Washington Redskins: 5 Rookies Outperforming Expectations
By now, the fact that the Redskins finished the 2011 draft having the most picks of all 32 teams has settled with most fans and experts. Two games into the 2011 season, we are starting to see the fruits of that shockingly productive draft.
Washington's rookies are being asked to step up early in the season, and have responded with some impressive performances.
While many teams expect their highly drafted rookies to have an impact from day one, the Redskins have gotten that and more from even their late-round picks. Here are the rookies who have overperformed expectations so far this season.
DeJon Gomes, Safety
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With LaRon Landry still nursing his Achilles and hamstring injuries, much of the strong safety duties have fallen to veteran Reed Doughty. After Doughty's heavily-criticized performance on opening day, the Redskins felt it necessary to put DeJon Gomes in position to take over in the event of another major breakdown from Doughty.
With a defensive coordinator like Jim Haslett, the notion of being comfortable with Gomes in the game speaks to how prepared he must be, even as a rookie.
Though he didn't have any huge plays, or firmly overtake Doughty for the interim starting job, Gomes displayed a solid grasp of the defense and his role therein. Haslett didn't do anything special to hide Gomes either, leaving Gomes on a island more often than one would expect.
A rash of injuries to the Redskins secondary knocked Gomes out of the game with a pulled hamstring, but his brief appearance was more than a third-string rookie gets so early in the season.
Brandyn Thompson, Cornerback
Even with Phillip Buchanon serving a four-game suspension to start the season, the Redskins still have solid depth at corner with DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson serving as the starters and Kevin Barnes occupying the nickel position. No one expected the Redskins to need Brandyn Thompson to do much so early in the season.
Against Arizona, Wilson left with a back injury, and Barnes went out with leg cramps, thrusting Thompson into a tough spot.
With the corners down to Thompson, Hall and Byron Westbrook, the Cardinals took to the air and did some gouging early. Once the linebackers and defensive line started getting pressure, things seemed to calm down for the Redskins secondary.
Though Thompson's appearance was brief, he didn't look rattled by the early playing time, even though it was Westbrook who stole the scene with his game-winning forced fumble.
Roy Helu, Running Back
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Anyone who watched the Redskins during the preseason can tell you that Roy Helu is a dynamic running back. What wasn't expected was that he would be the second running back behind Tim Hightower, ahead of veteran Ryan Torain.
Mike Shanahan's confidence in Helu was put on full display during a tough stretch against the Arizona Cardinals.
After registering a single carry for two yards against the Giants in the season opener, Helu carried the ball 10 times and caught three passes against the Cardinals. Most players do what they can on 13 touches, but Helu finished the day with 112 total yards, six more than Hightower had on 21 touches.
Helu showed great vision in sidestepping would-be tacklers and better patience in allowing his blockers to pave the way on the screen passes. He hurdled fallen blockers and stiff-armed opponents who dared grasp his jersey.
After a quiet first game, the kind of day Helu turned in should earn him a more prominent role in the offense as both a rusher and receiver.
Ryan Kerrigan, Outside Linebacker
The Redskins drafted Ryan Kerrigan with the 16th overall pick for a reason. He finished his college career with the most forced fumbles in Big Ten history, and displayed an outstanding motor no matter the situation.
Through two games, Kerrigan has eight total tackles, a sack, an interception, three pass deflections and a touchdown.
For anyone, the stat line Kerrigan has through his first two games is impressive. As a rookie, adjusting to a new role in a 3-4 defense, Kerrigan's play has been extraordinary. Though he has had some missteps in coverage, he hasn't showed any signs of giving up on a play, taking plays off or being in the complete wrong spot.
Two games do not a career make, but for a franchise like the Redskins that has seen draft picks flounder year after year, Kerrigan's instant success is a breath of fresh air.
Chris Neild, Nose Tackle
Chris Neild with Eli Manning in his grasp
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Nose tackle Chris Neild was the next-to-last pick in the 2011 draft. He was one pick away from being Mr. Irrelevant, and stood a good chance at being cut by the Redskins anyway.
Five months later, Neild has earned himself solid playing time behind Barry Cofield and currently leads Washington's defense in sacks.
It is impressive enough that a late seventh-round pick made the active roster, but he was asked to play a completely different role than he was used to in college. The role of a nose tackle is to eat up blocks, take up space and open lanes for the linebackers to tackle ball carriers sneaking through the holes.
Neild has done just that, plus gotten great penetration en route to a pair of sacks on Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the season opener.
The Redskins struggled with the poor work ethic and jaded attitude of Albert Haynesworth for two years, making the hard-working Neild that much more of a breath of fresh air in the trenches.