The 2023 NFL season is far from over, but last week was the midway point for the Washington Commanders. The Commanders improved to 4-5 after a 2-0 start, with a 20-17 win over the New England Patriots.
So, while it’s been a disappointing season overall for the Commanders, there have been bright spots. After Washington traded away starting edge rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young last week, the Commanders were clear the remainder of this season was about quarterback Sam Howell’s development.
As disappointing as the first half of this season has been, Washington remains only one game out of the NFC’s final wild-card spot.
Since we are at the midseason point, let’s review the first half and hand out our midseason awards.
MVP: WR Terry McLaurin
Terry McLaurin should have huge numbers. However, he’s still on pace to catch 88 passes and go over 1,000 yards for the fourth consecutive season, setting a franchise record. When the Commanders get the ball to McLaurin, the offense is so much more dangerous. In both close losses to the Eagles, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy did an outstanding job of forcing the ball to McLaurin.
McLaurin is a star and capable of so much more. If the offense continues its current pace from the past two weeks, McLaurin could be in store for a huge second half.
We gave serious consideration to Howell here, but it’s McLaurin’s to lose right now.
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Sam Howell
It’s been an up-and-down season for the second-year quarterback. Remember, Howell had only one career start entering the season. He’s taken a lot of sacks, but in the past two games, Howell has shown serious improvement and growth. Howell still makes mistakes — he’s essentially still a rookie — but he’s playing with more and more confidence each week, and it shows.
Howell is second in the NFL in passing yards and second on the team in rushing. Fans are excited to see how he performs in the second half of the season.
Running back Brian Robinson Jr. was seriously considered. Robinson leads the team with seven touchdowns.
Defensive Player of the Year: DE Montez Sweat
Montez Sweat was on his way to a career season before he was traded last week. His 6.5 sacks still lead Washington. His previous career-high was nine, which he should shatter. The Commanders will miss Sweat, but that 2024 second-round pick was too valuable to pass up for Washington.
Rookie of the Year: None
It’s pretty bad we can’t name one player as the rookie of the year. First-round pick Emmanuel Forbes struggled badly in Weeks 4 and 5, and was benched. He did return last week and looked outstanding. The Commanders need to see real progress here over the final eight games.
Second-round pick Quan Martin is finally starting to see more snaps. The Commanders should make it a point to play him regularly. He had the game-sealing pick last week.
Ricky Stromberg appeared in four games before going on IR. Brayden Daniels went on IR before the season. K.J. Henry was inactive for eight weeks until the Commanders traded Sweat and Young. He had had one huge play in his debut last week that was overturned on a penalty that was not a penalty.
Sixth-round pick Chris Rodriguez Jr. has been the most impressive rookie. He hasn’t played a lot, but when he has, he’s run well. He also had a huge play on special teams last week.
Seventh-round pick Andre Jones Jr. should play a lot more in the second half. Jones had a terrific summer but, like Henry, was behind Washington’s numerous veterans.
Last week’s results were encouraging for the Commanders. They need each of the rookies to contribute in the second half of the season, as they received virtually nothing from the class in the first eight games. Last week showed hope.
Most improved: Sam Howell
We are seeing Howell grow up before our eyes. He’s had some bad games but has been outstanding recently. Some of the mistakes he was making, he appears to be learning from. Howell’s improvement from Week 1 to Week 9 is extremely encouraging. That’s good news for the Commanders.
Most underrated: LT Charles Leno Jr.
Charles Leno gets a lot of grief from some Washington fans because he’s not Trent Williams. But Leno remains a solid player. His biggest problem is the group as a whole has struggled. Yes, Leno has allowed some pressure, but the Commanders could do far worse. Drafting a young left tackle will be a top offseason priority, but Leno’s presence in the lineup has been important for Howell.
Best free-agent signing
What’s amazing here is that Jamison Crowder wasn’t signed to the active roster until just before Week 1. He was initially signed to Washington’s practice squad. Crowder has stabilized the Commanders’ punt return units. While not posting big numbers, he gives you a chance. His return vs. the Falcons was a game-changer.
When Curtis Samuel was injured in Week 8, Crowder immediately stepped in and thrived as the slot receiver. Crowder is one of Washington’s feel-good stories of 2023.
Most disappointing: C Nick Gates
Washington’s 2023 free-agent class hasn’t been great. There has been no bigger disappointment than center Nick Gates. The Commanders signed Gates to a three-year, $16.5 million contract, and he was benched ahead of Week 8. Gates was solid at times but really struggled against the Giants.
Tyler Larsen has given Washington a boost since replacing Gates. While Larsen hasn’t been a massive improvement, the results speak for themselves. Where Larsen thrives is before the snap, something that helps a young QB.