Can Jayden Daniels find immediate success? | 2024 Washington Commanders Fantasy Football Draft Guide

by Corey Pieper
Can Jayden Daniels find immediate success

For the Washington Commanders, 2024 is a season of change. The team has a new head coach, new offensive and defensive coordinators, and a new starting quarterback. Speaking of that quarterback, Can rookie Jayden Daniels find immediate success? Can newly-acquired Austin Ekeler supplant Brian Robinson Jr. at running back? Will we see the breakout of Jahan Dotson? What about the rookie performances of Luke McCaffrey and Ben Sinnott?

It has been 20 years since the NFC East had a repeat champion. The last team to repeat as champion was the Philadelphia Eagles. At the time, Andy Reid was the head coach of the team; Donovan McNabb was the quarterback. That's the encouragement that Commanders' fans can take this season. The turnaround could come swiftly.

Read the 2024 Washington Commanders Preview below to see if 2024 could be the beginning of a turnaround.

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Can Jayden Daniels find immediate success?

With the second pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, the Washington Commanders selected Jayden Daniels, the quarterback from Louisiana State University (LSU). Even though the team signed another former second-overall selection in Marcus Mariota, Daniels should be the starter when the team takes on the Buccaneers in week one.

Any discussion of Daniels at quarterback has to start with Kliff Kingsbury being hired as the new offensive coordinator of the Commanders. This will be his fifth season calling plays at the NFL level. The last time he called plays was as the Head Coach for the Arizona Cardinals. When he was calling plays, quarterback Kyler Murray's finishes amongst quarterbacks were  8th, 3rd, 10th (in 14 games), and 18th (in 11 games). If you were to compare Daniels' skillset to any current NFL quarterback, Murray would be a good comparison.

In his two seasons at LSU, Daniels rushed for over 1,000 yards and double digits each season. His speed and athleticism as a runner will translate at any level.

The question around Daniels revolves around how his passing acumen will translate to the NFL.  We have seen Daniels take a step up in competition during his college career when he transferred from the Pac-12 to the SEC. All he did in that transition was have his two best passing seasons. The pinnacle season was last season when he threw 40 touchdowns to 4 interceptions while winning the Heisman trophy.

The rushing upside alone makes Daniels worthy of an upside selection to be your fantasy quarterback. When Fantasy Six Pack hosted our first PPR mock draft of 2024, I was the last participant to select a quarterback. I chose Daniels with my 12th-round selection (136th overall). There have been four seasons in NFL history when a quarterback has rushed for 1,000 yards. Regardless of the passing inefficiencies, in all four seasons, the quarterback still finished as a top-10 option. Daniels is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards any season he plays.

Can Austin Ekeler supplant Brian Robinson Jr. as the primary ball carrier?

For the first time in his career, Austin Ekeler will be playing with a team that is not the Los Angeles Chargers after signing a two-year contract with the Washington Commanders. He'll compete with Brian Robinson for carries.

Even though Robinson played in three games, he received fewer carries than his rookie season. In his rookie season, he received over 17 carries per game. Last season, he was just under 12 carries per game. The reason that his season totals increased was a newfound pass-catching proficiency. He substantially increased his receiving production going from 60 receiving yards and one touchdown in his rookie season to 367 yards and four touchdowns in his second season.

Of course, Austin Ekeler has been one of the best pass-catching backs in the league since he came into the league in 2017 as an undrafted free agent. Since 2017, he has been third amongst running backs in receptions behind Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara. Even last year, in what was a down year for Ekeler as he finished outside the top 30 among running backs in fantasy points, he still had 51 receptions.

It's hard to envision either running back being a bellcow in this offense. Going back to Kliff Kingsbury's history can help us to determine what this split may look like. When he coached the Cardinals, he tended to lean on James Conner as the main rushing threat. Conner typically averaged about 14 carries per game. What's easy to forget is that Chase Edmonds was also around and getting touches on those teams. Looking at the 2021 Cardinals season, Conner led the team in touches with 239 but Edmonds still managed 159. A similar split could happen this season.

Will Jahan Dotson fulfill his first-round pedigree?

