July 19, 2024

Three Commanders players who could bounce back in 2024

The Washington Commanders have three players hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2023 season.

(RB) Austin Ekeler

Rest assured, Washington didn’t give its new running back a two-year, $11.43M deal to match the career-low 3.5 yards per carry he had with L.A. last season. Instead, it hopes to get the player that had 25 touchdowns on the ground and 13 through the air from 2021-2022.

Ekeler had six scores last year, five rushing and one receiving, his worst marks since a 10-game 2020 season that ended on the IR. New offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury was head coach of the Arizona Cardinals back then and the architect of the league’s sixth-leading offense with journeyman running back Kenyan Drake.

Drake thrived under Kingsbury, scoring 18 touchdowns and running for 69.5 yards per game in 23 contests. Ekeler is more versatile than Drake and if minicamp practices are any indication, he’ll see plenty of action next season.

“I’m on the slot, out wide, in the backfield,” Ekeler told reporters. “I’m lined up on the edge, I’m chipping, I’m used in the run game, the option game, so you’re going to see me all over the field.” 

As long as he continues to see work, Ekeler should have no problem bouncing back in 2024.

(DT) Daron Payne

Like Ekeler, Payne was outstanding from 2021-22, earning his first Pro Bowl nomination and a four-year, $90M contract. But after registering a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2022, Payne managed four with a career-low 53 tackles in 2023.

Of course, Payne didn’t get much help. The team fired defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio after a 45-10 loss to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day and moved edge-rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young at the trade deadline.

Washington ranked last in the league by allowing an average of 388.9 yards and 30.5 points per game last season. This year, Payne will play for new head coach Dan Quinn who helped the Cowboys allow 18.5 points per game (fifth-fewest in the league) as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2023.

For what it’s worth, three of Payne’s four sacks and nearly half of his stuffs (tackles for loss on running plays) came in the team’s final seven games. That could bode well for the 27-year-old tackle.

(OT) Andrew Wylie

Few struggled more than the team’s free-agent right tackle in 2023. After winning a pair of Super Bowls with the Kansas City Chiefs, Wylie signed a three-year, $24M contract to follow former offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to Washington.

Per Pro Football Focus, Wylie allowed nine sacks, six hits and 42 pressures in 15 games last season finishing as the site’s 33rd-ranked tackle. To be fair, Wylie put up nearly identical numbers for the Chiefs in 2022 which doesn’t speak highly of the team’s previous front office..

Apparently, new general manager Adam Peters believes coaching and scheme changes will benefit his right tackle in 2024. They better, otherwise Washington could look to save $4.2M with his release.