In his fourth year in the league, Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald played in 14 games, racked up 41 tackles, including 11 sacks, and won NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Redskins linebacker Mason Foster sees teammate Jonathan Allen headed in his direction. During a recent chat with Chris Cooley and Kevin Sheehan, the recently re-signed veteran perked up when a wide-ranging discussion hit on the potential for last year's first-round draft pick.
"I think they sky's the limit for him," Foster said of Allen. "You see how athletic he is and how agile he is but a lot of times you see him in person and shake his hand and hang out with him you don't realize how big he is, how big and strong he is.
"In the way that he works, he's in here now doing the ladders and him and Matt [Ioannidis] in here killing each other, trying to lift with Ziggy [Hood], running all the time, so I think you see a guy with that much raw talent and that much drive to be good and he surrounds himself with guys that are pushing him, I think he's going to be big time in this league."
Just how big time? Cooley asked if he could potentially reach Donald's level and Foster agreed.
"I hope so. That would be nice," Foster said. "For me, I think he can be. I think with the tools that he has and playing for a guy like [Jim] Tomsula I think that's the top of the top and he's got to shoot for that. I think he can be that disruptive and that much of a playmaker on the inside."
Allen played in just six games for the Redskins before a Lisfranc injury took away the rest of his season. In his limited time on the field, Allen collected 10 tackles and one sack, but his pass-rushing ability had ripple effects on his teammates, who benefited from his ability to clog the pocket.
According to Pro Football Focus, Allen lead all defensive tackles with a 13.1 pass rush productivity mark for players with at least 30 pass rushes. He also reached 13 quarterback pressures, the most of any rookie defensive tackle, on just 80 snaps, until his injury.
He helped a unit that, under defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, took some major strides from previous years. Strengthened with young talent – Ioannidis and Anthony Lanier II surged in their second year – and benefiting from some veteran free agents Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain, it became clear that the defensive improvement began up front.
"When you got quarterbacks taking three-step drops the only way to really affect the throwing lanes and affect what they're doing is to have that big rusher in his face to get him around his feet and anything you need that interior pressure because those guys on the outside don't have enough time," Foster said. "So it's a huge part of the game and that's become a focal point of defenses now."
Several Redskins defensive players continue to rehab and receive treatment after injuries affected the last half of the season. Foster is hopeful that with better fortune in 2018, the defense will be able to fulfill what it showed signs of accomplishing last year.
"You guys got a glimpse of it, a little taste of what we could be," Foster said. "I think everybody on this defensive unit knows what it can be. But now it's on us, potential isn't really something you want to hang your hat on but we know what we can do and I think guys are going to come in and attack it and prove to everybody what this defense can and will be."