The Washington Football Team has big expectations surrounding them heading into the season after a successful 2020 -- especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Washington allowed the second-fewest yards per game last season and fourth-fewest points. A ferocious defensive front totaled 47 sacks, which was good for the sixth-most in the league. It is not surprising to see many Washington defenders receive favorable rankings.
Pro Football Focus put together player rankings by position and the WFT was well represented near the top.
No. 8 Chase Young & No. 17 Montez Sweat
Washington has a dynamic front four and it is led by its first-round picks in 2019 and 2020. It began when the WFT traded back into the first round in 2019 to select Montez Sweat and then landing the second-overall pick a year later, allowing them to take Chase Young.
After being named Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, Young will be ranked No. 8 heading into the fall. PFF highlights the room for improvement for Young even after a rookie season where he looked like a stud. In year one, Young finished with 32 tackles, 12 assists, 7.5 sacks, 4 passes defended, 12 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries, and one touchdown.
Young was able to put up big numbers while dealing with multiple blockers on a weekly basis. The good news is that this opened up Sweat on the other side.
Sweat had a breakout year in 2020 and this put him at No. 17 heading into the season. With Young on the other side, Sweat did not deal with many double teams and this allowed him to wreck game plans for opposing offenses all year.
There is no doubt that Washington wants to keep their two stars on the edge for years to come. It is also set up well inside heading into 2021.
No. 12 Jonathan Allen & No. 23 Daron Payne
Jonathan Allen began a streak of four-straight years where Washington drafted a defensive lineman in the first round. He has been the leader of the defense since entering the league and thrived last season under the new scheme.
With Jack Del Rio taking over as defensive coordinator, many defenders were able to do what they do best. For Allen, this included rushing the passer. In 2020, Allen finished with the third highest pass-rush grade in the league, behind only Aaron Donald and Chris Jones.
Allen will lead an interior that will include Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle as depth pieces. Daron Payne will lineup next to Allen and come into the year at No. 23.
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Payne has improved each year since entering the league. His strength is on display every time he is on the field. While Allen can get to the quarterback, Payne is strong defending the run. He has the ability to get his hands on the ball carrier and not let them go. Since 2019, Payne ranks in the 80th percentile in both run-defense grade and run-stop percentage.
The linebacker position for Washington was mediocre in 2020 but hopes to be improved with the addition of Jamin Davis. Along with an elite defensive front, the secondary hopes to be much improved.
No. 9 William Jackson III & No. 26 Kendall Fuller
William Jackson III was a big free-agent signing for Washington in the offseason and it does not gain enough attention. Jackson comes into the year as a top-10 cornerback and gives the WFT a true No. 1 on the outside.
Washington was interested in bringing Ronald Darby back but Jackson is a clear improvement. This allows Del Rio to do more with his calls. Jackson put up one of his best statistical seasons in 2020 allowing just 30 yards receiving yards over the final 11 games. He will now join a defense that is strong up front and has a solid No. 2 corner.
Of course, that is Kendall Fuller. He will enter the season as No. 26 on the PFF rankings. When he signed with Washington, Fuller was forced to play outside after spending a large majority of his career as a slot corner. The WFT is seeing third-round pick Benjamin St-Juste impress during camp. If this continues, St-Juste could find a spot on the outside and allow Fuller to go back inside, where he is one of the best in the league.
The cornerback position has been one that Washington has struggled with in recent years. That should be fixed after they addressed it in many ways this offseason.
No. 20 Kamren Curl & No. 28 Landon Collins
The safeties round out the secondary and it is led by an unlikely candidate. Kamren Curl was a seventh-round pick of Washington in 2020 and saw significant action when Landon Collins went down with a torn Achilles. Now, Curl has solidified himself as a top-20 safety in the league.
After Collins went out for the year, it was anticipated that Ron Rivera and company would sign Eric Reid but Curl made sure that it was not necessary. The WFT will now have a player to rely on that they were not expecting. When Collins returns, he will have a legitimate force with him in the secondary.
Collins is progressing on time after an injury that kept him out for the duration of the 2020 season. He comes into the year ranked 28th at the safety position and that ranking will undoubtedly climb if he performs like he is capable.
The defense in Washington is expected to be one of the best in the league this season in year two of a new scheme. This is the reason Washington has a chance to repeat as NFC East champions in 2021.
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