When rookie defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis went down with a knee injury early in the season, Washington’s line depth looked pretty frightening. Both starters, Jon Allen and Daron Payne, looked good, but they couldn’t play every snap, and needed to be spelled occasionally.
With Tim Settle and Matt Ioannidis allowed to pursue new opportunities in the offseason, Washington’s tackle depth consisted of Daniel Wise and whichever defensive ends might have some interior flexibility.
Immediately, Washington’s personnel staff set off in pursuit of potential depth options, presumably beating the bushes for street free agents and scouring practice squads across the league.
When Dak Prescott went down with a thumb injury in early September, the Cowboys needed to elevate from Cooper Rush from their practice squad and, rather than put Dak on IR, they released rookie defensive tackle John Ridgeway, hoping to put him on their practice squad. Washington pounced.
Ridgeway played college ball at Illinois State and Arkansas, and was the Razorbacks starting nose tackle as a senior in 2021, helping to lead the team to a top 25 finish.
Newly signed Commander DT John Ridgeway @ridgeway_79. Dude is a tank, and always stood out to me at Arkansas, and especially the Senior Bowl. Shows a great ability to break the block and sling to stop the run. pic.twitter.com/aXQBkyErNB— Josh Taylor (@JoshTaylorFB) September 20, 2022
As a result, he was selected by the Cowboys in the 5th round of the 2022 draft, though he was projected by some draft analysts to go as high as the third round.
Ridgeway served as the anchor for the Razorback defense and was consistently able to take on double teams and be a disruptive force in the middle of the defense. Ridgeway has natural strength and heavy hands that, when he shoots his hands, can knock back the offensive lineman and literally press their upper body backward. Ridgeway plays in a low stance where he is able to play with good leverage, which makes him a difficult player to move even with double teams. On the next level in the right scheme, Ridgeway can be an immediate starter and can become an instant run-stopping interior defensive lineman.
Since he’s arrived in DC, Ridgeway’s play has steadily improved to the point where, against the Colts, Ridgeway was the 4th highest rated defender on the team, per PFF - ahead of even Daron Payne.
Here are his Pro Football Focus scores since his arrival:
Week 3 (Eagles): 28.1 (20 snaps)
Week 4 (Cowboys): 62.3 (15 snaps)
Week 5 (Titans): 46.3 (23 snaps)
Week 6 (Bears): 30.3 (26 snaps)
Week 7 (Packers): 60.5 (5 snaps)
Week 8 (Colts): 72.3 (25 snaps)
As a point of reference, his 25 snaps in Week 8 constituted 43% of defensive snaps (his highest percentage of the season), which is reflective of his use in a relief or situational role.
John Ridgeway (91) gets held pretty blatantly here and it doesn't matter because Justin Fields takes an incredibly Justin Fields sack anyway pic.twitter.com/AjBUZuOrOB— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) October 14, 2022
Man we were lucky to steal Dallas 5th round selection in John Ridgeway.— The Podfather (@TheBurgundyZone) November 1, 2022
Credit to the staff for plucking him away from a Rival and getting consistent production out of him! #HTTC https://t.co/9QBZNylMHo
Making Ridgeway’s acquisition and relative success even sweeter, the Cowboys were forced to trade away a 2023 6th round pick to add veteran Raiders run-stuffer Johnathan Hankins in late October, a move that surely could have been avoided had they managed their roster a bit more responsibly.
Will Ridgeway develop into a difference-maker in Washington? The jury is still very much out on that, but it appears that he’ll be a solid, young, run-defense addition, acquired at no draft cost to the team.
With Jon Allen signed long term, and Phidarian Mathis and Ridgeway locked up for the next several years on rookie deals, the Commanders will have a bit more flexibility going into the offseason, deciding how to handle the situation with Daron Payne moving forward.
How would you grade the John Ridgeway acquisition?
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