James Smith-Williams - Commanders DL
When Chase Young and Phidarian Mathis were both forced to the sidelines for an extended period, the Washington Commanders had to cope in some capacity. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio still had Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, and Montez Sweat to call upon, but someone else from lower down the pecking order needed to stand up and make a bigger impact to avoid any unnecessary complications throughout the campaign.
James Smith-Williams was the man tasked with increased reps. The former seventh-round selection performed admirably in Young's absence, gaining three sacks, 18 pressures, and 16 quarterback hits from 60 percent of Washington's defensive snaps in 2022.
Smith-Williams was never going to take over a game by himself like Young used to accomplish in college, but he was dependable at an important time. However, with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft ready to make his triumphant return, just what Ron Rivera and Del Rio have in store for last season's understudy remains to be seen.
Much will depend on whether Young can actually remain on the field for a prolonged period. The Commanders also traded up for K.J. Henry in the fifth round, who could surge above some veterans on the depth chart with a decent training camp.
The onus is on Smith-Williams to take this newfound experience in a starting role and put it to good use. Otherwise, he'll be relegated to a rotational afterthought once again.