Washington Redskins: Boom or Bust for Jarvis Jenkins and Perry Riley?
Whether or not the Washington Redskins become a contender again in the immediate future depends greatly on what the team gets from young budding stars like Robert Griffin III, Trent Williams, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
But in this game, you have to possess quality complementary options on both sides of the ball. Focusing squarely on the defense, I've identified two boom-or-bust 24-year-olds—born a week apart in the spring of 1988—who will be relied upon to emerge and play significant roles in the front seven in the immediate future.
If linebacker Perry Riley and defensive end Jarvis Jenkins can exceed expectations early and turn into reliable starters, the Redskins could be a lot steadier than many forecasts are predicting. If they can become valuable weapons, it'll also make things considerably easier on the team's biggest weak spot: the defensive backfield.
It's easy to think positively when looking at players like this in July. Both Riley and Jenkins have the ability to become Pro Bowlers, and obviously, the trajectory they're riding points to a bright future. Yet the reality is that the odds don't support the notion that both will blossom into top-quality defenders.
Which player will have a better career?
For every Riley- or Jenkins-type player who turns into a quality contributor, there are at least half a dozen who plateau as a result of injuries and/or physical limitations at the pro level.
Naturally, it's easier to have confidence in Riley than in Jenkins. Riley was superb after relieving Rocky McIntosh of his duties midway through the 2011 season, securing the starting job alongside London Fletcher going forward. The 'Skins brought in Jonathan Goff and drafted Keenan Robinson in the offseason, but Riley is pretty much locked in as the inside linebacker of the present and future in D.C.
The 2010 fourth-round pick hardly played before taking over for McIntosh, but he had 68 tackles in just eight starts last season. According to Pro Football Focus, he recorded a tackle on 14 percent of his snaps. That number was only 16 percent for Fletcher, who led the league in tackling.
While Riley's been a tackle machine since his junior year at LSU, it's Jenkins who the 'Skins might have to at some point rely upon to make game-changing plays.
The 2011 second-round pick out of Clemson has the raw skill set to dominate up front. He's a bull-rush maestro with lots of power and a high ceiling. The problem is that he's yet to prove anything because he missed his entire rookie season due to a torn ACL.
Jenkins is left fighting for reps with Adam Carriker, Stephen Bowen, Kedric Golston and Kentwan Balmer. He'll inevitably gain lots of opportunities to prove his worth this year, which could turn into a full-time starting job in 2013.
If either player doesn't pan out—which, again, is a very strong possibility—then it's back to the drawing board in both spots. Carriker, Bowen, Golston and Barry Cofield are all nearing 30; the same goes for Lorenzo Alexander behind Riley. Goff probably isn't the answer, and it's way too early to tell what the rookie Robinson will bring to the table.
So long as first-round picks like Griffin, Williams, Orakpo and Kerrigan deliver, the Redskins won't need Jenkins or Riley to become superstars. But quality teams absolutely need players like them to step up and deliver. Considering the depth you see on championship teams, that next tier is arguably just as crucial as the first one.
Going forward on defense for the Redskins, the faces of that tier are Riley and Jenkins.
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