Just how good can the defense of the Washington Football Team be in 2021?
Last season, this was a unit that finished No. 2 overall and sixth in the league in sacks. Despite the overall success, it was an inconsistent season. Washington got off to a 2-5 start in 2020 before the bye week and allowed 30 or more points in four of the first five games of the season.
This was to be expected with a new head coach and a new defensive scheme. The WFT was able to put it together down the stretch and make a run to the NFC East title. Heading into 2021, there are plenty of factors that could make someone believe that Washington's defense is ready to be the best in the league.
First, the WFT might have the league's best defensive line already and it is led by its edge rushers. Chase Young made an immediate impact as a rookie and will continue to improve in year two. Montez Sweat had a bit of a breakout season in 2020 and could be even better this season. In the interior, Jonathan Allen, who recently signed a four-year, $72-million extension, leads the way along with Daron Payne.
The defensive line also features some depth. Matt Ioannidis is expected to be a big factor after suffering a season-ending injury in Week 3 of the 2020 season. He is arguably the strongest player on the defensive line and led the WFT in sacks in 2019. Tim Settle will also be in the mix and gained some important experience last season.
Another reason to believe in this defense is because as good as it was last year, it got even better.
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This begins in the secondary with the addition of William Jackson III. He is a legitimate No. 1 cornerback who can shadow an opposing team's best receiver. Washington drafted Benjamin St-Juste in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft and he has been a standout. This would allow Kendall Fuller to return inside and play in the slot. Kamren Curl and Landon Collins will man the safety positions.
Finally, Jamin Davis is arguably the biggest factor on the defensive side of the ball. Washington selected Davis in the first round this year and expect him to improve the linebacker position. This was an area that struggled in 2020 due to its lack of speed and burst. Davis brings that and more. He has great length and can cover when needed. Davis is an early candidate to win the 2021 Defensive Rookie of the Year award. This would be Washington's second in a row, with Young taking home the prize last season.
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On paper, Washington has a chance to have the best defense in football but it will have to prove it right away. Early in training camp, the defense has been far ahead of the offense -- which should also be much improved.
In year two with head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio there should be no issues with consistency and getting off to a quick start. Right now, Washington has to get under control with COVID-19 so they can get on the field for 17 games and potentially make another run to the postseason.
As far as being the best defense in the league, Washington will have to prove itself. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, and Cleveland Browns will also be vying for that title. On paper, the WFT is deep, talented, and full of star power. If this unit finishes top three this season, it will be viewed as a success. If it falls out of the top five, the WFT will struggle and it will not have reached expectations.
Washington will have a chance to become the first repeat division champion since the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004. The journey begins on Sept. 12 against the Los Angeles Chargers - and the journey could end with the WFT claiming to be "the best.''
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