5 Washington Players Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014
In the first season of yet another rebuild in Washington, Jay Gruden will look to certain players to shoulder a heavier load in 2014. They could be second-year players hoping to break out or former fringe players suddenly thrust into the spotlight, but leadership is something that will be vital in D.C. this season.
This article takes a look at five players who should become more established as the year progresses. The selection process was not simply limited to time on the football field—consideration was also given to performance off the field and intangible qualities like temperament and the ability to act as a mentor for junior players.
The whole package, basically.
Read on to find out who made the cut.
Perry Riley, ILB
With London Fletcher gone, Perry Riley assumes his mentor’s role as a leader on defense. Even in 2013, we saw Riley taking on a lot of things that Fletcher would previously have carried.
This included knowing not just his own responsibilities, but everyone else’s, too. It’s safe to assume that Riley will move to the Mike linebacker spot and marshal the defense, with Keenan Robinson (if he can stay healthy) competing with Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan for the Will spot.
Riley knows the system and overtook Fletcher as the team’s leading tackler last year. He’s ready for the extra work and is the type of player who should thrive with it.
Consistent and dependable, Riley possesses the same sort of quiet intensity that made Fletcher such a beloved figure in the nation’s capital. He has a lot to live up to, but there’s no evidence to suggest that Riley isn’t eminently capable of meeting those expectations.
Jordan Reed, TE
The main issue with Jordan Reed is his propensity for head injuries. The former Florida star dealt with two concussions while he was a Gator, and then another in his rookie NFL season that sidelined him from November.
Given that concussions are firmly in the league spotlight, it's a very worrying concern. Reed caught 45 passes for 499 yards across nine games, so it's understandable that Gruden will wish to further utlilize his talents.
Mike Jones of The Washington Post stated in February that Reed was fully healed from the effects of his injury and ready to resume his career.
With former tight ends coach Sean McVay now the offensive coordinator, you can bet that he is having fun drawing up plays to maximize Reed's abilities as a receiver, along with Logan Paulsen's blocking.
Tight ends have flourished in Gruden's system before, so Reed looks like the most likely to see his numbers increase in 2014.
Chris Thompson, RB
Chris Thompson's rookie year wasn't one for the ages. After rehabbing a torn ACL in the offseason, he stuck out in the preseason thanks to a 69-yard punt return that he took to the house.
Because of that effort, he was pushed into that role in the regular season and struggled mightily until a torn labrum required surgery and kept him out of 12 games.
Alfred Morris is the No. 1 running back and the guy who Gruden will lean on to grind out the hard yards. However, when speaking to Redskins.com's Andrew Walker, Gruden avoided going overboard with his praise. He singled out Morris' vision and strength and maintained that he had "high hopes" for the third-year back in 2014.
However, he also recognised that Morris has a couple things to work on if he is to become a complete player. Namely, pass-catching and pass-blocking.
While Morris is developing those attributes, it would be beneficial to have a player like Thompson who can catch passes and make big plays. He's a naturally exciting player, and although Roy Helu remains a solid option, expect to see Thompson given more responsibilities this year.
Like Reed, the only thing standing in his way is his health. Thompson hasn't played a full season since he was a college sophomore, and along with the torn ACL and labrum, has also suffered a broken back in his young career.
David Amerson, CB
David Amerson showed flashes of his NFL future last year, and his game-changing interception returned for a touchdown against Oakland was a continuation of the plays he made in college.
It's true that he also struggled at times with blown coverages and missed tackles, but they came in the first half of the season. He showed great improvement down the stretch and shouldn't be unduly worried by the arrival of Tracy Porter in free agency.
Amerson is a better player when he trusts himself to be more physical. While his abilities as a ball hawk got the attention of NFL scouts, he can't afford to gamble as much as he did at North Carolina State.
Crucially, he learned that as the year went on and concentrated instead on making it as tough as possible for his opponent to get open and make a play.
With a larger role and the increased experience that goes along with it, Amerson is a player with true breakout potential in his second year.
Aldrick Robinson, WR
Aldrick Robinson is a bit of an enigma. While his contributions as a deep threat have been recognized and applauded, he has always struggled for consistency. Even though Andre Roberts' arrival should push him further down the depth chart, Gruden has a history of rotating his receivers, so Robinson will get his chance.
Leonard Hankerson's recovery from ACL surgery is unlikely to be quick, so it's imperative that Robinson shows improved timing on his routes from the first practice of the year. He ended the year with 365 yards at an average of 20.3 yards per catch. He showed that he can make a difference on intermediate routes, popping up to gain 14 first downs from his 18 receptions.
An area in which he needs vast improvement is his catching, however. Football Outsiders has his catch rate at 39 percent in 2013, which just isn't good enough. Although that metric doesn't differentiate between missed throws—off which there were a few last year—and dropped passes, it shows that Robinson still has some way to go.
Signed to a one-year extension to his rookie contract, Robinson has to make the jump in order to secure his future in Washington.