Anyone who expects the Washington Redskins to jump from second-worst in the NFL back into playoff contention is deluded. Still, that doesn’t mean the first season under new head coach Jay Gruden will be a complete loss.
With plenty of young players under contract for the 2014 season, there are more than enough breakout candidates to be found on the Redskins’ roster.
Barring some significant additions, surprise subtractions or complete positional overhauls, these players have more than a fair shot at having big seasons.
Here are some of Washington's breakout candidates for 2014.
How can a rookie who came out of nowhere to catch 45 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns break out anymore in his second season?
Jordan Reed had the second-most receptions for the Redskins last season, which speaks to both his ability and the lack of productive options on the roster in 2013.
Reed's biggest problem as a rookie was his health, where he battled leg injuries early in the season and then concussion symptoms that put him on IR to end his season.
A breakout season for Reed would be a starting every game and catching 60 passes for 700 yards with five touchdowns. Considering he wasn't a lauded draft prospect, it would be significant for him to establish himself as a pivotal player on the Redskins offense.
The hero in the overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, Richard Crawford’s season ended before it began. He was expected to, at the very least, provide much-needed depth in the secondary as well as solidify the return game.
Ordinarily, young, untested players coming back from injury fight an uphill battle just to make the roster. Crawford has the luxury of the new coaching regime, which means he’ll be fighting along with everyone else for an opportunity.
He returned eight punts in 2012 for 156 yards and a long of 64 yards. By comparison, Santana Moss returned 18 punts in 2013 for 130 yards, and he was by far the best option the Redskins fielded last season.
Crawford’s immediate value is in the return game and even though he didn’t have a full season’s worth of returns, he proved he’s an asset.
Now, fully recovered and hungry to make up for time lost, Crawford is poised to have his coming out party as a returner.
If it isn’t injuries, it’s inconsistency. No matter the case, Leonard Hankerson has been ready for a breakout for two years now. He suffered shoulder and hip injuries in 2011 and then a knee injury in 2013, giving him less than two full season on the field in three years.
His hands have been more reliable since his days at Miami and even his first season with the Redskins, but he’ll have to show he hasn’t regressed in addition to being healthy.
The exodus of some of the veteran receivers bumps Hankerson’s spot up on the depth chart. In a perfect world, he’d be the possession receiver to Pierre Garcon’s playmaking threat. Frustration will give Hankerson the motivation to excel in 2014.
Over the last two seasons, Hankerson has six total touchdowns. He showed he can go over the middle and get open in the end zone.
A breakout for Hankerson would be along the lines of 50 catches for 800 yards and five touchdowns. More importantly, he needs a full season as the team's second receiver.
Even though Phillip Thomas was the fourth-round pick of the previous regime, Raheem Morris is still part of the coaching staff, which means he wanted Thomas.
Thomas was supposed to be the solution at strong safety for the Redskins before he landed on IR during the preseason.
It may seem unconventional to anoint a second-year player who didn’t even have a rookie season as a breakout candidate. However, with all the attention paid to Bacarri Rambo’s potential to start at free safety, his failure, then Brandon Meriweather’s failure, Thomas has been sort of forgotten.
Thomas gives the Redskins a youthful presence at strong safety who does not present a liability in coverage, and who has a physical style of play the defense sorely needs.
According to ESPN's John Keim, Thomas is likely to start the season as a backup until he can prove he's fully healthy. He'll have to make up for a season lost, but his instincts make him a better option than anyone else slated to be in front of him in 2014.
With Santana Moss and Josh Morgan not likely to return for the 2014 season, Aldrick Robinson's status on the depth chart will improve drastically this offseason. It is up to him to show that he is more than just a deep threat.
Robinson is entering his third season as part of the Redskins active roster, and year three is supposedly when things click for receivers.
What makes Robinson's breakout so likely is the significant jump in targets from year one to year two. He saw 19 targets in his first season, 11 of which he caught, but then was thrown to or at 46 times last season, though he grabbed just 18 passes.
Robinson can adapt and become a slot receiver with deep threat capability the way Moss was early in his career. Jay Gruden's offense sometimes calls for three and four receivers on the field, which means more opportunities for Robinson.
The 2011 draft was a gold mine for pass-rushers. In the three seasons since, four of the top five pass-rushers selected have produced a 19-sack season.
Ryan Kerrigan is the only pass-rusher selected in the top 16 who has yet to crack double-digit sacks in a season.
In his first two seasons, Kerrigan notched 16 sacks and two interceptions returned for touchdowns. That's all well and good, but compared to the likes of Von Miller, J.J. Watt, Aldon Smith and Robert Quinn, Kerrigan has been slacking in the sack department.
He’s a high-motor player who brings excellent ball skills to the table, but in terms of sacks, he’s always a step away from erupting for a sack per game.
Though he’s not likely to explode for 20 sacks in 2014, he will crack double digits and make more plays on the ball.