The Commanders' top receiver is Terry McLaurin. Even with all the changes that have happened around him, he has provided remarkably consistent production. There is no reason to believe that won't happen again.

Finding a second receiver has been difficult to pair with McLaurin has been a challenge. Curtis Samuel has had decent seasons as his running mate the last two seasons. However, he still was no more than a flex option in fantasy football with finishes outside of the top 30 each season in PPR leagues. Samuel left for the Buffalo Bills this offseason which vacates his production.

The Commanders have a few options to fill the void including veterans Olamide Zaccheaus and Jamison Crowder. They also spent the last pick of the third round on wide receiver Luke McCaffrey. The player that the team would like to see step up is former first-round selection Jahan Dotson.

Dotson had a promising rookie season in 2022. He finished with 523 yards and seven touchdowns. His second season still saw him accumulate 518 yards and four touchdowns, but it was much less efficient even while operating closer to the line of scrimmage. His average depth of target (ADOT) dropped from over 15 yards his first season to 10 yards his second season. Even with shorter routes, his catch percentage barely improved to 59% from 57.4%.

Dotson is unlikely to be taken inside the first 50 wide receivers. His situation is the perfect recipe for a post-hype breakout.

Will either rookie pass catcher, Luke McCaffrey or Ben Sinnott, hold value?

As mentioned in the last answer, the Commanders drafted Luke McCaffrey at the end of the third round. It wasn't the first pass-catcher that the team took. That would be tight end Ben Sinnott who was selected in the second round as the second tight end in the draft. Fantasy managers have to decide whether or not rostering either option is a prudent choice for their fantasy roster.

If you believe in bloodlines, McCaffrey has a bright NFL future. His father, Ed McCaffrey, was a Pro Bowl wide receiver. You may have also heard of his brother, Christian. Much like his brother, McCaffrey offers a versatile skillset. He began college as a quarterback and transitioned to the wide receiver position. He progressed to the point where he finished tied for second in all of college with 17 contested catches. Reports from OTAs have been positive with him playing both wide and in the slot.

Any rookie success is tied to opportunity, but no more so than at tight end. The good news for Ben Sinnott optimists is that he is stepping into a clean slate for tight end production on the Commanders. Cole Turner and John Bates are the only carryover tight ends from last season and each of them had less than 160 yards and no touchdowns. Sinnott meanwhile was sixth in college football in receptions among tight ends. He isn't much of a downfield threat but can be a reliable underneath option.  It should be noted that the team signed Zach Ertz this offseason, but he is coming off a season-ending quad injury and will turn 34 during the regular season.

If you draft either of these rookies it will be as a late-round flyer. Of the two options, I would prioritize McCaffrey. It's not that Sinnott is a bad choice, but tight end is a deep position and I will rarely take a backup tight end.

Final Thoughts

The final thoughts section will examine where the players are going based on ADP data for half-point PPR leagues.

The highest-drafted Commanders' player is Terry McLaurin at pick 60 overall, 32nd among wide receivers. Considering that the lowest he has finished in half-point scoring in any season is 28th among wide receivers, that is a value. While I wouldn't predict it, there is a path where he finishes as a top-15 wide receiver this season.

For this discussion, we will lump the ADPs of Austin Ekeler and Brian Robinson together. Ekeler is going at pick 93 and Robinson is going at 106. A touches split will cause both to lose fantasy value. Last season, Robinson finished 22nd in fantasy points in half-point PPR leagues, and Ekeler finished 28th. At this point, both backs are going outside the top 30 among running backs. The draft values are fair as flex options.

In between the two running backs in ADP is Jayden Daniels with an ADP of 104 overall which is 14th among quarterbacks. Taking and starting a rookie quarterback can feel like a risk, but it's one that I'm willing to take at that cost.

The last player with an ADP inside of the top 150 is Jahan Dotson. His ADP comes in at 139 overall which is 60th among wide receivers. If Dotson shows between training camp and preseason that he has solidified himself as the number two target in this offense, that ADP will rise. Think about some of the years that Christian Kirk had as the number two option in the Cardinals' offense under Kingsbury. In 2019, he finished as the 40th-ranked wide receiver and the next year at 49.

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