With training camp just around the corner, NBC Sports Washington's Pete Hailey and Ethan Cadeaux will come up with, and then respond to, some burning questions facing the 2022 Washington Commanders.
To start, they each answer the following: Will Chase Young or Montez Sweat be able to total double-digit sacks?
It's hard to imagine that both Chase Young and Montez Sweat — a duo that hoped to break the combined sack record one season ago — have failed to total double-digit sacks in a single year thus far in their careers. The 2021 campaign was particularly rough for both Young and Sweat, as they each missed substantial time due to ACL and jaw injuries, respectively.
2022 is a fresh slate, though. So it begs the question: Will either one of Washington's pass rushers eclipse double-digit sacks this season? I might be a bit bullish here, but my answer is yes for each guy.
Barring another major injury, I believe Sweat should easily surpass that number in 2022.
There's no sugar-coating that the 2022 season is a vital one for Sweat. He's entering the second-to-last season of his rookie deal (Washington picked up his fifth-year option earlier this spring) but will likely seek a new contract following the season.
Sweat's talent is undeniable. He has all the physical tools to become one of the NFL's elite in terms of chasing quarterbacks. But through three years, he's yet to take that true leap. If it doesn't happen this year, people will start wondering if it ever will.
In Young's case, a lot has to do with when he's able to return to the field. The pass rusher said in June he's not putting a timeline on his return, and reports have circulated that the 22-year-old will begin training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. If Young remains on PUP into the season, he'll be ineligible for the team's first six games — putting a damper on his chances to total 10 or more sacks.
Yet even if Young isn't ready for Week 1, there are still plenty of reasons to think he can return to the dominant version of himself we saw at the end of his rookie season, which is why I'm of the belief he'll get there, too.
Young has preached throughout his time in Washington that "sacks come in bunches." With someone of his talent, who's to say he wouldn't be able to record double-digit sacks in 11, 12, 13, or however many games he ends up playing?
Look at Nick Bosa as an example. Both players were the No. 2 overall pick in their respective drafts and won Defensive Rookie of the Year. Then, both players tore their ACLs in Year 2. Last year, Bosa was eased back in during training camp after returning from injury. He ended up finishing with 15.5 sacks and was in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.
For reasons fair or not, there's pressure on both Young and Sweat to perform in 2022. Tons of it. Both have what it takes to be top-tier pass rushers in the NFL; this is the year both of them put it together.
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I've participated in stories like these in the past with our JP Finlay, and in those instances, I got to play the role of youthful voice who always felt like the best was coming Washington's way. JP, meanwhile, was often the grizzled vet who looked at situations with a doubtful eye, dismay in his voice and a stiff bourbon in his hand.
Sadly, for this question, Ethan is taking over my previous and more upbeat role, while I'm stepping into the skeptical shoes of JP. I don't necessarily like wearing these shoes, but they do feel rather comfortable and well-worn.
For Sweat, yes, the gifts are immense, and the payday could be, too, if he were to at long last emerge as a dominant defender for the squad. However, his consistency leaves a lot to be desired.
When Sweat notched nine sacks in 2020, he still went sack-less in eight contests, meaning it was about a 50-50 proposition that he'd register a takedown on a given week. That continued in 2021, when he produced five sacks in 10 appearances.
Of course, the lightbulb can go off at any moment, and facing a more mediocre bunch of passers this year will help Sweat and Washington's unit overall. But still, his reputation has outpaced his numbers up to this point.
As for Young, I'm simply worried about when he'll be back on the field and then how he'll contribute once he's on it. I don't think Young gets enough credit for his complete impact as a rookie, but I also don't think there's enough focus on how quiet he was before tearing his ACL in his second pro go-round.
For him to be a 10-sack-or-more player, Young will have to ace his rehab, expand his repertoire of moves, stick more to the Commanders' system and rely on improvements from the rest of the D-line and pieces behind him. Those are a lot of variables, which is why I am on the opposite side of Ethan here just like I am for Sweat.