When the Redskins drafted Jonathan Allen with the 17th-overall pick in 2017, it signified a commitment to bolstering the defensive line and prioritizing the trenches. The next year they doubled down, drafting Daron Payne, another Alabama defensive lineman, in the first round.
Adding him to Allen and Matt Ioannidis, the Redskins put together a formidable grouping of linemen, one that will continue to grow next season after a productive 2018.
Here’s a look at the unit’s season:
Review Of The Unit:
When the Redskins drafted Payne, a somewhat surprising move considering he’d been projected as late as the second round, the team was making a statement that its primary goal would be to stop the run. Though not a standard nose tackle, Payne took on that responsibility for most of the year, while also expanding his role as a rookie.
This was an imperative for Washington considering it ranked last in the league in stopping the run in 2017, a stat line parroted numerous occasions throughout the offseason. Allen played in just five games before suffering a Lisfranc injury, part of a defensive unit that lost several starters to season-ending injuries, and reinforcements felt necessary.
The arrival of Payne, a full season from Allen and increased productivity from Matt Ioannidis combined to turn around a lot of the woes from a year ago. The Redskins ranked 17th in opponent rush yards per game, middle of the pack, but much improved from last season.
That ranking dipped in the second half of the season, after Alex Smith fell to injury and the offense had trouble staying on the field and equivocating time of possession. Washington won games on defense thanks to opportunism, forcing a lot of turnovers, while the offense protected the football. That provided the defensive line an opportunity to pin its ears back take advantage of one-dimensional situations.
The defense finished with 46 sacks, fourth-most in the league, with 20.5 of those coming from the Allen-Payne-Ioannidis trio.
Allen finished his year as a defensive leader, taking on that role after starting every game. He collected 61 tackles with eight sacks and showed the potential the Redskins saw in him when he was once projected to be the first-overall pick.
Payne had a strong rookie season, making 56 tackles, five sacks and one forced fumble. Of the defense’s 1,033 snaps, Payne played 796 and Allen played 779. Ioannidis was the only one who missed any time, sidelined for two games with a calf and hamstring injury. In 14 games he combined for 31 tackles, 7.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
It’s also worth noting the emergence of Tim Settle, the team’s fifth-round pick from Virginia Tech, who had a strong preseason, and received more playing time at the end of the year. He and veteran Stacy McGee, who returned off the PUP list halfway through the season, both acquitted themselves well when inserted into the rotation, each earning 60 run defense grades from Pro Football Focus.
Because the line, led once again by Jim Tomsula, had production from this young group early on, Washington parted ways with veteran lineman Ziggy Hood early into the season.
The Redskins also picked up Caleb Brantley, who, until the very end of the season, was a healthy scratch for games. He could have a bigger role next year depending on who the Redskins draft or acquire and release in free agency.
This is arguably the most promising and assured group on the team, and it’s where the Redskins will look to build around this offseason.
After two consecutive years drafting Alabama defensive linemen, the intended results are coming into focus and Washington can be proud of what they’ve built in the trenches, especially in a division that features the likes of Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley.
Now, it’s about taking another step, and being one of the most dominant units in the league.
“The young guys now got to step up and go into a more veteran leadership, don't have as much of those guys as you would like but this is what we do have and I feel like J. Allen, he'll probably end up getting a C or something, just because of how he's able to maneuver and man-up his room with the defensive line,” cornerback Josh Norman said.
“Like I said I always, it starts up front,” he continued. “You can't do anything if you don't got no smash rocking mouth and they have that up front. The bulls, they've got Ioannidis and Daron Payne and guys like that they make things, they move mountains man. They move people out of the way and that's what we need from those young bulls man because they'll be big for us going down in the future so I expect that from him, taking that role because that's his to maintain so when I talk about guys stepping up into that that's one of the guys I'm talking about."
The Redskins have McGee under contract for three more years and will have Settle and Brantley both returning on rookie deals.
Should the latter two take big steps, and their current three starters continue to improve off 2018, the Redskins will be in strong shape entering next season.