The Redskins depend on Ryan Kerrigan like few players in the NFL. In eight seasons in Washington, Kerrigan has never missed a game. Ever.
He's one of the best players in the NFC, recording 60 sacks in his last five seasons, and is perpetually underrated in league circles despite making the last three Pro Bowls. Kerrigan is just one part of the puzzle, however, as the 'Skins need more pressure off the edge to make their defense an elite unit.
Enter Montez Sweat.
The Redskins traded up to the 26th overall pick in the first round to take Sweat, after taking Dwayne Haskins with the 15th overall pick. Sweat stands 6-foot-6, tested off the charts at the NFL Scouting Combine and logged more than 20 sacks and 30 tackles for loss in his last two seasons at Mississippi State. He can play, and while questions persist about a heart condition that caused him to slip to the back half of the first round, many talent evaluators think Sweat can be a game changing outside linebacker.
After that, the Redskins have Ryan Anderson. A second-round pick two seasons ago from the University of Alabama, the output hasn't been particularly impressive. In two years, Anderson has two sacks and 32 tackles, though Pro Football Focus rated Anderson as the best run defender returning to the defense this season. Defensive coaches will talk about Anderson's strength, particularly setting the edge in the run game, but he needs to produce more as a pass rusher.
Washington will have a major hole this season without Preston Smith rushing the passer. While he never got to a double-digit sack season, he was also a four-year starter that never missed a game. For years, Smith lined up opposite Kerrigan like clockwork. This year, it won't look like that.
And beyond Kerrigan, Sweat and Anderson, the Redskins have lots of questions.
Jay Gruden has often talked glowingly about Cassanova McKinzy this offseason, and maybe he's a contributor this year. There's also seventh-round rookie Jordan Brailford. It would be quite optimistic to project McKinzy or Brailford as a significant contributor in 2019, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.
It also seems entirely possible Washington adds another pass rusher this offseason. The team signed Pernell McPhee last year to bolster their experience on the outside. A similar short-term deal for a veteran in 2019 would not come as a shock. It wouldn't even be a surprise.
When it comes to rushing the passer, the Redskins have a brute force in Ryan Kerrigan. He's a top notch player. Washington also gets a lot of push from the interior of their defensive line - Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis combined for more than 20 sacks last year. Montez Sweat has a mountain of potential too.
Beyond that, the Skins need players to step up.
Last season, the Redskins ranked seventh in the NFL with 46 sacks. In 2017, the Redskins tied for seventh in the NFL with 42 sacks. In 2016, the Redskins tied for ninth in the NFL with 38 sacks.
Getting sacks hasn't been the problem for the Redskins defense, but getting off the field in key third down situations has been trouble.
Change that in 2019, and the defense could change. For the better.
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