Commanders

One thing I learned about each defensive position on WFT's roster

Commanders

After taking a handful of days to catch up on rest (and forget what it was like to watch Jake Fromm play quarterback in that painful New York-Washington Week 18 finale), Pete Hailey is here to pass along one thing he learned this past season about each position group on Ron Rivera's roster.

On Tuesday, he discussed the offense. Today, he transitions to the other side of the ball...

Defensive tackle: Jonathan Allen has ascended

Here's a rundown of how many Washington defensive tackles have been selected as Pro Bowl starters in the history of the franchise, which began in 1932:

1932-2020: 0

2021: 1

Because of how well he performed this past year, Allen is officially the only one to have earned that distinction. 

No. 93 signed a juicy contract extension during training camp and proceeded to dominate like he already wants another one. In 17 games, Allen posted 9 sacks, 30 quarterback hits and 10 tackles for loss.

While Aaron Donald and Cameron Heyward are still the league's most renowned interior defenders, Allen is making up ground on them.

Since joining Washington in 2017, Allen displayed skills that hinted he could be one of the NFL's best along the line. After his output in 2021, he is now amongst that group of stars.

Defensive end: It’s not just about having talent

Montez Sweat and Chase Young only fell 32.5 sacks short of the combined sack record that they set their sights on in the preseason. In doing so, the two proved that there's a lot more to playing defensive end than natural skill.

 

Young was especially quiet in his second pro campaign, as he notched just 1.5 sacks before tearing his ACL against the Buccaneers. Sweat fared a bit better, as he recorded 5 sacks in 10 games, yet that was still his lowest total in the NFL. 

The duo of edge threats possess the requisite body types and athleticism to excel, but those attributes just aren't enough on their own. To have the success that they were aiming for, it's paramount to rush with discipline (something that Rivera felt they were lacking), own a vast repertoire of moves and not get complacent after achieving previous success.

When Sweat and Young were out, their replacements — guys like James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill and others — seemed to fit the defense better. Those subs are nowhere near as gifted as the first-rounders they stepped in for, but in a way, that might've helped them; instead of relying solely on speed or strength, they had to care more about positioning and playing a team-first style. 

While Sweat and Young should stay away from record talk in 2022, they still absolutely have the potential to post devastating numbers together. Yet those numbers will only come if the pair learns from what held them back in 2021.

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Linebacker: Jamin Davis has an enormous amount of work to do

Davis isn't a bust yet. That said, the fact that those words have to be laid out is an indicator of how poorly his rookie year went.

Despite appearing in 16 out of 17 possible games for Washington, Davis failed to create any truly memorable sequences. The linebacker finished with 1 sack and no interceptions, forced fumbles or fumble recoveries. 

There were also stretches where he simply failed to make it out onto the field. Overall, he lined up for just 56 percent of Washington's defensive snaps and there were individual contests where he saw action on just 13, 13, 24, 27 and 27 plays.

When Davis was selected 19th overall out of Kentucky, it was understood that he'd need time to adjust to Washington's system as well as the rigors of facing NFL offenses. Yet Rivera is already considering bumping Davis to an outside linebacker spot — originally, the hope was he could handle the responsibility of being a middle linebacker — because of how ineffective he was the past few months: 

Davis is speedy, mature and aware that his rookie season wasn't acceptable, and all of those things are encouraging. Hopefully the same word can apply to his contributions beginning this September.

 

Cornerback: William Jackson III isn’t heading in Josh Norman’s direction — at least not yet

Thanks to the failure that was Norman's career with the Burgundy and Gold, any expensive corner who follows in Norman's footsteps could have his name mentioned alongside the former $75 million man in the event of any struggles. 

Just don't put Jackson III next to Norman after a mediocre 2021.

Jackson III definitely had his downfalls in his debut go-round with Washington — he was penalized an unsightly 7 times, allowed quarterbacks to rack up a 100.4 passer rating against him and didn't add much as a tackler on the outside.

However, it wasn't all that surprising to see him falter early on as he was finding his way with a new team and a new coaching staff. Jackson III wasn't asked to play much zone in Cincinnati, so doing that with Washington was inevitably going to include a handful of lowlights. 

Unfortunately, just as the defensive back was figuring it all out, injuries popped up and robbed him of the last three matchups on the schedule. But it really did feel like he and his coaches were starting to get one another and, as he explained in a recent press conference, he was finally thinking less and trusting his instincts before landing on injured reserve.

Jackson III no doubt must be stingier as a corner next year to justify the three-year, $40.5 million deal he inked with Washington last March. There were subtle signs, though, that he will do precisely that. 

Safety: Kam Curl is the most nationally-underrated guy on the roster

Following Washington's Monday night victory over the Seahawks, Logan Thomas concluded his podium session by proclaiming that Kam Curl is a "top-five" safety in the sport. That might've been a tad bold, but Curl is certainly deserving of more national recognition.

What's working against Curl when it comes to receiving his credit is that the defense he plays on was so disappointing in 2021 and he also failed to record an interception after picking off three throws as a rookie. Having established those, Curl is still a stud.

The ex-seventh round choice is supremely intelligent — he told reporters that he tries to "let formations talk" to him — and it shows on the field, as he's rarely out of position. His tackling is consistent, too, and he can match up with all sorts of pass catchers in coverage.

Should Curl create a few more splashy turnovers as he did as a rookie, he'll have more people shouting him out as Thomas did in November. The days of him being a secret are counting down.