It's amazing how quickly things can change in the NFL. Two years ago, the Washington Redskins were quite clearly the worst team in the NFC East. But today, they're defending division champions and have the talent to become a divisional dynasty.
It's no coincidence that eight of the 10 most valuable players on Washington's roster are 27 or younger. Here's a breakdown.
10. TE Fred Davis
There are concerns regarding Davis. He hasn't played in the final quarter of each of the last two seasons, first due to a drug suspension and then as a result of an Achilles injury. That's why the 'Skins are making him prove himself once again on a one-year contract.
But when the 27-year-old is healthy and out of trouble, he flashes superstar potential. He was on pace to put up over 1,000 yards before that marijuana suspension cost him the final four games of his 2011 campaign, and he led the 'Skins in yards and catches before going down for the final nine games of the 2012 season.
Davis can be a true security blanket for quarterback Robert Griffin III. You can't put a price tag on that.
9. CB DeAngelo Hall
Hall, too, can be a pain in the ass. The veteran cornerback is liable to get burned once in a while and lacks consistency, but he's still the best all-around defensive back on the Redskins roster.
He struggled early last season but really seemed to step his game up as the season wore on. In the do-or-die season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, the 29-year-old was lights out.
Nobody questions Hall's ability to make plays. He's forced 22 turnovers in his five years with the Redskins. That's one takeaway every three games. And while he's susceptible to being beaten more often than 'Skins fans would like, give the guy credit for always being there. He hasn't missed a start since 2009.
8. ILB London Fletcher
Fletcher might not be the player he used to be, but the ironman linebacker is an invaluable leader and remains a force in the middle of that Washington defense. The 38-year-old has been to the Pro Bowl each of the last four years.
His value is also boosted by the simple reality that the 'Skins don't have a lot of depth in the linebacking corps, especially with Lorenzo Alexander departing in free agency. They still really need Fletcher, who maintains a nice combination of rangy speed, experience and aggressiveness.
Don't be surprised, though, if this is his final season. Fletcher did slip up at times in 2012, missing more tackles than any other front-seven defender in football, per Pro Football Focus (membership required), and I can't see him sticking around if his play keeps sliding.
7. QB Kirk Cousins
Robert Griffin III's world-famous right knee might be healing from surgery at an impressive rate, but until we see Griffin string together some quality regular-season starts without being hindered by that surgically repaired joint, his backup will continue to be one of the most important players on the team.
At this point, nobody is still questioning the Redskins' decision to take Cousins in Round 4 of last year's draft despite the fact they had already chosen Griffin three rounds earlier. He looked cool and comfortable in some very effective relief performances last year, and 'Skins fans appear to have a lot of confidence in the Michigan State product.
Ideally, he never starts another game in D.C. But so long as RG3 is playing on that knee and putting himself in danger (which to a certain degree is inevitable), Cousins will be needed.
6. WR Pierre Garcon
Garcon wasn't able to deliver ideal results in his first year with the Redskins because a foot injury cost him six full games and parts of several others. Yet he still managed to lead the team with 633 receiving yards while scoring four touchdowns.
For the second straight year, the issues he had with drops earlier in his career didn't rear its head, and he really established some serious chemistry with Griffin as the season wore on. His 475 receiving yards during the final six weeks of 2012 regular season ranked eighth in the NFL.
Look for the 26-year-old to become even more valuable if he can stay healthy throughout the 2013 campaign.
5. OLB Ryan Kerrigan
While it felt as though Kerrigan suffered from a bit of a sophomore slump in 2012—and he most certainly did take a hit with pass-rushing partner Brian Orakpo out—the 24-year-old quietly recorded 8.5 sacks while earning the seventh-best PFF pass-rushing productivity grade among 3-4 outsider linebackers.
So with Orakpo returning, there's no telling how high Kerrigan might fly 2013. It's critically important in a pass-happy division like this one that those two complement one another as edge-rushers.
Expect Kerrigan to put up double-digit sacks and be included in Pro Bowl conversations this season.
4. RB Alfred Morris
Morris might not have finished second in the league in rushing without Griffin attracting so much attention on offense, but this is a two-way street. Without Morris, Griffin's rookie season also would have been at least slightly less fantastic.
The read-option doesn't work like a charm unless you have a running back who scares defenses. Morris most definitely does that. And the battering-ram back out of Florida Atlantic University also seemed to get better as his rookie season progressed. Four of his eight 100-yard-plus rushing efforts came in the final six weeks, highlighted by a 200-yard performance in that must-win finale against Dallas with RG3 hobbling on a bad knee.
Expect his role to become larger in 2013, because Morris doesn't look like a one-hit wonder.
3. OT Trent Williams
Speaking of those who support the franchise quarterback, Williams is Griffin's blindside protector as Washington's young franchise left tackle, which is why the 24-year-old is one of the three most valuable players on this team.
After a tumultuous start to his career, Williams really came into his own in 2012, playing in all 16 games for the first time in his three NFL seasons and earning a top-20 PFF rating after surrendering only four sacks on 998 snaps.
There are no other decent offensive tackles on this roster. But Williams, who was the first draft pick of the Mike Shanahan era, could be a key contributor for at least a decade to come.
2. OLB Brian Orakpo
Right when many expected him to break out and become a star, Orakpo suffered a season-ending pectoral injury on only his 87th defensive snap of the 2012 campaign. Reports indicate he's healthy again now, and it had better stay that way, because without Orakpo, that Redskin defense just isn't the same.
After ranking in the top 10 in sacks and sack percentage with Orakpo healthy and effective in 2011, the Redskins dropped to 23rd and 28th in those categories, respectively.
If Orakpo can get back to the pace he was at in 2011—a campaign for which he earned the fifth-highest PFF pass-rushing productivity rating among 3-4 outside linebackers—the entire team will benefit greatly.
1. QB Robert Griffin III
Obviously. There's little need to explain why the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year and No. 2 overall pick is not only the MVP of this Washington team but also one of the most valuable and important players in the entire league.
As good as Cousins might be as a backup, this team won't go anywhere if RG3 is forced to miss an extended period of time in the short- or long-term future. He's "the guy," and that'll likely be the case for years and years to come.
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