PFF proposes potential solution to Commanders’ LB conundrum
By Jerry Trotta
The Washington Commanders have a linebacker problem, though they shouldn’t considering they invested a first-round pick in Jamin Davis last year.
The hope is Davis will bounce back as a sophomore after he played less than 60 percent of the snaps as a rookie. After the season, Ron Rivera told reporters he was considering moving the Kentucky product to an off-ball role after he played most of his snaps in the MIKE filling in for the injured Jon Bostic.
In limited opportunities, Davis flashed as an off-ball linebacker, seemingly foreshadowing that might be the best position to accentuate his skillet, which is undeniable after he was named First-Team All-SEC as a junior in 2020.
Will Davis emerge as a proper sidekick to Cole Holcomb? That’s unclear. It’s also unclear if the Commanders are looking to add to its rotation following the draft, where they opted against using one of their eight picks on a linebacker.
Should the front office take that route, Pro Football Focus identified free agent Alexander Johnson as an ideal post-draft signing.
PFF thinks the Commanders should sign Alexander Johnson.
It’s worth noting this article was published before James Bradberry was released by the Giants. The 2020 Pro Bowler might be a better fit in Washington given his ties to Ron Rivera, but Johnson is without question the bigger need.
While the Commanders were solid against the run in 2021, that was no thanks to their linebackers, who struggled with pre-snap reads and filling holes. Stopping the run just so happens to be Johnson’s calling card, as his 89.9 run defense grade over the last three years trails only Bobby Wagner for the best mark amongst off-ball linebackers, according to PFF.
Though Johnson is on the wrong side of 30, he didn’t become a regular member of Denver’s defense until 2018, so there’s not a lot of mileage on his tires. The former undrafted free agent has also held his own in coverage over the last three years, logging PFF grades of 76.3, 61.6 and 63.1, respectively.
The Commanders didn’t run a ton of three-linebacker packages last season (just 6 percent of the time, compared to 68 percent in terms of two-LB sets), but no team in the league can justify rostering just two capable linebackers.
We say that with all due respect to Khaleke Hudson, David Mayo and Jordan Kunaszyk, who leave a lot to be desired at the position and lack the necessary experience to undertake a big role in what will be a huge year for the Rivera regime.
Coming into the offseason, PFF projected Johnson to sign a deal worth $7 million annually and $9 million fully guaranteed. Still braving free agency post-draft, it’s fair to assume Johnson’s price range has come down a bit.
With just over $9 million in cap space remaining, per OverTheCap, the Commanders should seriously consider plucking Johnson off the market. He’s the best off-ball linebacker remaining and would have us feeling a lot better about Washington’s defense, which didn’t come close to meeting expectations last year.