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Cassanova McKinzy ranks among the best pass rushers in the NFL this preseason

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Former 2016 undrafted free agent is coming on strong after his 2018 injury

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NFL: AUG 22 Preseason - Redskins at Falcons Photo by David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cassanova McKinzy has been bustin’ out all over the pre-season, and seems to have earned a spot in the outside linebacker rotation, filling the speed rush specialist role that Junior Galette used to fill.

PFF just published a look at the best pass-rushers through three weeks of the 2019 NFL preseason and that list features Redskins outside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy.

Cassanova McKinzy, EDGE, Washington Redskins, 86.3 PFF Pass-Rush Grade

An undrafted free agent out of Auburn back in 2016, Cassanova McKinzy is having somewhat of a breakout preseason in 2019.

From 54 pass-rushing snaps, he has racked up two sacks, three hits and four hurries, with the added bonus of a forced fumble and batted pass. He saw 24 snaps as a pass-rusher in the regular season for the Redskins a year ago but was unable to generate any pressure. As a result, this preseason has been important for his bid to make the roster again.

McKinzy flashed during the regular season in 2018, but his season was cut short by a pectoral injury suffered in Week 12 that sent him to IR.

McKinzy is one of many Redskins to have spent some time in Tampa Bay prior to arriving in DC, and he seems to be on the edge of a breakout year. Like most undrafted free agents, he has had to work hard to get here.

“I feel like what really helps me a lot is just the work ethic and grit that I have,” McKinzy told the Redskins’ official web site. “Being an underdog, I just have to keep going.”

As an undrafted rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016, McKinzy sustained a hamstring injury that sidelined him for two preseason games and almost two weeks of training camp.

In 2017, McKinzy went through training camp and the preseason with the Los Angeles Rams. In 2018, the team changed to the Redskins, but the result was the same: When the team reduced its 90-player preseason roster to reach the regular-season limit of 53, McKinzy was waived.

McKinzy spent time on the Rams’ practice squad in 2016 and 2017, and he was a member of Washington’s practice squad last season when the Redskins brought him to the active roster on Oct. 29. The next day, though, he was on his way back to the practice squad to make room for former Alabama All-American Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who’d been acquired from the Green Bay Packers in a trade.

Washington brought McKinzy to the active roster again on Nov. 9, and this time he stuck -- until he suffered a season-ending injury.

McKinzy played 38 defensive snaps and 36 special-teams plays in three games before he tore a pectoral muscle during the Thanksgiving game against the Dallas Cowboys.

After finally getting his opportunity only to have it cut short by an injury, McKinzy didn’t start feeling sorry for himself. Instead, he used the time off the field “to become a professional and to be a professional. It gave me the opportunity to just study the game more and to work on my craft.”

He has received positive reports from our own James Dorsett in each game of the preseason.

Following the preseason opener against the Browns, Dorsett wrote:

The fourth-year vet’s impressive offseason continued, as he tied Anderson with a team-best 4 pressures and led all defenders in the game with 2 QB hits. Both plays he scored hits on ended up being unsuccessful for the Browns’ offense (incomplete on a first down and short of the sticks on a third down). He also recovered a fumble at the Washington 2-yard line on fourth down and returned it for 4 yards.

Washington Redskins v Cleveland Browns Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The big mark against McKinzy in this one is that he missed a team-high two tackles, one of which went for a 12-yard Nick Chubb first down run instead of a TFL like it should have been. Again, missed tackles aside, McKinzy showed out well on Thursday night.

McKinzy has only played a grand total of 74 regular season snaps [in 2018], but it looks like that will be increasing this year.

It was more good news from Dorsett following the Bengals game:

McKinzy led the outside backer corps with a career-high 43 snaps played.

Cincinnati Bengals v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

He assisted on a late third-quarter tackle in the running game and then proceeded to dominate the action on the ensuing drive. On said drive, he tipped a pass that he was actually in an excellent position to intercept (he should have), made a stop in the running game and scored a QB hit on a third-down play which the Bengals failed to gain any yardage on.

This was McKinzy’s second straight game with a QB hit and multiple pressures and the pass defense was the first of his career.

This past week against the Falcons, based on Dorsett’s reporting, McKinzy may have sealed his spot on the 2019 roster:

Cassanova McKinzy has been to the defense this preseason what Robert Davis has been to the offense, which is to say that he has easily been the most productive and valuable defender on the Redskins’ roster during the exhibition season.

NFL: AUG 22 Preseason - Redskins at Falcons Photo by David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 26-year-old edge rusher displayed Junior Galette-like speed and bend on his way to registering game highs in both pressures (3) and sacks (2). The two sacks represented a new career mark for McKinzy, who also forced his first NFL fumble on one of them. He led all players in the game with a 90.9 PFF grade. McKinzy was able to do all of this even though his stepbrother passed away just days before the game.

I’m fine with Ryan Anderson getting his fair share of defensive snaps in the regular season, but I’d rather have Cassanova McKinzy backing up Kerrigan and Sweat in obvious passing situations than Anderson.

I’m not sure how many fans read the reports that came out after the Falcons game that McKinzy played that game despite a personal family tragedy; his step-brother died just three days before the game, but McKinzy didn’t tell anyone in the Redskins organization until after the game.

Just three days prior, the linebacker’s stepbrother had passed away.

”I haven’t cried all week. I haven’t let anything out. I haven’t told anybody. That was just my time to let it all out,” McKinzy said. ”I feel a little better, and when I get around my family, I’ll feel even better. I’ll see them tonight.”

Despite his devastating loss, McKinzy was able to stay focused on football. Very few people, if anyone, in Redskins Park knew what the linebacker was going through.

He didn’t want anyone to know, either.

”No one really knew. I didn’t tell anyone because, at the end of the day, it’s still my job,” he said. ”I don’t want any pity from nobody. I just want to go out there and do my job and show that I can keep focus, no matter what’s going on in my life.”

”I have to do my job,” he continued. ”In that building, the only thing that matters is football. Everything else, you have to keep outside the building.”

The linebacker was able to do just that on Thursday, as his standout preseason continued. In the three seasons since he went undrafted, McKinzy has just one NFL tackle to his name. He’s changed his body and gotten quicker, and if this preseason is any indication, he could be a viable pass rusher for the Burgundy and Gold in 2019.

Kennedy Paynter, in Hogs Haven’s most recent 53-man roster prediction, projected McKinzy to make the team at outside linebacker. The Athletic published its latest roster projection today, and echoed Paynter by listing McKinzy in the final Redskins regular season roster.

Washington Redskins Training Camp Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

It appears that Cassanova McKizy has come a long way in a very short time since being initially signed by the Redskins to a future contract in January last year. He has the look of a strong contributor. All that remains is to stay healthy and consistently produce on the field.