Washington Redskins: Under-the-Radar Players Ready to Break Out in 2012

Tom NataliCorrespondent IAugust 1, 2012

Washington Redskins: Under-the-Radar Players Ready to Break Out in 2012

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    It feels like it was forever ago that Donovan McNabb was the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins. Since then, the franchise has done a complete 180 as we enter the third year of the Mike Shanahan tenure.

    I know the term “rebuild” is used way too often, but that was exactly what the 2011-2012 season was for the Washington Redskins.

    Almost all of their draft picks were given playing time, they signed young high-potential free agents and started to build the foundation that is needed in every successful franchise.

    The point I’m trying to make is that this is the second year of the Shanahan “rebuild.” The team will be relying on young athletes to break out and perform at a high level, of course that includes Robert Griffin III.

    What defines a breakout player? That’s certainly debatable, however, a breakout player is someone that sticks out. He’s an athlete that can help the Redskins win more than five or six games a year.

    They don’t need to be setting franchise records or show up on SportsCenter’s “Top 10,” however, they need to do their job and then some.

    Here are my predictions for some Redskins who are capable of doing so.

Leonard Hankerson

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    Based off of reports, Hankerson has shined in training camp thus far. I have high hopes for the former Miami product.

    I thought Hankerson slipping to the third round was an absolute steal, and he performed effectively in limited opportunities last season.

    Leonard isn’t a burner and he’s not fit to work in the slot. He’s an old-school possession type of receiver, a perfect complement to the deep threat of Pierre Garcon.

    Hankerson’s development is definitely interesting. He’s coming off of a major injury, Garcon and Josh Morgan were signed this offseason, and Santana Moss is apparently rejuvenated.

    He might be the most talented receiver on the roster, and Kyle Shanahan will have to give him as many reps as possible.

Pierre Garcon

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    Did we overpay for him? Absolutely, but the Redskins front office envisions a dynamic partnership between the talented receiver and rookie Robert Griffin.

    He’s been a good wide receiver while in Indianapolis, but he hasn’t been a major factor yet. Predictably, the Kyle Shanahan offense will find ways to utilize Garcon’s speed as much as possible.

    It was evident that the Redskins offense lacked the big play last year. That’s why Garcon was brought in.

    Given his contract, he’ll need to have a 1,000-yard season, eight or more touchdown receptions and 70-plus catches.  

Fred Davis

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    It’s a Pro Bowl-type season for Fred Davis or bust. Davis has an enormous talent, he’s big, athletic, fast and has great hands.

    However, has he ever fully committed himself? Now imagine if he did. Fred Davis is in another contract year, which has been historically motivating for NFL players.

    Davis should be the team’s leading receiver this year. He’s had two productive seasons while entrenched as the starting tight end.

    Now I know he’s not Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, but Fred Davis can be a top five tight end in this league.

Trent Williams

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    Trent Williams is in the same category as Fred Davis and not just for their joint suspensions. Other than Robert Griffin, Trent Williams has the biggest job on the offense.

    To worry, my fellow Redskins fans, here’s some of the opponents that Trent Williams will be going up against on Sundays: Chris Long, John Abraham, Jared Allen, the Giants pass-rushers (twice), DeMarcus Ware (twice), Jason Babin (twice), LaMar Woodley, Charles Johnson, the Ravens intimidating pass rush and Jabaal Sheard.

    That’s 13 out of 16 games that Trent Williams will be facing a difficult task. If he succeeds, he will become one of the better left tackles in football.

    He was drafted to do so, he’s paid to do so and the Redskins organization expects him to join elite status.

Roy Helu, Jr and Evan Royster

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    I find it very unrealistic that a single running back on the Redskins roster will have a “breakout”-type season.

    That’s not how the Shanahan offense operates. So let’s combine the future production of both Roy Helu, Jr and Evan Royster to equal that possibility.

    What I love about Royster is that he’s already dependable. If there are five yards to gain, he’ll get you five yards; no more, no less. He’s also the unit’s best pass-blocker.

    Helu has the most talent. His hurdle-turned-touchdown run against Seattle last year proved what he’s capable of.

    Both will see plenty of action and splitting carries hopefully enables them to have a full productive season.

Barry Cofield

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    Cofield is the veteran of the list. After his first year as a Redskin, Barry Cofield was decent. He had some major disadvantages though: the lockout eliminated any offseason program, he learned a new position and he was adjusting to a new team.

    This year, Cofield has vowed for a much better second year as the team’s primary nose tackle. I know his production will be measured on his statistics, but that’s inaccurate.

    Cofield’s role as a nose tackle is to be a stopgap on the defensive line, as he will create opportunities for the linebackers to make plays.

    Unlike many high-priced free agents, Cofield appears to enjoy being a Redskin. Given his work ethic, he should absolutely improve.

Jarvis Jenkins

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    I can remember reading last year’s training camp reports and Jarvis Jenkins was dominating. He was the stud of the early season and that all ended after his torn ACL.

    Jenkins had almost a year to fully recover from his injury, and now he has the ability to make the defensive line the best unit on the team.

    Without a productive defensive line in the 3-4 defense, the Redskins are essentially screwed, to put it lightly.

    Jenkins’ ability to be a breakout Redskin is very similar to Leonard Hankerson. As Redskins fans, we’re tantalized by the unknown. Fact is, we haven’t seen enough out of either player to really make an accurate prediction.

    On the other hand, I’m an irrational fan. Therefore, Jenkins has the chance to be great. What I would like to see is for Jenkins to be slowly mixed in with the rotation. Let him earn his time on the field.

Ryan Kerrigan

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    There’s not many flaws that I can point out on Kerrigan. He was one of the better defensive players last year. However, Kerrigan has the potential to be great.

    Will that happen this coming season? It’s certainly possible. He’s an intense, high-motor pass-rusher. He will, however, have to improve against the pass. Although it’s not a major requirement of an outside linebacker, Kerrigan was targeted when he had to drop back in coverage.

    For Kerrigan to become a breakout star, he’s going to need to have over 10-plus sacks, create turnovers and start having offenses specifically game-plan against him. That’s when we’ll know if he’s reached his potential.

Perry Riley

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    Physically, Perry Riley is already there. He’s a great athlete and plays with a tenacity that is needed for an inside linebacker.

    As far as becoming a breakout player, that’s a bit different for the others on the list. Perry Riley doesn’t need to record 100 tackles and every other thing that London Fletcher does. Nor do I expect him to do so.

    What Perry Riley needs to do is become a reliable starter that will eventually turn into more than that once Fletcher departs.

    On the other hand, let’s look at the San Francisco 49ers, who also run the 3-4 defense. Their inside linebackers are Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. It was shown what two dominant linebackers can do while working next to each other.

    Now, I’m not predicting that Riley is going to turn into NaVorro Bowman, but it will be an interesting season for the third-year player.

Josh Wilson

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    The defense’s most underrated starter last season. Wilson seemed to get more acclimated with his new team on a game-to-game basis.

    This year, Wilson finally has the opportunity to be recognized as one of the better cover corners in the league.

    Players of similar value to Wilson are never going to be given the same amount of respect that playmaking cornerbacks have, but his production is invaluable.