The Redskins will enter 2017 with a new-look defense. Six new starters are expected to take over the unit under new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. In the NFL, continuity is king, but when your unit raked towards the bottom of the league in several key statistical categories, change can't come soon enough.
Below is a look at some of the key defensive changes, and whether or not they will be upgrades from last season.
Johnathan Allen OVER Chris Baker - Many lamented the loss of Chris Baker to free agency, especially after it was learned that the Redskins never offered him a contract this offseason. Sour grapes?.....naw. The NFL draft produced a shocker when Allen slipped all the way to the Redskins at pick 17, and the team wasted no time rushing the card to the podium to select the Alabama All-American. Allen brings youth, skill, and scheme diversity. He was the best interior defensive linemen in the draft, and the Redskins are lucky to have him.
Terrell McClain OVER Ricky Jean-Francois/Cullen Jenkins - The 6'2" 302 pound McClain played well in Dallas last year, and was rewarded with a nice free agent contract by the Redskins. He had career highs in tackles (40), sacks (2.5), and forced fumbles (2). Jean-Francois and Jenkins were ok as fill-in pieces, but they should never have been in starting rolls.
Stacy McGee OVER Ziggy Hood - At 6'3" 300 pounds, Ziggy Hood did not have the bulk to be an effective nose tackle in the Redskins base 3-4 defense. McGee, who is listed much heavier, surely does. Much like McClain, McGee had his best statistical year in just over half a season with the Raiders, tallying 17 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in 9 games.
Zach Brown OVER Mason Foster/Will Compton - Whoever gets the start between Foster and Compton, the other will be relegated to back-up behind 2016 Pro Bowler Zach Brown who signed this offseason on a one year deal. The speedy linebacker will give the Redskins exactly what they are looking for at Inside linebacker - speed, aggression and coverage ability.
Sua' Cravens OVER Duke Ihenacho/Donte Whitner - Although Cravens has not lined up as a true safety since his early years at USC, he will undoubtedly be a massive upgrade to the hot mess that was Duke Ihenacho and Donte Whitner last season. That duo was part of the worst safety tandem in the league in 2016, so it won't take much more than simply having a pulse to be better. Although I expect some growing pains from Cravens as he settles into his new position, his instincts and athletic ability will be a welcome addition to the back end of our defense.
DJ Swearinger OVER Will Blackmon - Although I feel Swearinger is a more natural strong safety, his play can't be any worse than Will Blackmon's at free safety. Swearinger is know for his tremendous hitting ability, but he flashed enough athleticism last year as a starter in Arizona for the Redskins to sign him in free agency and label him with the starting free safety tag heading into training camp. If he can stay disciplined and play whithin the system, we should be much improved at the position.
Having six possible new starters on any unit can be troubling for a team looking to take that next step, but for the Redskins, this should be considered a blessing. In 2016, the team had what most would consider to be 5 below-average starters on defense. Combine that with a defensive coordinator who didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground, and you have an immediate recipe for disaster.
This offseason the Redskins have gotten younger, bigger, more explosive and have added greater depth at most defensive positions. Do questions still remain... absolutely, but the bar was set so low, that even the slightest improvement will be viewed a success as the unit looks to catch up with the offense in terms of league-wide ranking.
I predict this team falls somewhere between 12-16 in total defense in 2017, and drastically improves their play against stopping the run and getting more turnovers.