There are fewer question marks attached to the 2013 Washington Redskins than there were a year ago. This team has proven that it has what it takes to win, and we know its massive investment from the 2012 draft is paying off nicely. Still, there's just enough uncertainty for us to get a little bold with five predictions for the Redskins' 2013 campaign.
1. Robert Griffin III will start 13 games
I don't know which three he'll miss, but I still have my doubts that he'll be fully recovered in time for the opener on Sept. 9. Yes, reports have been positive thus far, but he still has a long way to go and head coach Mike Shanahan insists that he won't start the season unless he's 100 percent.
After taking so much criticism for the way in which they handled Griffin's knee late last season, expect the Redskins to take an extremely cautious approach this time around. Backup Kirk Cousins was impressive enough in relief last year that there's no reason to believe they can't survive without him, so the 'Skins will be quick to hand the former fourth-round pick the reins at any point in time.
It's possibly RG3 returns Week 1, but it's also possible he takes some more hits like the ones that cost him playing time as a rookie. We all hope he has a healthy, complete season, but history isn't on his side.
2. Ryan Kerrigan will have double-digit sacks, leading the team
The return of Brian Orakpo should help Kerrigan, who lacked consistency in his second season with his pass-rushing peer sidelined by a torn pectoral muscle. The fact that Orakpo has suffered the same injury two years in a row is cause for concern though, which is why we're giving the team sack title to Kerrigan.
The fact that Kerrigan was still able to muster 8.5 sacks and 69 pressures despite losing pass-rushing support in 2012 is remarkable. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), only Aldon Smith had more pressure than he did among 3-4 outside linebackers.
He also finished strong, with 13 pressures in the final two weeks of the regular season. So look for the 24-year-old to really become a star in his third year.
3. Pierre Garcon will have a career year
A freak foot injury derailed much of Garcon's 2012 campaign, but look for him to really excel with all of the stars aligning this year. He didn't have a reputation for being prone to injury before last season, so there's no reason to expect that'll keep him down this year. With that in mind, he and RG3 could become one hell of a battery through the air.
Despite missing about half of the season (six full games and large chunks of four others), Garcon still managed to lead Washington with 633 receiving yards. His drop problem wasn't a factor, and he was his explosive self whenever he was on the field.
Griffin and Cousins should be better in Year 2, and they should have even more chemistry with Garcon. It wouldn't be surprising at all to see the 26-year-old accumulate 1,200 yards while scoring at least eight touchdowns.
4. Brandon Meriweather will start fewer than five games
How many games will Brandon Meriweather start in 2013?
If you believe Meriweather is going to save this secondary in 2013 because he's a former first-round pick with a name that carries some weight, you're wrong. He's dead weight at this stage of his career, and we'd be ready to project him to be a late-August cut if not for the fact the 'Skins are severely lacking talent in the defensive backfield.
Meriweather's been hampered by knee problems for over a calendar year now and still isn't on the practice field. Last time he was healthy, in Chicago in 2011, he was extremely disappointing, and he was cast aside by the Patriots and Bears in two consecutive offseasons.
With rookies Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo joining the fray at safety, don't expect Meriweather to play much of a role this year.
5. E.J. Biggers and Richard Crawford will become key players on defense
Biggers came cheap as a second-wave free-agent signing, but he's underrated. In fact, his 6.2 PFF coverage rating was higher than any corner in the NFC East in 2012. He'll likely start the season as a nickel corner and will be an immediate upgrade over Cedric Griffin.
Crawford, who was a seventh-round pick in 2012, is standing out in OTAs for the second year in a row. He was stellar in coverage when filling in for the injured Griffin late last season and should have a chance to take some major reps if Josh Wilson and/or DeAngelo Hall have trouble.
Both Wilson and Hall are expected to start from the get-go, but neither was very consistent last season. Even if they stay healthy and relatively productive, expect Biggers and Crawford to gain plenty of opportunities because they both possess a lot more upside and the nature of the pass-happy NFC East means you can't have enough quality corners.