Over the next few weeks, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will grade each position group’s performance in 2016, break down the current personnel situation and evaluate the unit's outlook for 2017. Today we examine the defensive line.
Starters: Chris Baker, Ricky Jean François, Ziggy Hood
Backups: Cullen Jenkins, Matt Ionnadis, Anthony Lanier, Kedric Golston
Injured/Reserve: Anthony Lanier, A.J. Francis, Joey Mbu
Free agents: Chris Baker, Cullen Jenkins, Kedric Golston, Ziggy Hood
Rewind: The Redskins defensive line graded out as the worst unit on the team. The 'Skins D ranked 28th in the NFL in yards allowed, and 24th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. It's not fair to simply blame Baker, François and Hood for their play as the franchise did not properly invest in the defensive line.
The team needs to add young players this year in the draft after taking only Ionnadis in the 2016 draft. Baker is the youngest of the three starters, though he will turn 30 in October. François and Hood will turn 31 in 2017.
The team needs to add depth and perhaps starters via free agency. Reports suggest the Redskins have interest in Eagles nose tackle Bennie Logan, a player that would make sense for Washington.
Fast Forward: Scot McCloughan will face a tough decision on Chris Baker. The team's best defensive lineman the last two seasons, Baker will have suitors on the open market. On the other hand, Baker is a strong example of the 'Skins actually developing a player, as he came from the practice squad to starter. With 10.5 sacks in the last two seasons, Baker has proven his ability to get to the passer from the interior of the D-line, a trait that is valued across the league. Like most free agency decisions, this will come down to price. Baker has a young family and is beloved by fans in Washington, but he might be more effective in a 4-3 scheme or paired with other strong linemen, allowing his burst to show without facing double teams.
It's hard to see a scenario where Jenkins or Golston come back to the Burgndy and Gold. Jenkins signed with the team late in the preseason, was released for Week 1, then rejoined the team in Week 2. He is a 13-year NFL vet that made no starts last season and logged just 15 tackles and one sack in 15 games. Jenkins' play was exactly what was to be expected from an aging D-lineman signed in late August. That Jenkins played more than 300 snaps in 2016 last year is an indictment of the lack of investment Washington made in the defensive line.
Golston is a trickier case, as he is a leader and long-time Redskin. An 11-year veteran with the 'Skins, Golston suffered a terrible hamstring injury last season and was lost for the year after Week 2. While Golston is well-known for his longevity with the franchise, the 'Skins will likely look to move on from Golston. He hasn't had a sack since 2011, and has started just 10 games in the last six seasons.
Hood could be back, as he showed great effort throughout the 2016 season, though it would need to be on a similar one-year, minimum salary type deal.
For the 'Skins defensive line to improve, investments need to be made in the draft AND free agency. Logan could help, so could a player like Johnathan Hankins from the Giants. In the draft, McCloughan needs to consider either true defensive line or an edge rusher with the team's first pick, and supplementing the line with subsequent picks. After the first round, players like Auburn's Montravius Adams or Alabama's Dalvin Tomlinson could give the 'Skins a true nose tackle, something lacking basically the entire time the team has deployed the 3-4 scheme.
François will be back, as will Ionnadis. Both can be solid rotational pieces, but this area of the roster is likely to undergo a total rebuild.
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