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NFL Draft

3 Defensive Free Agents Washington Should Target

  • The Draft Network
  • February 12, 2021
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It was a year of triumph and resurgence in the nation’s capital. From the herculean comeback of Alex Smith, to head coach Ron Rivera’s battle with cancer, Washington somehow, someway, found themselves atop the NFC East at the season's conclusion. Despite a 7-9 record in an underperforming division, Washington has flipped the two-decade-long narrative with Rivera at the helm and now looks like the most stable, promising franchise in the East. 

With a foundation built around four first-rounders on the defensive line, Washington now enters a critical offseason with a youth-infused roster on the brink of major success. With that, I dove into the current defensive market to target scheme fits and players that could boost one of the NFL’s top blossoming defensive units.

Washington has the fifth-most cap space available per Spotrac, and I don’t think they’ll be shy in dishing out the necessary cash to acquire needs across the board—however, I think they allot a majority of the available cash on the offensive side of the ball where there are more prevalent holes. 

Avery Williamson, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Williamson is a tackling machine who is still just 28 years old. Following his selection in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Williamson has done nothing but produce. He’s notched 85 starts in six seasons, accumulating more than 100 tackles in four of those six campaigns. Washington ultimately lacked pop at the second level. The Reuben Foster experiment has failed to pan out, Jon Bostic was poor in coverage, Kevin Pierre-Louis was underwhelming, and Thomas Davis, well, I’ll just stop there. The addition of Williamson as the “green dot” within Washington’s defense alongside Cole Holcomb would provide the thump and athleticism defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is looking for within the B-level of his defense.

Xavier Rhodes, CB, Indianapolis Colts

An uber-talented athlete, Rhodes could provide the length at corner Washington desperately missed in 2020. Following three Pro Bowl seasons including an All-Pro selection in 2017 as a Viking, Rhodes made the short trip south, starting all 16 games for the Colts this past fall. With Kendall Fuller locked up for the next couple of seasons and Ronald Darby being a serious re-sign candidate, the addition of Rhodes would allow Washington to move on from pending free agents Fabian Moreau and Danny Johnson. Moreau has shown flashes, but has not developed into the prospect Washington thought they drafted in 2017 out of UCLA. Jimmy Moreland has developed into the team’s primary nickel defender—Moreau’s former role—which often led to Moreau finding himself on the sideline more often than he liked in 2020. Although signing Patrick Peterson would raise headlines, the cheaper option in Rhodes could be the more realistic approach for a defense that allowed the second-fewest passing yards per game this past year. 

Keanu Neal, S, Atlanta Falcons

Most Washington fans will find this name familiar; Neal laid the hit on Jordan Reed that ultimately led to No. 86’s end in Washington.

Now, the 2017 Pro Bowler could find himself donning the burgundy and gold as soon as Autumn arrives in D.C. Following Landon Collins’ ruptured achilles in Week 7, Washington’s lack of depth was obvious within the back end of Del Rio’s defense. Kam Curl proved to be a piece for the future, but the carousel of Troy Apke, Deshazor Everett, and Jeremy Reaves left much to be desired. With his 4-3 heavy scheme, Del Rio relies on his safeties to do a lot at the top of the defense. Both safeties constantly rotate in and out of the box working near the line to assist in the run or press in coverage. With Curl beside him, Neal would allow Del Rio to deploy increased robber and match-man coverage at a higher rate than he did in 2020. After signing a massive six-year, $84M deal in 2019, Collins is now a prime cut candidate with Curl’s play, opening the door for Neal, who would offer a similar skill set for a cheaper price.

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