Coming off of a rookie season in which he struggled to get significant playing time and even began his debut campaign on the practice squad, Matt Ioannidis has looked like a new player so far in this 2017 campaign. The defensive lineman continued his hot start to the season in Week 6, logging 1.5 sacks and combining for three tackles in Sunday's win against the San Francisco 49ers.
After being selected in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Ioannidis was initially waived by the Redskins prior to his rookie season, but signed with the practice squad a day later. The former Temple Owl got the call to the 53-man roster following an injury to Kedric Golston during the 2016 regular season, but did not record much of a stat line in his limited playing time.
This year has been a completely different story.
Through the first five games of the 2017 season, Ioannidis has made two starts, the first two of his career, recorded 3.5 sacks and has already eclipsed his 2016 mark of eight combined tackles with 10 this year. His 43 quarterback pressures/hits according to coaches' stats are 14 more than any other player on the active roster. As it stands following the 49ers game, he is tied for second on the team in sacks with veteran Ryan Kerrigan.
"I think the guys around me have been helping me develop a lot as a player and Coach Tomsula, it's been a lot of things," Ioannidis said of his progression.
So far this season, Ioannidis has recorded at least a share of a sack in four of his five games played.
Ioannidis' biggest play against the 49ers came on a key 3rd-and-5 snap from the Redskins' 20-yard line. With less than five minutes to go in the third quarter, the 49ers had already scored 10 unanswered to start the second half and were threatening to tie the game, down 17-10. That's when Ioannidis was able to come up with a clutch sack on rookie San Francisco quarterback C.J. Beathard for an eight-yard loss, which might have even contributed to Robbie Gould missing a 47-yard field goal a play later.
Check out the photos of the Redskins postgame celebration after the Redskins win against the 49ers.
The play proved to be crucial in a game that was decided by just two points.
"It was a good win, a good, hard-fought battle on both sides of the ball and I'm really proud of this team," Ioannidis said after the game. "Defensively, I think we all played cohesively as one unit and that's something that we've done in the past and we're continuing to do."
The 23-year-old has been one of the surprise pieces of a defensive line that needed to show its depth immediately when Phil Taylor went down in Week 1. Since the injury to Taylor, the coaching staff has called upon young guys like Ioannidis and Jonathan Allen to help fill the void.
"I think it's been great," Ioannidis said of the depth of this defensive line. "Guys like Terrell [McClain] and Stacy [McGee] and [Jonathan Allen] and Ziggy [Hood], they do a great job and I'm just benefitting from having those guys around."
One of the contributing factors to Ioannidis' success this year, too, has been the fact he's in a more comfortable position. After briefly being considered a nose tackle option last year, he's now playing defensive end.
"He is playing some three-technique in nickel, getting some opportunities to rush where he didn't get that last year," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. "He mainly was a base player playing the run. Now he is actually in sub packages rushing the passer. So he is getting more opportunities."