* The Washington Football Team's 2020 season was a memorable one filled with impactful performances. Over the next two weeks, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux and Ryan Homler will take a look at 10 players who provided the biggest impact. Next up: Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne
In both 2017 and 2018, the Washington Football Team used its first-round pick to try and build an identity on the defense. The first year saw interior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen from Alabama get selected. The next year, interior defensive lineman Daron Payne from Alabama joined him.
The vision in Washington was to build on the defensive front and create a unit that succeeded at rushing the passer and stopping the run. Allen and Payne would anchor the interior.
In 2020, that vision came to fruition. The two men in the middle of the defensive line dominated and were major impact players, even if it didn't always seem like it.
When looking at the defensive line this past season in Washington, Chase Young and Montez Sweat may be the first names to pop into the minds of many. Rightfully so, as both were great and made game-changing plays. Yet, Allen and Payne deserve the same recognition. The stats may not dictate it, but both were equally as important to Washington's success on the line.
Beginning with Allen, there is an argument to be made that he was Washington's best defender in 2020. One might ask how that can be the case when he had just two sacks after having eight the year prior, but sacks aren't everything. According to Pro Football Focus, Allen was winning at the line of scrimmage 17% of the time when he rushed the passer. That was a top-10 mark in the NFL.
He may have not been the one to always get to the quarterback, but Allen's pressure up the middle undoubtedly made it easier for others to swoop in and finish the job. Not to mention that his ability to break plays down as they begin was beneficial to the secondary as well.
Payne deserves recognition as well for how he's continued to grow as a defender since entering the league. Again, three sacks may not catch anyone's attention but the defensive tackle did so much more than that. He too created pressure up the middle and was strong when it came to plugging up the run.
That's an area Washington vastly improved in from 2019 to 2020. After ranking nearly dead-last at stopping the ground game a year ago, Washington snuck into the top half of the league in yards and yards per carry. Payne, with a career-high seven tackles for loss, played a part in that.
Additionally, the third-year pro had a habit of making a big play when needed. He forced three fumbles and even recorded his first career interception. Who said lineman had no hands?
As a whole, Washington's defensive line was great in 2020 and in good shape for 2021, and each member of that unit deserves praise. Two of those are Allen and Payne, whose contributions should not be overlooked.