn the Corner
As Washington goes through a rebuild, there is reason for hope with Dotson in the NFL landscape. Terry McLaurin has a “Scary” contract that costs $24.1 million against the cap in 2024. Unless they were to find a buyer, he will return. The dead cap hit is even more at $29.3 million. After the season, Washington can cut ties with the aging route-runner. Curtis Samuel (27 years old) is presumably out the door this offseason. Even with McLaurin under contract, it only makes sense that Brian Robinson Jr. (25 years old at season start) and Dotson (24) become the featured role players on offense.
The Commanders hold the second overall pick in this year’s draft, and it stands to reason that they will spend that pick on their future under center. Defense is important, but it feels like years since the club had an offense with firepower. Should they go with a “can’t miss” prospect in the first, Dotson should benefit. He will be able to grow alongside a dynamic playmaker throwing him the rock. Any of the top three quarterbacks (Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye) in this draft would fit well with a young coach and offensive coordinator to create an immediate offensive nucleus. The polarizing wide receiver could perform admirably with either a mobile quarterback or a pocket passer.
Where do the Washington Commanders Go from Here?
Gone are the days where wide receivers in the NFL were given a three-season grace period. The maturation level of college players has grown leaps and bounds along with the offensive mindsets of spread offenses and the like. Most of that has made its way to the pro level, and receivers are expected to enter the league primed to come out swinging. What of players who were thrown into unfortunate situations?
A change in scheme needs to happen in Washington. They are going to draft a signal-caller to lead that charge. For a quarterback to truly arrive, he will need weapons to grow with. Ownership needs to take a cue from Houston and Carolina. The difference is that Houston provided C.J. Stroud with a support system behind the scenes. Carolina merely threw a talented Bryce Young to the wolves with little leadership. Fans are quick to call a quarterback a “bust,” though many times fault falls upon the coaching staff.
The Future is Ripe for a Big Step
An authority on college players coming out of school had this to say about Dotson’s recent struggles at the next level:
“Dotson is a player that can work well in limited space. For him to reach his true potential, Washington needs to use him in a Curtis Samuel-type of role. Get him involved behind the line of scrimmage and with quick screens. Get the ball in his hands any way that you can. Dotson is not only a receiver, but also a gadget player. If Samuel is not retained, I expect Dotson to breakout in a big way in 2024.” – The Mock Draft Guy, all things scouting and mocks on YouTube
And yet, he is not relegated to just being a gadget player. That could just be one facet to his game, the same as field-stretching some plays and coming across on slants the next. One need only look to the potential held by guys like Allen who are utilized in a variety of spots when the offense lines up. With a proven commodity like Dotson, Washington should force-feed him the ball. As the favorite target of a spirited newcomer at quarterback, the offense could do an about-face.
For More Football News:
Follow me on Twitter: @BuyAndSellYou. Check out all the latest NFL Draft news here and keep up to date on the latest in college and NFL news, here! If there is a player or team you would like to see me cover or have a question, email away right here.