Washington Redskins: 3 Reasons Skins Can Come Away with NFC East

Nolan Ahern@@NolanAhernContributor IIIApril 5, 2012

Washington Redskins: 3 Reasons Skins Can Come Away with NFC East

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    The Redskins had a difficult 2011 season, finishing 5-11 in Mike Shanahan’s second season as head coach. The team lacked talent at quarterback, wide receiver and on the offensive line, and the defense suffered from some nagging injuries.

    Shanahan has had a busy offseason, and made the biggest move of the offseason when he traded three first-round picks and this year’s second-round pick to the Rams for the chance to draft Robert Griffin III.

    The one thing the NFC East can claim is a good set of quarterbacks. Eli Manning just led the Giants to a Super Bowl, and the Cowboys and Eagles should be improved this year under Tony Romo and Michael Vick, respectively.

    It is not an easy division to crack, but if RGIII displays the talent and leadership he showed at Baylor, the likelihood of a trip to the playoffs becomes much greater.

    Do I expect the Skins to go 12-4 and win the division? No, because that’s crazy, but these three factors could result in marked improvement over last year’s effort. If they do not, Shanahan will begin to feel some heat from disappointed fans and ownership.

1. Robert Griffin III

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    The Redskins have not had a franchise quarterback in a long time, but RGIII is here to finally fill the void.

    Despite the hefty price of three first-round picks and this year’s second-round pick, nothing else will matter if Griffin lives up to his potential and becomes an elite NFL quarterback in Washington.

    Griffin is the total package. His 4.41 second 40-yard dash at the combine left jaws hanging across the country, and his 6’2”, 220-pound frame gives him a durability factor that other running QBs like Michael Vick lack. His terrific pro day proved to scouts that he can make every throw on the field, and his touchdown to interception ratio was a staggering 37-to-6.

    Perhaps the most impressive thing about Griffin, however, is the mental aspect of his game. Baylor ran a fast-paced pro-style offense in which Griffin was forced to make quick reads and look off corners and safeties. He is the son of two military parents, finished college a year early and displays excellent leadership and confidence.

    Griffin is a can’t-miss prospect, and until we see him play and determine his learning curve, it’s difficult to really put a limit on what he can accomplish in Shanahan’s offense this season. If he turns out to be an immediate star, there is no reason the Skins could not take the division.

2. Improved Receiving Corps

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    Wide receiver was a major weakness for the Skins last season, so Shanahan and GM Bruce Allen went out and signed free agents Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan to add to the group.

    Garcon will presumably be the No. 1 receiver on the depth chart, and do not be surprised if Santana Moss lines up more in the slot this year while Leonard Hankerson takes over as the No. 2 wideout—he has more downfield speed than Moss, and will have a full offseason to correct the mental mistakes that plagued him last season.

    A young quarterback’s best friend is a tight end, so the Redskins franchised Fred Davis to add another target for Griffin. Finally, do not underestimate the value of a healthy Chris Cooley, who was never able to get healthy last season because of the lockout.

    With two good receiving tight ends and the new additions, Griffin will have some excellent weapons at his disposal next year.

3. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan

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    Prior to last season, the All-Pro Orakpo had started to see an increasing number of double teams from opposing offensive coordinators. When Shanahan drafted Kerrigan with the 16th pick of last year’s draft, he forced his opponents to account for another talented pass rusher playing opposite Orakpo in the 3-4.

    The pair of outside linebackers combined for 122 tackles, 16.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and one magnificent interception in 2011.

    Kerrigan in particular will benefit from having a full training camp as well—his moves became slightly predictable toward the end of the season, but a good offseason should allow him to add some variety and improve.

    With questions at safety and some unfortunate answers at cornerback, rushing the quarterback becomes even much more important. If the defense is to have any success in 2012, the front seven will have to play well.