Led by Jim Tomsula, Washington's defensive line took a step forward in 2017 with significant contributions from the trio of Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis and Anthony Lanier II.
As the Redskins head into the offseason looking to get back to their winning ways, Redskins.com will provide position-by-position reflections from the 2017 squad.
Up next: the defensive linemen.
REVIEW OF THE UNIT:
Between the 2016 and 2017 season, Washington's defensive line underwent significant improvements beginning with the addition of veteran position coach Jim Tomsula.
While Tomsula's lone season as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers did not go as planned, there's no denying his successful track record working with defensive linemen. That continued with his work with Washington's linemen in his first season with the Redskins.
After bringing Tomsula on-board, the Redskins signed veterans Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain within the first 24 hours of free agency before making the biggest splash of all: selecting Ashburn, Va., native Jonathan Allen with the No. 17-overall pick.
In the months leading up with the 2017 NFL Draft, it was widely believed that Allen was a lock for a top-five selection. But between some teams fearing previous injury issues and others trading assets to move up to pick quarterbacks, Allen was still available when the Redskins were on the clock at No. 17.
While Allen's rookie season was cut short due to a Lisfranc injury suffered in Washington's Week 6 victory over the 49ers, the 6-foot-3, 288 pounder was an impact player for the Redskins.
Allen was named to Pro Football Focus’ midseason all-rookie team, as the Alabama product had the second-best pass-rushing productivity grade among all 3-4 defensive linemen before his season was cut short.
Along with Allen's production, the Redskins saw significant steps forward from second-year linemen Matt Ioannidis and Anthony Lanier II.
Ioannidis' rookie season was bumpy, as the 2016 fifth-round pick started the year on the practice squad before recording just 10 tackles in eight games.
In 2017, however, the Temple product was arguably Washington's most productive defensive lineman, as he recorded 27 tackles along with 4.5 sacks and one fumble forced. Additionally, his 81 quarterback pressures/hits were six more than any other Redskins player.
Lanier, meanwhile, was inactive for the first five games of the year before taking Allen's spot in the rotation after he was placed on Injured Reserve.
While the Alabama A&M product was quite in his first four outings, he became a problem for opponents down the stretch as he recorded five sacks in the final seven games along with six passes defensed, one fumble forced and blocking an extra point attempt.
The Redskins also received contributions from Ziggy Hood, the elder statesman in the defensive line room. Hood appeared in 15 games with 13 starts, recording 25 tackles.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE GROUP:
After seeing what Allen, Ioannidis and Lanier did during the 2017 season, Washington will look to build around the trio while determining how to best utilize some of the veterans around them.
"You look at Matt and Anthony and Jon, those guys are young and I feel like they could be really, really productive players in this league and showed that at times this year," said Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. "I know for a guy like Jon, just got to get him healthy and got to keep him healthy. We've got some good things to build on, for sure.
Although Allen missed Washington's final 12 games, the 22-year-old's rehab was on pace to allow him a late season return before the coach staff determined that keeping him sidelined was for the best with the Redskins already eliminated from postseason contention.
"I think he was off to a good start, really," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden last month. "I think his strength at the point of attack was outstanding. His ability to play the run was good. And then we used him in nickel situations also, which he was pushing the pocket extremely well. Sack production didn't really tell the story about how productive he was. I think he played very well."
As for Lanier, his length created issues for opposing passing games. Against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15, the 6-foot-6, 286 pounder recorded three passes defensed, the most by a Redskins defensive lineman since Sept. 21, 2008 (Jason Taylor, three at Arizona). He also blocked an extra point attempt by the New York Giants in Week 17.
"You couldn't get him to raise his hands last year, so he's been disruptive. He's learning the defense. He's learning about leverages and taking on double teams in the running game," Gruden said. "It's all a process. Alignments, whether you're a three, a four-eye or five, whatever it is, all that stuff, penetration, he's doing a good job just overall. He's still got a long way to go without a doubt but Coach Tomsula's in his ear all the time when he's in this building and he's learning."
As for the veterans, Washington could return Phil Taylor after losing the former first-round pick to a torn quad in the preseason. Prior to his injury, Taylor was among the top stories for the Redskins in training camp as he was the front runner to become the team's starting nose tackle.
And along with McGee, McClain and Hood, the Redskins also reportedly have A.J. Francis under contract for another year.
Francis recorded 18 tackles in six games.
SEASON IN REVIEW