While Ryan Kerrigan once again produced at a Pro Bowl level, Washington also received contributions from former second-round picks Preston Smith and Ryan Anderson along with a healthy Junior Galette.
As the Redskins head into the offseason looking to get back to their winning ways, Redskins.com will provide position-by-position reflections from the 2017 squad.
Up next: the outside linebackers.
REVIEW OF THE UNIT:
It was another special year for Ryan Kerrigan, as he continued to check off boxes for achievements few have ever hit.
First in the regular season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, Kerrigan recorded the third interception of his career. And like his first two career interceptions against the New York Giants in his rookie season and the Atlanta Falcons a year later, Kerrigan returned the pick for a touchdown.
Then in Week 4, Kerrigan started his 100th consecutive game dating back to his NFL debut in Week 1 of the 2011 season. Later in the year during a two-sack performance against the Giants, Kerrigan joined Jared Allen, Derrick Thomas, DeMarcus Ware and Reggie White as the only players in NFL history to record at least 7.5 sacks in each of the first seven seasons of a career since the NFL adopted sacks as an official statistic in 1982.
In a Week 16 victory over the Denver Broncos, Kerrigan added two more sacks to get his season total to 11 at the time. With the performance, Kerrigan registered his third career 10-sack season to join Charles Mann (five) and Dexter Manley (four) as the only Redskins to record at least three 10-sack seasons.
Then in the regular season finale, Kerrigan recorded another pair of sacks on Giants quarterback Eli Manning to up his season total to 13 sacks. Additionally, the Purdue product was named to his third Pro Bowl.
Opposite Kerrigan for most of the season was third-year Mississippi State product Preston Smith, who tied his career-high in sacks (eight) along with logging a new personal best in interceptions with two.
Smith began the season tallying 4.5 sacks in Washington's first five games before being held without a full-sack for the next eight games. However, the 6-foot-5, 265 pounder recorded three sacks and two interceptions in Washington's final three games of the year.
Also filling out the rotation were returning veteran Junior Galette and rookie second-round pick Ryan Anderson.
Galette missed the 2015 and 2016 seasons with separate torn Achilles but returned fully healthy in 2017, appearing in all 16 regular season games to total 20 tackles with three sacks and one fumble forced.
Anderson, meanwhile, was slowed by injuries in the second half of the year, missing the final two games. The University of Alabama product registered 15 tackles but was held without a sack.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE GROUP:
While Kerrigan is entrenched as Washington's top pass rushing threat, entering 2018 just nine sacks shy of surpassing Mann for the second most sacks in franchise history, the Redskins will seek more production out of Smith and Anderson.
When Smith is on, opposing offensive linemen have a hard time preventing him from getting to the quarterback. But Washington is seeking more consistency from the 25-year-old.
"I think any young player, especially – and he's considered a little bit of a young player – they get in that mid-season and all of a sudden, you see them trying to all of a sudden dip down. You've got to just keep on getting on them to keep on growing each and every year and most of those guys do," said Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. "I talked to Matt Ioannidis [recently] about how just trying to get through that rookie hump is hard for some of these young guys.
"But with Preston, I mean, the sky's the limit for the guy. The guy's practiced hard, hasn't missed much practice time, but overall, just the study – studying the habits of watching the tackles, see how they set and trying to get their hands down or get the moves that he needs to get against players. Overall, [he's] doing a great job."
As for Anderson, he has to find way to ways to be more productive so he can see more reps within the rotation.
"From a rotation standpoint, he's probably got the bare bones as far as reps being behind Ryan and Preston and Junior [Galette] – obviously him being the fourth guy or third guy, however you want to spin it," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden last month. "I think overall, just learning the game and the grind of a 16-week season has been good for him. I just talked to him today and I really expect guys from year one to year two to make the significant jump. Get their feet wet year one, understand what it's all about, what the season's like, what they need to do with their body in the offseason to get ready for the second year. So, I think it's been a good experience for him."
While Kerrigan, Smith and Anderson are under contract for the 2018 season, both Galette and 2014 second-round pick Trent Murphy, who missed the 2017 season with a torn ACL, are currently set to become unrestricted free agents.
Galette is thankful for the opportunity the Redskins gave him in 2017 to return to the field, but the Stillman College product has made it known that playing time will be a priority for him entering free agency.
He appeared on 407 defensive plays this season.
"I know the type of player I'm capable of and I'm still a top tier player in the league," Galette said. "I just want to play. I love it here, like I said before, and I'm very thankful for all the opportunities. I want to be here, I want to play."
Murphy, meanwhile, recorded a career-high nine sacks in 2016.
Chris Carter is also set to become a free agent, but was used almost exclusively on speicla teams in 2017.
SEASON IN REVIEW