The Washington Commanders’ defensive line was one of many positives from the team’s season-opener. Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne combined for eight pressures and the line worked like a four-as-one unit. Of course, the injury to Phidarian Mathis takes some shine away from the glowing performance.
What looked to be a serious injury based on Mathis’ reaction and that of his teammates was confirmed Monday as the second-round pick suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee that requires season-ending surgery.
Mathis is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for the start of next season. In the meantime, the Commanders’ already-thin defensive line rotation takes a big hit as Mathis was poised to play a big role behind Allen and Payne.
In need of some reinforcements, the Commanders plucked a pair of defensive tackles off the market this week. Fans won’t appreciate hearing that the two players — Donovan Jeter and Benning Potoa’e — have zero NFL experience between them.
The Commanders signing Donovan Jeter and Benning Potoa’e to replace Phidarian Mathis is disappointing.
For any contrarians saying “Mathis didn’t have experience, either.” No kidding. He’s a rookie who played four years at Alabama. Talent is the difference and Jeter and Potoa’e haven’t logged much of any playing time in the NFL. Had he stayed healthy, Mathis likely would’ve tallied anywhere between a 40-60% snap share this year.
Jeter offers the most intrigue, though that isn’t saying much.
The 6-foot-3, 325-pound lineman was an undrafted free agent out of Michigan this year. He signed with the Steelers post-draft but failed to make it past the final round of cuts. Jeter struggled with injuries over his four years in Ann Arbor, with his best season coming in 2021 when he notched 24 tackles and three tackles for loss.
In 37 total games for Michigan, Jeter recorded 38 tackles, three batted passes and a fumble returned for a touchdown, as seen in this video.
In Week 1 of preseason, Jeter finished as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded defensive linemen, so there’s clearly potential there. It’s just a matter of whether he can make enough of an impact against regular-season competition to stick on the 53-man roster.
Potoa’e, on the other hand, has played just two NFL games despite entering the league as an undrafted free agent back in 2020. He spent most of the last two seasons with the Buccaneers, with the bulk of his 26 career snaps coming against Atlanta and Washington (fancy that, right?) during Tampa Bay’s playoff run.
Again, neither of these signings move the needle very much. With ample veteran talent still available for the taking, it’s disappointing the Commanders didn’t show more urgency to add a proven commodity with Mathis out for the year.
Are they asking too much of Allen and Payne?