Washington Redskins: 5 Key Players for 2012

Aidan Reynolds@@aidanreynoldsContributor IIIMay 16, 2012

Washington Redskins: 5 Key Players for 2012

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    Going into the 2012 NFL season, the Washington Redskins look to be on the rise at last.

    I started writing a piece about "Players Who Must Stay Healthy in 2012" but became so terrified of cursing the team that I scrapped the entire thing and started again.

    There's a possibility that this makes me insane, but I've come to terms with that.

    Instead of unwittingly wishing injury on the most promising players on the roster, I've instead chosen to highlight players whom I feel must be at the top of their game in order for the team to succeed.

5. Pierre Garçon

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    I'll get the ugly business out of the way first—the money.

    There's an argument that if you pay someone $42 million over five years—with some $20-odd million in guaranteed earnings—then he should be tearing up the field every week, and I'll concede that this is a valid standpoint. It doesn't really relate to football, however, except as a way to bluntly end a discussion.

    Pierre Garçon had something of a career year in 2011, putting up 947 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 13.5 yards per reception.

    On its own, that's maybe not enough to justify the money outlined above, but when his quarterbacks were Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky you suddenly gain respect for the man's potential. Peyton Manning didn't make him better—he did it himself.

    The burden is now on him to become the No. 1 receiver that both he and the Redskins believe him to be, and in order to do this he will have to improve his catch percentage at the same time as learning a new offense.

    Over the last three seasons this percentage hasn't risen above 56 percent and actually regressed to 52.2 percent in 2011, despite the higher yardage numbers. Looking at it another way, he ranks in the bottom 10 in terms of drop percentage from 2008-10.

    He'll have some help from Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson—as well as an accurate quarterback—but the onus is on him to justify his coach's faith.

4. Trent Williams

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    Now that he has apparently learned from his mistakes, Trent Williams has simultaneously raised the bar in terms of what is expected of him. He has underwhelmed since being drafted fourth overall in 2010, and the drug-related suspension last year means that he is now standing on a trap door in the nation's capital.

    He could easily have been higher on this list, simply for the fact that he is protecting the Redskins' biggest investment, and poor performance could result in time on the sideline for the new face of the franchise.

    While he doesn't have elite speed, Williams is quick off the snap and anchors his feet after making a block, using his size to drive an opponent back up the field. He also has a decent awareness of what's going on outside the pocket.  

    His problems seem to arise when faced with truly quick players, as evidenced in his poor performance against the New York Giants in September. He was dominated by Jason Pierre-Paul in one-on-one matchups, and too many times Tim Hightower was left exposed as the Giants were allowed to stuff the run.

    Obviously it wasn't all down to Williams, but this year he needs to make good on his promises. Admitting his mistakes is only the first step.

3. London Fletcher

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    It's impossible to overestimate what London Fletcher brings to the team. Reliability, consistency and leadership are not words that you would immediately associate with the Redskins, but Fletcher epitomises all these qualities.

    Throughout his 14-year career he has never missed a game, and the 2012 Bart Starr Man of the Year has to instill the same discipline he possesses into the future of the defense—players like Perry Riley, who will carry on his legacy at the linebacker position.

    I don't anticipate Fletcher giving anything less than everything, but I placed him this high simply because of the influence he holds over the defense, both now and in the years to come.

2. Fred Davis

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    Another man with a point to prove, Fred Davis is on a one-year probation of sorts. He needs to show the front office—as well as his teammates—that he is worthy of a big contract by putting up numbers that reflect this.

    Due to its overuse, "potential" is a word that I've found myself having to delete from this slideshow, but it remains true in the case of Davis, as well. The drugs put a halt to what could have been a great 2011 season for him, and he has the ability to become one of the top five tight ends in the NFL.

    Mike Shanahan believes in him—and I do, too. I see him having a breakout year, remaining free of suspension and posting his first 1,000-yard season.

    The reason he appears at No. 2 on my list is because he understands that his partnership with Robert Griffin will help to define 2012 for the young quarterback. If they can get in sync with each other from an early point in the season, then I think it's going to be a good year for the Redskins.

1. Robert Griffin III

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    Firstly, an apology. I'm sorry for the crushing inevitability of the name on this slide—I really wanted to put another player at No. 1, but the truth is that everything comes back to Griffin.

    Like the man whose logo he wears on his socks, he's got a city on his shoulders and a big list of enemies. He's shown himself more than capable thus far, but as the days tick down to the beginning of the season, the expectation will begin to rise at an inversely proportional rate.

    I don't think there is any doubt that RG3 will leave everything on the field, and I'm not troubled by Kendall Wright's recent admission that there was no playbook at Baylor.

    Mike Shanahan has spoken of adapting his playbook to suit Griffin's strengths—alluding to bootlegs and quarterback keeps—and the talk coming out of the minicamp suggested that he was acclimatising to his new home quite nicely.

    In order for him to be successful, everyone else on this list must be successful—and in order for the Washington Redskins to be successful, Robert Griffin must be successful.

    Sounds simple, doesn't it?