As the Washington Redskins head into free agency after nearly clinching a playoff spot for the second-straight year, we will look at some of Washington’s key players and grade their 2016 performance.
Player: Preston Smith
Position: Outside linebacker
Contract status: $5.78 million/4 years, expires in 2019
Preseason buzz: Including the playoffs, Smith recorded six sacks in his final four games of the 2015-16 season. Coming into this season, the buzz around Smith was off the chart and the expectation was high once Junior Galette suffered a second straight Achilles tear.
Ended 2016 like: Given the hype, Smith season was a disappointment, but it was still not terrible. The second-year man out of Mississippi State finished with 5 sacks, 39 tackles, and three passes defensed in 16 starts. Smith was part a three-man rotation at outside linebacker, although he did play some defensive end during the season. Ryan Kerrigan (11) and Trent Murphy (9) outpaced him with sacks.
Season high: Similar to his monster game against Philadelphia in 2015 to clinch the NFC East, Smith had a staple performance in 2016. In Week 10 against the Minnesota Vikings, he recorded four tackles, two sacks, and had an amazing one-handed interception that helped Washington escape with a 26-20 victory. Let's just say Smith did not receive a Christmas card from Sam Bradford last month.
Season low: The biggest issue for Smith this season was that he too often fell to the background and was unable to consistently put his mark on every game during the year. This theme was on full display on Thanksgiving Day against the Dallas Cowboys when Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott ran all over the Redskins defense. Smith finished the game without recording a single statistic (tackle, sack, pass defensed, etc.) for the only time this season, but he had multiple opportunities to do so. He was able to get penetration into the pocket but whiffed on potential sacks multiple times against the mobile Prescott.
At the end of the day, Washington's defense was bad on paper without a competent defensive line nor safety tandem following injuries. The Redskins lone hope was that Preston Smith would have a havoc creating year that could help compensate for the flaws seen elsewhere on the team. Smith is a good player that is still developing and should not be judged as a possible draft miss until after his third season, but there are certainly strides that need to be made over the offseason. If Smith had better success dragging opposing quarterbacks to the ground, he would have improved his evaluation to at least a B and Washington may have snuck into the postseason.
2017 expectations: Relative to the rest of the defense, the Redskins have the most depth at outside linebacker because of Kerrigan, Murphy, and possibly free agent Galette. If Smith does not show more upside during training camp, then he may not see as much playing time as he did in 2016. From an optimistic standpoint, if Smith gets bigger, faster, and stronger like most young players do, then he could easily be a double-digit sack contributor and instill fear in opposing quarterbacks.
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilDalal96.
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