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Redskins have strong need to find defensive linemen

Taking a look at the Washington Redskins' needs in no particular order. Today: defensive line.

Rate the need: High.

Why it’s a need: Because the Redskins have three members of their rotation who might not return this season: Jason Hatcher (retirement), Terrance Knighton (free agency) and Kedric Golston (free agency). Also, Chris Baker is a free agent after 2016 -- not that he’d definitely be leaving, but it’s another aspect to consider. The Redskins’ defensive front needs youth: Of their top six linemen last season only one, Stephen Paea, was under 28 years old -- and he’s 27. They had two players over 30 in Hatcher and Golston. They need to have a better mix of youth and players entering their prime -- and they know it, too. The Redskins added Paea last offseason to provide some interior push, but he instead lost his starting job to Baker. Paea might still help, but he’ll have to play better than he did in 2015 before getting hurt. The Redskins need both a nose tackle and an end. The only likely way Knighton returns is if the Redskins can’t find another nose tackle and he loses weight. Even then it might not happen. But adding a lineman is not necessarily about improving the rush; they will look to do that as well. Keep this in mind: According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Redskins allowed 4.23 yards per carry when Knighton was in the game last season. That’s not all on him, of course -- and a lot of that was out of their nickel packages -- but it’s an area they definitely want to improve regardless of who’s at nose tackle.

Top free agents: At end, the best players potentially available are Muhammad Wilkerson and Malik Jackson. If they are on the market as of March 9, both would be expensive. New York’s Damon Harrison and Kansas City’s Jaye Howard are nose tackle possibilities -- both played at least 52 percent of their teams’ defensive snaps this past season. San Francisco’s Ian Williams is another free-agent nose tackle. Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan was not there when Williams signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2011.

First-round possibilities: Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson could play end or nose tackle. The Redskins would love that versatility if he slips this far. Alabama’s Jarran Reed is considered an excellent run-stopping nose tackle. Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler has versatility. They’re among a deep group of defensive linemen, which bodes well for any team wanting help up front in the first or second rounds. I'm not sure who will be there at No. 21. But there will be good choices.

In house help: The Redskins have two options that they have discussed -- moving either Trent Murphy or Preston Smith inside. Both would need to add weight (around 20 pounds) in order to pull off the move so this is not a guarantee. But it will be a consideration for one of them. Smith showed excellent pass-rush potential from a three-point stance this past season, finishing with eight sacks. He’s also 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds, so he has the length and strength necessary. If you paired him next to Junior Galette in the pass rush, it could be a lot of fun. But that could be the case even if Smith stays at linebacker. For Murphy, the move would be out of necessity for him as he does not factor as a future starter at linebacker for them and could fill a need along the line. Like Smith, he has the length and frame to bulk up.