- The Washington Times
Friday, April 29, 2022

ASHBURN — Jahan Dotson sat in a crowded household full of family and friends, watching Game 6 of the Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Pelicans on his phone rather than actively focusing on the first round of the NFL draft. The wide receiver figured he was in for a long night, so he tried to take his mind off the event — the event that could decide his future — by focusing on something else. 

But when the playoff game was interrupted by a call from an area code he didn’t recognize? Well, Dotson was caught off guard — but of course he picked up the phone. 

“I was willing to roll the dice,” Dotson said. “I didn’t care who it was. It could have been President Obama calling me. I was gonna answer it.”

Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera was on the other end of the line, informing the Penn State product he was the team’s selection with the 16th overall pick. The decision even surprised Dotson, who admitted he predicted he’d go late in the first or early in the second round.  The Commanders weren’t a team that appeared to have much interest in him, too: The 22-year-old said he only heard from Washington receivers coach Drew Terrell before Thursday. 

Dotson’s selection had all the ingredients to stir up a negative reaction from the team’s fan base. Not only did the Commanders take the 5-foot-11 wideout much earlier than analysts expected — a draft night no-no  — but Washington traded back before grabbing him. The team moved down from the 11th pick to get three other picks from the New Orleans Saints, missing out on popular fan draft targets such as Chris Olave, Jameson Williams and Kyle Hamilton in the process. 

But sitting at a podium hours after picking Dotson, Rivera and General Manager Martin Mayhew were thrilled.  Post-pick giddiness is an annual tradition in the NFL, but Washington’s brass believes they’ve found the right weapon for new quarterback Carson Wentz. 

They were so convinced that Dotson was the pick that Mayhew said the team turned down additional offers to move back again at No. 16.

“The guy has got speed, he’s got playmaking ability,” Mayhew said of Dotson. “He’s kind of like Terry [McLaurin] in that he’s not the biggest guy, but those 50-50 balls, he has the ability to go up and get those. The guy’s just got some tremendous ball skills.”

“It reminds of DeSean Jackson a little bit,” Rivera said. “It reminds me Steve Smith a little bit, a guy who is a bit smaller in stature but plays bigger than that.”

In just a span of a few minutes, Dotson had been compared to Washington’s No. 1 receiver in McLaurin and two players with eight Pro Bowls between them. That’s draft night, all right. 

Still, Dotson had done much to build his draft stock over the past year. Speaking with reporters, the 22-year-old noted the importance of returning for his senior year. This past fall, Dotson caught a career-high 91 passes for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns. Dotson said that a year ago, he likely would have been a second-, third- or even fourth-round pick if he had decided to leave Penn State early. But he returned to school, focused on improving his releases from the line of scrimmage. He wanted, he said, to become a complete receiver. 

“I knew it was a no-brainer,” Dotson said. 

Despite the improvement, Dotson was the fifth receiver off the board Thursday, behind USC’s Drake London, Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson and Olave and Alabama’s Williams. London and Wilson, in particular, went right before Washington was scheduled to pick at No. 11 with London going eighth to the Falcons and Wilson going 10th to the Jets. 

How much did London and Wilson becoming unavailable affect Washington’s decision to trade back? Rivera downplayed the suggestion. Mayhew, meanwhile, said conversations about trading down intensified a few days beforehand. 

“We were leaning that way from the very beginning,” Mayhew said of trading down. “It was a process and we felt like we needed more picks getting into this draft.”

Washington entered the evening with six picks, missing selections in the third and fifth rounds. Now after picking Dotson, the Commanders have seven picks over the next two days. Washington holds one pick in the second, one in the third, two in the fourth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh. 

The added selections give Washington more flexibility in a draft touted by Mayhew as having solid players available in the middle rounds. 

But along the way, Rivera said he felt it was important to add a receiver for Wentz. With Dotson, the receiver can play on the inside and outside — allowing the Commanders to mix him in with McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and the team’s other skill players. Rivera said he became enamored by how Dotson would catch “7, 8, 9, 10 balls a game” despite a limited supporting cast in which opposing defenses knew to key in on the receiver. 

Over the past few months, Rivera stressed the importance publicly of meeting with prospects and getting to know them personally. But with Dotson, the coach made an exception to that policy. Some players, he said, don’t prompt many questions. 

Jahan was one of those guys,” Rivera said. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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