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Washington 2021 Position Reset: Defensive Tackle

DT

The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect the opinion of the team.

With Super Bowl LV capping off the 2020 season, it is time to look ahead to the 2021 campaign.

Over the next few weeks, Washingtonfootball.com will break down the position groups and lay out who the team could potentially add via free agency and the draft. These are the positions that have been covered so far:

Next up is defensive tackle, perhaps the strongest and deepest unit on the entire roster.

On The Roster

The game-wrecking ability of Chase Young is obvious along Washington's defensive line. So is the freakish athleticism and high-level production of Montez Sweat.

Look closer, though, and you'll see interior players like Jonathan Allen pressuring opposing quarterbacks, Daron Payne stuffing running lanes and batting down passes and Tim Settle doing a little bit of everything as a valuable reserve. And that is not even including Matt Ioannidis, the team's 2019 sack leader who suffered a season-ending bicep injury in Week 3.

Off the edge, Washington has flashy playmakers. But without these interior stalwarts, the defensive front would not be looked at as one of the best in the NFL.

"I'm really proud and excited about the growth of this group, how we started and how we came together," defensive line coach Sam Mills III said before Week 17. "Then, adding together some pieces of the puzzle with some pieces that have been here and losing some pieces along the way. When you put everything together, I'm pleased with where we are. I think guys worked really hard to pick up this scheme. I think they're working tirelessly just to improve every day. I'm very, very pleased with where we are."

Let's start with Allen, who is regarded by many as one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the league. Despite recording just two sacks, he ranked in the top 12 among interior defenders in pressures (47), hurries (33) and quarterback hits (11) while finishing with the sixth-highest pass-rush grade (83.5), according to Pro Football Focus. He also had a pass-rush win rate of 13%, per ESPN Analytics, which was the seventh-best percentage among defensive tackles.

Allen rarely brought down opposing signal-callers but hounded them nonetheless. He was similarly effective in the run game, finishing second among defensive linemen in total tackles (63) and tied for fourth in solo tackles (36).

"I think his power," head coach Ron Rivera said in December when asked what stands out with Allen's game. "He's got an amazing punch and extension on those arms. You just see the power and you feel the power. That's why, to me, him learning and understanding and getting a feel for what we're doing and attacking and punching and using that power on half a man, you can see him half success. He's got some strength, and you can see it."

Payne, a fellow first-round draft pick, was Washington's best interior run defender, ranking ninth at his position with a 38% run stop win rate and finishing with a PFF run defense grade of 74.0. He also made seven tackles for loss and forced three fumbles.

But that does not mean he was non-existent in Washington's pass-rush; in fact, he batted down four passes and tallied three sacks in the regular season. Then, in his first-career playoff game, he was by far the team's best defender with three quarterback hits, two sacks, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble.

Behind Allen and Payne was third-year pro Tim Settle, who performed like a starter in limited snaps. He finished fourth on the team with 5.0 sacks, and his sack percentage (2.9) ranked third among defensive linemen with at least 100 pass rushes, according to Sports Info Solutions. His 19 total tackles (12 solo), seven quarterback hits and five tackles for loss were also career highs.

That trio will only benefit from Ioannidis' return. He was highly productive in his two-plus games before injury, and the coaching staff seems to like what the veteran brings to the position group.

"Those guys -- Daron, Jonathan and Timmy -- I think those guys really give us something special," Rivera said in December. "They're a good group. They do miss Matt Ioannidis. When we have everybody up there up front, I think we are pretty formidable."

Do not expect this unit to change much, as every player is under contract through the 2021 campaign.

That includes 2020 seventh-round selection James Smith-Williams, who was drafted as a defensive end but moved inside after Ioannidis' injury, and Caleb Brantley, who opted out before the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Washington Football Team's top defensive plays from the 2020 season.

Free Agency

Based on Washington's talent and depth at defensive tackle, the team will likely address other positions in free agency. However, you can check out all of the impending free agent defensive tackles, HERE.

Draft

Christian Barmore (Alabama), Tommy Togiai (Ohio State) and Levi Onwuzurike (Washington) headline the 2021 defensive tackle class. Check out a list of all the prospects, HERE.

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