With free agency in the rearview and the NFL Draft fast approaching, the NBC Sports Washington Redskins crew examines the entire roster, position by position group. Today, and lastly: The defensive line.
D-linemen (includes interior and edge rushers): Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, Daron Payne, Tim Settle, Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat, Ryan Anderson, Nate Orchard, Caleb Brantley, Jordan Brailford, Ryan Bee
2019 recap: The Redskins were 27th in points allowed, 27th in yards allowed and last in third-down percentage this past season, and this group played a role in those painful statistics.
The hope was that the defensive line, led by well-regarded players like Allen, Ioannidis, Payne and Settle, would form the strength of the unit as well as the team overall. And while they did generate some consistent pressure — Washington finished 10th in the league in sacks — they still came up short in nearly every other aspect, especially on third down.
In terms of individual performance, Ioannidis stood out the most. The 2016 fifth-round choice may not be as well known as his fellow first rounders up front, but he raised his sack total yet again to 8.5 and was nearly a Pro Bowler. When you look at production and compensation, he may have the best contract on the roster.
The two Alabama guys, meanwhile, were durable (each suited up for 15 matchups) and forces at times. However, when compared to what they did in 2018, it's fair to say both took a slight step backward.
Beyond those three, Settle continued to show he can contribute when needed, notching two sacks while seeing 28-percent of the snaps. Anderson also popped late, which he badly needed. Brantley and Brailford, unfortunately, only combined for one contest due to respective injuries. The former, though, still was re-signed this offseason and will have yet another chance to carve out a role on the interior.
Of course, many wonder how much this crew's issues were tied to how Greg Manusky deployed them. Kerrigan and Sweat, for example, are considered defensive ends now, yet they were outside linebackers in 2019's 3-4 and were dropping back in coverage far too often. Were Manusky and the coaching staff preventing this part of the defense from breaking out? Some certainly believe so.
2020 potential: OK, enough about 2019. That was a dreadful campaign, and on this side of the ball, it sure feels like the staff was a reason why. A bunch with this much investment in it can't simply be so bad on their own, right? Hopefully.
Don't worry, by the way; chatter about the dude from Ohio State who very well could be joining the Burgundy and Gold in a handful of hours is coming soon. But first, a look at the potential of the players already here.
Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio's switch to the 4-3 is designed, according to them, to have their linemen "play the run on their way to the quarterback." The two coaches want to make use of and unleash this D-line, and the results could be very positive and very sudden on both the interior and outside.
In short, prepare for another summer where this group is hyped up as the centerpiece for the entire team. This time around, though, the expectation should be for that to actually happen. (And if it doesn't, some serious reconstruction may be in order.)
Having Chase Young, obviously, would go a long way in ensuring it does. Even at just 21 years old and still months away from his first NFL action, he's regarded as a piece who can elevate the other 10 people around him instantly. Plus, he can do plenty of damage on his own. He's already getting slight Defensive Player of the Year consideration!
If Young is the Redskins' pick at No. 2, everyone will benefit. Sweat will have an easier time in Year 2. Kerrigan will be asked to do a little less, allowing him to go all out when he's needed. The men in the middle will see less attention. The other two levels will be able to be more aggressive. The offense should even find themselves in more advantageous situations.
Rivera stated this offseason that he's a fan of making his roster's strengths even stronger when possible. Adding Young would be the epitome of that and make 2020 really fun — except for Washington's opponents under center.
Overall projection: Free agents like Kendall Fuller and Thomas Davis cited the presence of Ioannidis, Allen, Payne, Settle, Kerrigan and Sweat as one of the reasons why they chose to join the Redskins. And that's before Young possibly enters the mix. Even without him, the D-line should play markedly better this season in the 4-3. Once you project things with him? It gets really scary.
DL grade: On Thursday morning, the defensive line, including converted options like Kerrigan and Sweat, gets an A. Come Thursday night, a "+" may need to be tacked on.
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