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Former NFL offensive lineman and current ESPN and NBC Sports Washington analyst Trevor Matich has been covering Washington for more than two decades, and "with very few exceptions," he has not felt better about a team than he does about the roster head coach Ron Rivera has put together in 2021.
"It's the way that they've drafted, the way they've brought in free agents and the way that Ron Rivera has set this culture," Matich told senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson on an episode of Washington Football Today. "And it's not just setting the culture; it's drafting the guys who are the culture, who then fit into what's going on. And that is an absolutely a beautiful place for this team to be."
Matich highlighted Washington's depth on the offensive and defensive lines, which he said are "the first two things that you want" if you're building an expansion team. The offensive line still needs to develop with young players like rookie Sam Cosmi and sophomores Saahdiq Charles and Keith Ismael, but Matich believes this unit has the talent to become a deep and formidable group.
In Cosmi, the team's second-round pick, Matich sees a player with the chance to immediately become the team's starting left tackle. ("We're going to put him out at left tackle and see how he does," Rivera said after drafting Cosmi.) Matich mentioned Cosmi's experience, as he was a three-year starter at Texas, to go along with his athleticism and fluidity, all of which helped Cosmi become a second-team All-American in 2020.
His technique needs to improve, Matich said, but his athleticism and work ethic serve as a solid foundation for future success.
"He has a chance to be a steal for Washington," Matich said, "and the only thing that stops him from being as good as he wants to be is how quickly he can pick up the footwork, the hands and the balance points of the NFL as opposed to what he succeeded with at Texas."
Cosmi is part of a draft class that Matich said includes "guys that are not just great athletes, but guys that can grow into the role," and there's no better example of that then first-rounder Jamin Davis.
Matich described Davis as a "big linebacker that runs like a wide receiver" and has the explosiveness to match, which will allow him to cover a lot of ground from the second level of Washington's defense. Not only can Davis make up for other players' mistakes, but he can also stick with speedy tight ends and bigger receivers down the field.
Matich noted that Davis only had 11 career starts at Kentucky, so the coaches will have to take time to develop his recognition and technique, but in a way his inexperience benefited Washington. If he had 31 starts, Matich said, he probably would have been a top 12 pick. In the end, Matich believes getting Davis at No. 19 was a "terrific pick."
"At defensive line, Washington is one of the best in the league," Matich said. "With their free agent signings, they've upgraded the secondary. The linebacker position in between those two needed to become more dynamic, and bringing in Jamin Davis doesn't just make them more dynamic; they have now an elite athlete."
The other piece to Matich's optimism puzzle is Washington's overall speed. A year ago, the team had two contributors who ran their 40-yard dashes in under 4.40 seconds in wide receiver Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson. This offseason, they added a third member to that group with free agent wideout Curtis Samuel while drafting three sub-4.40 players in Davis, third-round wide receiver Dyami Brown and fifth-round safety Darrick Forrest.
"This team now is faster than I can remember it ever being," Matich said, and he cannot wait to see these players fly around this fall.
"They're continuing to upgrade the beef on both sides of the ball and the speed on both sides of the ball. You combine that with the culture of team ethics, and I feel fantastic about this team going forward."