Washington Redskins: 5 Potential Breakout Players for 2012
The Washington Redskins haven't won a playoff game since 2005 and haven't even been to the postseason since 2007. But the anticipation level is sky-high in D.C., thanks primarily to the presence of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
For the 'Skins to get back to the glory days, they'll not only need RG3 to deliver as a franchise quarterback, but they'll also need his supporting cast to step up from the outset.
While few are concerned about what veteran stars like Brian Orakpo and London Fletcher will bring to the table, there are a number of players who will be counted on to emerge ASAP. Combing through the Washington roster, there are probably a dozen breakout players on the radar.
Here are the five we're most confident in.
He's already been given our way-too-early Most Improved Player Award, so Riley naturally makes the list as the top potential breakout player to watch in 2012.
Riley's trending upward: 67 of his 75 career tackles came during the second half of last season. The 2010 fourth-round pick didn't get many chances early in his career, but the team never looked back after replacing Rocky McIntosh with him in the the starting lineup midway through the 2011 campaign.
Some see Riley as the weakest link in a stellar linebacking corps. But he's big and he's fast and he's no longer raw. He'll also benefit greatly from having a full offseason to prepare as a starter alongside veteran London Fletcher.
Goal for 2012: 120 tackles in 16 starts
He'll have to fight off Tim Hightower and Evan Royster for max reps, but I think the Redskins and the majority of their fans (correct me if I'm wrong) would really like to see Helu win the outright starting job.
We've seen time and again that it doesn't much matter who's carrying the rock on a Mike Shanahan team, but as a rookie last season, Helu was head-and-shoulders above Hightower and Ryan Torain. Considering how poorly the passing game executed, his 4.2 average was solid, and he was getting into a groove with three straight 100-yard games before toe and ankle injuries derailed the end of his season.
Count Royster as a breakout candidate too, because Shanahan is sure to give the sophomore some looks after he tore it up with 304 yards from scrimmage in two spot starts late in 2011.
Goals for 2012: 14 starts, 1,600 yards from scrimmage, 10 touchdowns
Just as the rookie was coming into his own in 2011, the third-round pick out of Miami suffered a subluxation of his right hip and a torn labrum in an eight-catch, 106-yard day against the Dolphins in Week 10 and was shut down for the remainder of the year.
Assuming he can fully recover from surgery in time for training camp, Hankerson should have the edge on Josh Morgan and Santana Moss for a starting role from the get-go this year. And his big frame should make him one of Griffin's most appropriate targets throughout the quarterback's rookie season.
We don't have a large sample size, and Pierre Garcon and Morgan are naturally getting the lion's share of the attention, but there's a decent chance Hankerson emerges as the best all-around receiver on the Redskins' roster this season.
Goals for 2012: 65 catches, 900 yards, 5 touchdowns
The 2011 second-round pick missed his entire rookie season with a torn ACL, but he's back to full health now and slated to fight for starting reps at both left and right defensive end.
He's a versatile 3-4 end who can immediately help a middle-of-the-pack run defense while lending a hand to the pass rush. With Stephen Bowen, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan bringing heat from separate angles, look for Jenkins to have plenty of opportunities to get to the quarterback in 2012.
I expect Jenkins to replace Adam Carriker in the starting lineup and never look back, similar to what Riley did to Rocky McIntosh in 2011.
Goals for 2012: 10 starts, 5 sacks
Some will argue that Kerrigan already broke out as a rookie, but I'm expecting the 2011 first-round pick to become more consistently explosive in 2012. He's a relentless pass-rusher as is, but he also seemed to fade a bit down the stretch after a solid start to his rookie campaign.
A full offseason to get acclimated should only help the 23-year-old as he gears up for his second season in a defense that has the pieces in place to support his aggressive style.
Don't be surprised if Kerrigan registers more sacks than Brian Orakpo in 2012.
Goal for 2012: 14 sacks