The slogan “defense wins championships” is one that always stands true in the NFL. We have seen teams over the years like the 2000 Ravens and the 2002 Buccaneers win Super Bowls aided by a dominant defense. In more recent years, the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks were led to the Lombardi Trophy by their excellent defenses as well.
Although these defenses have Hall of Fame caliber players on each level, they would not be as effective without their defensive lines. All football fans know that the game is won in the trenches and this fact remains even on the most talented of teams. It is up to the defensive line to take on blocks and reestablish the line of scrimmage in order for the players behind them to be free to make plays all over the field.
Hall of Fame linebackers like Derrick Brooks and Ray Lewis would not be the acclaimed players they are today if it had not been for the dominance on the defensive line by players like Warren Sapp and Haloti Ngata. Until the Redskins get the necessary talent up front, it will be quite difficult to come near the success that those defenses were able to achieve.
What’s the Skins’ Issue in Particular?
It has been clear that the Washington Redskins need to improve on the defensive side of the ball to compete for a championship. The Redskins’ offensive air attack has kept this team in playoff relevancy over the past three seasons, but it has been their defense that has been unable to make the stops in times when it matters the most.
This has been particularly true when it comes to the Redskins’ run defense. In 2016, they finished 23rd in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game and finished dead last in rush yards allowed per attempt this past season. With lots of talent in the back 7 of the defense, it is important that the Redskins take advantage of the deep defensive line class coming out in this year’s NFL Draft.
The 2018 NFL Draft class is clearly one full of talent at the Quarterback position, but it should be noted that it is packed with play-makers on the defensive line as well, particularly at defensive tackle. As the Kirk Cousins-era potentially comes to a close, it seems likely that the Redskins would want to select a quarterback in the upcoming draft.
With the high demand at the quarterback position for teams like the Broncos, Browns, and Giants, the top QB prospects will likely be selected before the Redskins are able to make their pick. Although the draft is not until April, it seems that Josh Rosen (UCLA), Sam Darnold (USC), and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), could all be selected within the top 10 picks. Other QB prospects like Lamar Jackson (Louisville) and Josh Allen (Wyoming) do not seem to be sure-fire picks for the Redskins thus far in the process. For that reason, Washington should look to defensive tackles Christian Wilkins from Clemson or Da’ron Payne from Alabama.
Both of these players have shown the athleticism to be three down players at multiple positions on the d-line and have shown the ability to stop the run as well as rush the passer. Picking one of these players will not only address the Redskins’ main need as a team, but will also be less of a risk, as it is unclear how Jackson and Allen’s abilities will translate at the NFL level.
The addition of a prolific interior defensive lineman in Wilkins or Payne will equip the Redskins with a respectable defensive line that will also feature young standouts Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, and Anthony Lanier. Terrell McClain and Stacy Mcgee will also be rotational players for this group. But is ‘respectable’ the word you want to use to describe the most important unit on your defense? One would consider the most talented and deep defensive lines to be ‘feared’ rather than be respected. For this reason, the Redskins should explore using their second-round pick on the defensive tackle position as well. As before mentioned, this draft class is full of talent at this position and bringing in two talented rookies would be an affordable and long-term solution for the Redskins’ biggest team need.
Doing so will give defensive line coach Jim Tomusla 7 versatile options to mold for our base 3-4 defense. The decision to pick a defensive tackle will also leave the salary cap space available to bolster the wide receiver and running back positions on offense.
The Potential Future
With the 44th pick in the 2nd round, the Redskins could likely see standout defensive tackles Lowell Lotulelei from Utah or Harrison Phillips from Stanford still available. Lowell, at 6’ 2” 320 pounds, gave a glimpse of his abilities in their bowl game versus West Virginia when he recorded 1.5 sacks. Phillips was dominant throughout the season in which he recorded 103 tackles and 17 tackles for loss (both team highs). At the nose tackle position in the 3-4, both players have shown the power and run stopping ability that would undoubtedly benefit the Redskins’ struggling run defense. Although these are both likely first down/short-yardage players, either will make the Redskins front much more physical at the line of scrimmage than they have been in years past.
Going into next season, the Redskins have many questions to answer on the offensive side of the ball. It will be up to the defense to step up and set the tone for the 2018 football season. In a draft full of game-changing defensive linemen, drafting two of them with our two first picks could be the ideal move for the team going forward. Doing so would give the Redskins the flexibility to add depth to other positions of need in rounds 3-7. Also, the salary cap room of about $60 million (if Kirk Cousins does not sign a deal) enables the team to bring in talented veteran free agents to add to an already young roster.
Adding that depth to a defense that is already young, fast, and physical will make the Redskins a tough team to beat. Led by the defense, this team has the potential to make a run in the NFC in 2018.