Preston Smith has never had the same sack totals as Ryan Kerrigan. His traditional numbers don’t really jump out at you the same way as other top edge rushers.
But the Washington Redskins need Preston Smith.
In an organization that has been the subject of constant turmoil and bad personal decisions, Smith has quietly become one of the Redskins’ most explosive, albeit inconsistent, players. He and Ryan Kerrigan have made up a pass-rushing duo that at times can be game-changing — just look at Week 7 when Smith and Kerrigan combined to force and score the winning touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, at other times, Smith disappears.
But even though he hasn’t had a season with more than eight sacks, Smith gets to the quarterback and disrupts their rhythm. In 2017, he had the highest successful pass rush percentage in the NFL, according to NFL Next-Gen Stats. As Rich Tandler of NBC Sports Washington pointed out, his 15.9% pressure rate was higher than stars like Demarcus Lawrence, Yannick Ngakoue, Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Ryan Kerrigan.
Most importantly, if they doesn’t resign Preston Smith, who fills that role?
Ryan Anderson–who was a second round pick in 2017 — has struggled to earn playing time behind Pernell McPhee, Smith and Kerrigan. In his first two seasons, Anderson has started zero games, recorded just 32 tackles and forced zero turnovers. McPhee is now 30 and, like Smith, is set to be an unrestricted free-agent. The other free-agent options are either unrealistic or too expensive; Dee Ford is injury prone will most likely return to Kansas City, Ziggy Ansah has been inconsistent and injury prone, and Jadeveon Clowney and Demarcus Lawrence simply aren’t financially feasible as the Redskins have too many holes to justify spending $20+ million on an edge rusher.
Smith, unlike many of those mentioned above, has been healthy his entire career. He’s played in every game since being drafted and started every game the past three seasons. As every Redskins fan knows, that consistency is hard to find- something that we won’t see in any other big-name free agent.
However, the biggest factor in determining whether or not Smith stays is what other teams offer him. The Redskins can and should only sign Smith if it’s on a team-friendly deal. If he’s offered over $7 million a year, then the Redskins need to look at their options in the draft. Keep an eye on later first rounders like Montrez Sweat out of Mississippi State, Zach Allen out of Boston College or Brian Burns out of Florida State. Besides those three and the obvious top-10 picks, no edge rusher offers even close to the same production as Smith.
Preston Smith has been one of the few bright spots on a team that desperately needs players to stay healthy. If the Redskins decide not to resign Smith or cannot afford him, expect a distinct drop off in Washington’s pass-rush.