Position: Defensive Tackle
Height: 6'3" Weight: 354 lbs
Drafted: Third round, 72nd overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars (2009)
Terrance Knighton, the land mass known as Pot Roast, signed with the Washington Redskins in March, immediately upgrading a defensive line that has been spotty at best in recent seasons. He'll team with fellow newcomer Stephen Paea and returning defensive end Jason Hatcher to form an imposing front line that should make life much easier on the eight defenders behind them.
#1. Knighton grew up in Connecticut with Redskins defensive lineman Chris Baker, who helped recruit Pot Roast to Washington, and the two friends starred on the football team at Windsor High School. Despite his massive frame, Pot Roast is remarkably nimble, something he attributes to playing tight end early in his football career. He also played basketball and claims he can still dunk with relative ease, which is a remarkable feat for a man his size, if true.
Let's talk about that size for a moment. He was recently listed on the Redskins' website at 331 pounds. It has since been bumped up to 354 pounds, which is more believable but still probably a conservative listing. Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post compiled some quotes on Knighton's massive frame in early June, adding that he weighed more than 360 pounds at the time. Pot Roast has said he's planning to lower his playing weight before the season begins, and he very well might be below the 360-pound threshold by now.
#2. Washington's defense was terrible last year, but traditional stats don't do it's ineptitude justice. The Redskins were 12th in rushing yards allowed per game and 14th in rushing touchdowns allowed, but Pro Football Focus rated them the worst in the NFL in run defense (among other areas). Barry Cofield has been the man in the middle for the past four seasons, but he never performed at the level that Knighton has the past two seasons. Take a look at each player's PFF ratings from 2013 and 2014:
Cofield (2013): 2.7 overall, 12.3 pass rush, -12.3 run defense
Knighton (2013): 18.4 overall, 9.4 pass rush, 7.7 run defense
Cofield (2014): -9.2 overall, -2.7 pass rush, -7.3 run defense
Knighton (2014): 12.7 overall, -0.2 pass rush, 11.2 run defense
That adds up to 31.1 overall, 9.2 pass rush and 18.9 run defense for Pot Roast compared to 6.5 overall, 9.6 pass rush and -19.6 run defense for Cofield. That's a pretty substantial upgrade.
#3. A good 3-4 defense needs either a quality nose tackle or an exceptional pass rush, and a great one has both. Washington has had neither in recent years. Cofield wasn't stellar, but Stephen Bowen was disappointing while with the Redskins, Brian Orakpo struggled to stay on the field and Jarvis Jenkins never lived up to the hype. As a result, offensive lines focused on Cofield, Ryan Kerrigan and Hatcher with little worry that anybody else would give them trouble.
This is where Knighton comes in. He often commands two offensive linemen, and those who aren't blocking him always have him in the back of their mind, because he can so easily overpower his man and suddenly become another blocker's responsibility. Early reports out of training camp claim linebackers are running much more freely to the backfield, and it's at least in part due to the big man up front occupying multiple o-linemen.
#4. However, the area where Knighton should improve the defense most is in the run game. Not only was Washington ranked 32nd in run defense last year by PFF, but it was 31st in both 2012 and 2013 and has been in the bottom seven of the league in each of the past five years. Conversely, Knighton has never played on a team that was in the bottom seven in run defense, and he anchored the Denver Broncos defenses that finished second and third in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
It's nearly impossible to run up the middle when the big fella is in the game, so opposing offenses try to run to the outside; Knighton's teammates know this and focus their attention on the outside, which allows them plenty of chances to make tackles in the backfield. This effect is why Knighton refers to himself as the Chris Paul of the defense: He makes his teammates better whenever he's on the field. In six NFL seasons (and only three missed games in that span), Knighton has recorded just 201 tackles and 12.5 sacks. But watch how Hatcher, Kerrigan, Paea, Ricky Jean Francois and others see their numbers rise as Knighton occupies their blockers.
#5. Pot Roast might actually have just as big of an impact on the offense as he does on the Redskins defense. Sure, he'll exchange tips with the offensive linemen about how he would play against them, much like Max Scherzer did with Bryce Harper (so many inter-sport references), but he also brings the ever-valuable experience of playing on a winning team. As broken down by Jerry Brewer of The Washington Post, Knighton spent two years practicing and playing with Peyton Manning, and he has been passing that information on to Robert Griffin III. He also spent two years in a winning organization after playing his first four seasons with the Jaguars. It sounds silly, but he knows how to win and how to lose, and he knows the difference between how a winning team does things and how a losing team does things. That matters.
Bottom Line: This profile focuses heavily on how Knighton will help the other Redskins players, because that's what his biggest impact will be. His traditional numbers won't be impressive this year — probably about 30 tackles and a pair of sacks, which is exactly what he put up last year — but his fellow defenders should all see a huge spike in theirs. Opponents can no longer count on running up the middle for five or six yards every first down. Hatcher and Kerrigan won't face double teams nearly every play anymore. And the Redskins defense won't be at or near the bottom of the league again (probably).