There’s been a lot of discussion about ongoing offseason needs in Washington over the past few months, and the lion’s share of that conversation has centered around two position groups: offensive line and linebacker. This piece is intended to extend the dialogue around the latter unit.
Despite a few years of exposure to Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio’s secondary-heavy defense, many Commanders’ fans still think of a proper defensive roster as including at least three starting-caliber linebackers (i.e., WILL, MIKE, and SAM) as well as 2-3 solid depth pieces, in case of injury to one of the starters.
The reality is, Washington runs a base 4-2-5 defense with a “big nickel” - a hybrid of a linebacker and safety - taking the place of a linebacker in a traditional 4-3 front, so it only needs two starting LBs, and 2 or 3 more depth pieces, who end up largely being special teams contributors.
This is a look at the team’s LB2, Cody Barton, who takes over with the departure of Cole Holcomb to Pittsburgh this offseason.
Cody Barton was a third round selection by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2019 draft. He had a productive college career, where he led the University of Utah with 116 tackles as a senior, and was honorable mention All PAC-12.
For his first three seasons in Seattle, Barton was largely a special teamer, playing on around 70% of snaps, and only contributed lightly on defense, averaging around 13% of defensive snaps per year. For comparison, that’s in the range of what David Mayo was averaging in Washington before Cole Holcomb went down last year.
In 2022, however, Barton finally got his shot on defense, starting 11 games, and playing 77% of defensive snaps (his ST snap percentage dropped to 58%).
And the results weren’t bad at all. Barton had a career year, after struggling a bit to kick off the season.
Through a roller coaster of a first season as a starter, per Pro Football Focus, Barton currently ranks 49th out of 53 qualified linebackers with a 53.2 overall grade. But he has been markedly better since a rough start, improving to 36th out of 53 linebackers since Week 6 with a respectable 61.6 grade. With only two missed tackles in the past seven games, his 76.6 tackling grade ranks 10th and he also ranks in the top 15 with a 72.5 pass rushing grade.
Interestingly, while PFF hasn’t graded Barton as favorably in coverage, the former safety surrendered the fourth-lowest passer rating (65.8) at his position during that span. He’s one of only two linebackers with multiple interceptions, he ranks fifth allowing just 6.5 yards per catch, and he’s tied for second with two pass breakups, flashing a versatile skill set.
Everyone wants to talk about the field goal decision in the endgame of Broncos-Seahawks. I wanna talk about the plays that led to it.— John Fraley (@johndavidfraley) September 13, 2022
Cody Barton, man. First and 10 at midfield, clock under two minutes, and he does this at the top of the screen: pic.twitter.com/yyCCEHWSDq
Quinton Jefferson had one of his better games of the season on Sunday. On this play, he forces Cam Akers to spin back to his left and Cody Barton does a nice job getting downhill, breaking down, and stuffing ball carrier at line of scrimmage. #Seahawks pic.twitter.com/oChggH6ZKk— Corbin K. Smith (@CorbinSmithNFL) December 6, 2022
Cody Barton, you have my attention— Nick Akridge (@PFF_NickAkridge) March 13, 2023
Seattle's defense is scrambling at the snap so Barton just goes stride for stride with Rondale Moore up the seam lol pic.twitter.com/6hqZlEo7U6
Barton is an elite athlete, like Cole Holcomb before him.
That said, while Barton played well last year, he was judged to a pretty high standard - that of departed All-Pro linebacker, Bobby Wagner.
Barton is having a career year, as he has more combined tackles in the 2022 season so far (129) than he did in his career up to this point (95 from 2019-2021), according to Pro Football Focus. But he also has 8 missed tackles on the season and the second worst miss rate of his career (6.3%) , according to Pro Football Focus. This isn’t awful, and it is better than Jordyn Brooks, who PFF credits with 17 missed tackles. But it also isn’t as good as former Seahawks Bobby Wagner, who boasts a 3.1% miss rate with 4 totals missed tackles. To be fair, though, I don’t think that anybody expected that there wouldn’t be a noticeable drop off going from a Hall of Fame linebacker to Brooks and Barton.
Barton’s 2022 season, at least statistically, was very comparable to Cole Holcomb’s last full season, in 2021. Holcomb started a few more games (16 vs. 11) putting up virtually the same number of tackles (142 vs. 136) and interceptions (both had 2), while Barton had more tackles for a loss (4 vs. 2) and sacks (2 vs. 1).
Cody Barton showed off his range last season, accumulating 23 hustle stops (tied for 2nd-most in the NFL).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 13, 2023
Barton recorded an 8.2% defensive stop rate in 2022, which was higher than any linebacker on the Commanders.#HTTC https://t.co/QCilYYBuJg pic.twitter.com/Qs1rnIKevV
On the upswing, in terms of playing experience, and with a far better defensive line in Washington than he had in Seattle, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Barton have a very good year in DC this season. Essentially on a 1-year, prove-it deal, Barton has everything to play for, and one of the likely top defenses in the league to do it within.
LIVE: LB Cody Barton meets with the media https://t.co/dliHHaupYu— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) March 16, 2023
Who do you think will have a better season this year?
This poll is closed