The Washington Redskins' newcomers on defense didn't need to search far for optimism. They all pointed in the same direction: to the talented front four. Plus, the newcomers know one more name -- Chase Young -- could be added to that group via the 2020 NFL draft, boosting their excitement even more.
That is, Young could be added if the Redskins do what most expect and select the Ohio State defensive end with the No. 2 pick later this month. With nearly two weeks before the draft, Young remains the most likely selection for Washington. It's a choice those who signed with the Redskins this offseason would applaud.
"Hopefully we grab him and bring that pressure," Redskins safety Sean Davis said. "I hope he can make some noise, put some pressure on the quarterback and make him throw some ducks in the air, make it easy for us on the back end."
The Redskins drafting Young would make cornerback Ronald Darby happy, too. The more pressure up front, the easier it is to play on the back end.
"I mean, it can do a lot," Darby said. "The quicker you can get the ball out of the QB's hands, the more aggressive you can play as a DB and things like that. If you trust your front to provide that pressure, it allows you to play more aggressive with things and [be] more comfortable."
Of course, the Redskins could trade the selection, but it would take a massive haul to pry away the No. 2 choice. The Redskins have long liked Young, who finished with 16.5 sacks in 12 games last season. He also had 21 tackles for loss, and ESPN's draft experts, Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr., consider Young the most talented player in the pool.
But it isn't just Young. Even before his name entered the conversation, the newest Redskins defensive players were optimistic, thanks to others up front, notably tackles Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis and Daron Payne and ends Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan.
Washington has switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base defensive front, allowing players such as Kerrigan and Sweat to focus more on pass rushing. The Redskins also added a defensive-minded coach in Ron Rivera, who in turn hired Jack Del Rio to coordinate the group.
"You look at the front four that these guys have assembled," said linebacker Thomas Davis, who spent eight years with Rivera in Carolina, "and not only the front four, I kind of look at the top six or eight guys, I feel like, are capable of going out and completely wrecking the game. As a linebacker, you want to play behind guys that are capable of doing that. That allows you to be free. That allows you to make plays."
The Redskins' front applied pressure last season, as Washington registered a sack on 8.5% of pass attempts. That was tied for seventh in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But the team was 21st on sacks per pass attempt on third down. Not coincidentally, the Redskins were last in the NFL on third-down conversions.
Opposing quarterbacks posted an NFL-best 119.4 passer rating vs. Washington on third downs. That's the highest rating allowed by a defense since ESPN Stats & Info started tracking those numbers in 2001.
Poor communication in coverage contributed to those woes. There was also a lack of creativity up front at times, leading to less pressure. The Redskins have several players capable of applying heat: Allen, Ioannidis and Sweat -- all aged 26 or younger this season -- combined for 21.5 sacks last season. Kerrigan, who missed four games because of injuries in 2019, had 5.5 sacks. However, he had 37 the previous three seasons combined and will be able to rush more than ever while strictly playing end.
The Redskins can add Young to this mix and, they hope, have a defensive turnaround similar to San Francisco's. In 2018, the 49ers allowed a passer rating of 116.4 on third downs, second worst since 2001 after Washington's mark. Last season, opposing quarterbacks posted a 77.9 passer rating on third downs. The 49ers were tied for second overall on third-down conversions.
San Francisco added pass-rusher Nick Bosa; the Redskins could be adding Young. Washington's secondary remains a work in progress; it'll take more than Young's presence to improve. But a stronger pass rush could be a turning point.
"When you're a DB and you're looking at the front seven, you know how important that is for your success," cornerback Kendall Fuller said. "It's the guys at the front seven that they have up there, that kind of builds to be a part of. Once they called, and my agent talked to me, I couldn't wait to jump on it."