Chase Young will miss the start of the NFL season, and it could be a loss the Washington Commanders defense can’t compensate for. Jack Del Rio’s defense entered 2021 with lofty expectations, some of which they set for themselves. The unit was expected to produce one of the best outcomes of the season, propelling an underwhelming offense to a possible playoff push.
But that’s not what happened. In fact, they fell on the opposite end of the spectrum. Washington’s defense was horrendous, finishing 29th in EPA and 27th in DVOA. And even though they lost Young after Week 10, they were 31st in defensive EPA through 10 weeks.
Washington Commanders are unlikely to turn it around without Chase Young
The defensive line is still good. Washington has three solid defensive linemen: Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, and Montez Sweat. And in true Washington fashion, the Commanders added another interior defender high in the NFL draft (47th overall) with Phidarian Mathis.
However, the Commanders lack depth, particularly on the edge. William Bradley-King and Shaka Toney both struggled to consistently beat NFL tackles as rookies. However, they received fewer opportunities than players such as James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill, who are both still on the roster.
Few teams are as reliant on their two starting defensive ends as Washington. Although Young’s impact early in his career hasn’t been as evident as we believed coming out of Ohio State, he’s still one of the most talented young pass rushers in the league.
Del Rio and linebackers coach Steve Russ need to get the most from second-year linebacker Jamin Davis. He was a developmental prospect with outstanding athleticism, but it didn’t show as a rookie. Cole Holcomb is about as average as linebackers in the NFL come, but that’s still good enough to start in the league.
Their secondary was the most disappointing aspect of the defense last season. While Kendall Fuller was excellent, the rest of the cornerback group struggled last season. William Jackson needs to return to the player we saw in Cincinnati, and Benjamin St-Juste needs to show progression in his second season.
Washington’s offseason of controversy could have frayed strings
The Washington organization has not had a good offseason. They’ve been under federal investigation, and owner Dan Snyder did his best Houdini act for a while to avoid testifying. And while Washington’s organizational flaws were already in the news, Del Rio added to that with his comments on the attempted coup on Jan. 6, 2021.
Another disappointing defensive effort could be the final straw for the long-time defensive coach. The team lacked discipline last season, playing very inconsistent assignment football. Losing Young for any extended period to start the season only makes a defensive turnaround less likely.