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Commanders 2023 season review | Defensive line


The Washington Commanders are just a few weeks removed from the 2023 season, which resulted in a disappointing 4-13 record. The franchise is headed in a new direction this offseason with the No. 2 overall pick and plenty of available cap space for new general manager Adam Peters to work with.

Over the next few weeks, Peters, and eventually the new head coach, will go through the roster to determine what moves, if any, should be taken to bolster each position. Though we don't have any say in how the new front office will mold the team going forward, will look back at how each group performed last season, breaking down top performers and looking ahead at where they could go next.

Next, we'll focus on the defensive line.

On the roster

  • Jalen Harris: 5 games, 6 tackles
  • KJ Henry: 10 games (3 starts), 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 2 QB hits
  • Andre Jones Jr.: 14 games (2 starts), 4 tackles, 3 pass breakups
  • Joshua Pryor: 7 games, 1 tackle
  • James Smith-Williams*: 13 games (7 starts), 85 tackles, 7 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 31 quarterback hits
  • Casey Toohill*: 16 games (8 starts), 26 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 7 quarterback hits
  • Abdullah Anderson: 7 games, 8 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 0.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hit
  • Jonathan Allen: 16 games (16 starts), 53 tackles, 1 pass breakup, 5.5 sacks, 19 quarterback hits
  • Phidarian Mathis: 10 games, 8 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 quarterback hit
  • Daron Payne: 17 games (17 starts), 53 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 11 quarterback hits
  • Benning Potoa'e: 1 game, 1 tackle
  • John Ridgeway: 17 games (2 starts), 31 tackles, 1 pass breakup
  • Efe Obada*: 5 games, 2 tackles
  • David Bada*: IR
  • Curtis Brooks*: IR

* Entering free agency

Top performers (per Pro Football Focus)

OVR: Abdullah Anderson: (64.8) 
RDEF: James Smith-Williams (61.4) 
TACK: Jalen Harris (75.5) 
PRSH: Jonathan Allen (77.6) 
Pass-rush win rate (per ESPN): 21st (39%) 
Run-stop win rate: 19th (31%)

Stats to know

  • Washington ended the 2023 season with 12 defensive linemen on the active roster, all of whom played at least one snap. The position group represented nearly 25% of the active roster.
  • Although Allen and Payne did show flashes of their old selves and were important pieces of the defensive front, they did take a step back in production. Allen's 5.5 sacks were the third lowest of his career, while Payne returned to his average after tying a franchise record in sacks from a defensive tackle in 2022.

Questions to answer

-- What to do at defensive end: The Commanders are in a tough spot at defensive end. They decided to move on from not one but both of their toughest decisions when they traded away Chase Young and Montez Sweat. The team did receive draft picks as compensation, but it did make the group much thinner in the short term. What's more, Smith-Williams and Toohill -- their top players at the position with Young and Sweat gone -- are both entering free agency. There's an argument to be made for keeping one or both players; the Commanders have the cap space, and they had moments where they showed how valuable they can be as complimentary pieces to Allen and Payne. Either way, expect a hard reset at the position this offseason.

-- Can Washington get more out of Phidarian Mathis: It's not all Mathis' fault, but so far he has struggled to live up to being the Commanders' 2022 second-round pick with just eight tackles in two seasons. Most of that is due to injury; he missed his rookie year with a torn meniscus and seven games in 2023 with a calf injury. The results are nowhere near Mathis' standards he has for himself, and he said during locker room cleanout day that he plans on working hard all offseason to "show everybody who I really am." He knows that his third season is an important one, too. If he can come back healthy and be productive, he can still be the quasi-starter that Washington originally hoped he would be when it took him out of Alabama.

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