Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the team.
With the Washington Football Team just a few weeks removed from the season finale and a critical offseason on the horizon, it's time to turn the page to the 2022 campaign.
Over the next two weeks, washingtonfootball.com will break down every position group and lay out who the team could potentially add via free agency and the draft. Here are the position groups covered so far:
Next up are the defensive ends:
On the roster
Let's get the obvious out of the way: it was a challenging year for Washington's defensive ends.
First, there was the jaw injury sustained by Montez Sweat, who had four sacks and 12 quarterback hits before missing the next four weeks. It was the worst statistical year of Sweat's young career, but given that he didn't play in seven games, it should be taken with some context.
Then there was another gut punch; Chase Young suffered a knee injury in Week 10 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was later ruled out for the year. Admittedly, the second-year pro did get off to a slow start (he finished with 26 tackles). Still, being without the 2020 No. 2 overall pick for the second half of the season presented a monumental task.
So, Washington had to look for other options to rush the passer throughout the year, and fans got more familiar with who the team has behind Sweat and Young. There was a benefit to the void left behind by the duo: backups got a lot more time on the field. As Washington plans for next season with Young and Sweat in line to return, it could lead to a deeper group going forward.
Once Sweat went down, it was seventh-round pick James Smith-Williams who stepped up in his absence. Smith-Williams already carried high expectations for his second season. Head coach Ron Rivera had already pinned him as someone who could fill in as Washington third defensive end on the depth chart, saying in training camp that he was pleased with his growth.
Relive the highlights from each week of the Washington Football Team's 2021 season by scrolling through the top photos of the year. (Photos by Emilee Fails, Karlee Sell and Joseph Noyes/Washington Football Team
Smith-Williams ended up leading all Washington defensive ends with 30 tackles, 2.5 sacks and four tackles for a loss.
With Young out two weeks later, Casey Toohill, who joined Washington near the halfway point of the 2020 season, slid in as the starter opposite Smith-Williams. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said the team felt comfortable utilizing Toohill in different ways, and he showed that by finishing with 27 tackles, a sack and a pass breakup.
"Very steady players," Rivera said of Toohill and Smith-Williams. "And I've said, they're blue collar type guys that get the job done. They may not look pretty, but what they do look is very steady."
The other positive was that Washington got to evaluate two of its most-recent seventh-round picks (Shaka Toney and Will Bradley-King). Toney played in spots throughout the second half of the season, but he did have some highlights, namely his sack on Russell Wilson in Week 12.
"I see a little explosive quickness off the edge," Rivera said. "He's got a little bit of a natural slither to him in terms of his movement skills. And he's a guy that if he can get into a rhythm, especially for a young guy, he could help make an impact."
Bradley-King was used more sparingly since he spent most of the season on the practice squad. He did, however, play in three games and received 31 snaps in the season finale against the New York Giants. He even recorded a half-sack in the 22-7 win.
And as for Young, his recovery is going as planned. He would like to be ready by the season opener, but he's taking things slow and trying to "be where my feet are."
"I feel real good," Young said Monday. "I feel like my knees are getting better every day."
It's not likely that Washington will be heavy investors in a top free agent pass-rusher, but there are some intriguing players on the market. The list includes Dante Fowler Jr., Calais Campbell, Jason Pierre-Paul and Akiem Hicks. Check out the full list, HERE.
If Washington wants to use a pick on a defensive end, it could add more depth to the group. Check out the list of prospects, HERE.