As a Washington Redskins fan, did you like Trent Williams' chances at left tackle Sunday against Minnesota's Jared Allen? You did, didn't you? And Williams delivered. He was as stout and stellar as he's been all year, in sickness and in health, as the third-year offensive lineman continues to build himself into one of the best left tackles in the league. Williams has begun to look like the lineman he's supposed to be, and what's most encouraging for the Redskins is that he's begun to do it every week.
The Redskins are 3-3 and have been in every one of their games. Their worst game was probably the home loss to Cincinnati, in which they had to scramble from behind from the start. The losses to St. Louis and Atlanta, they were in until the end. They have the Giants next week and the Steelers the week after that, and while they won't be favored in either game, they're no easy out anymore. These Redskins can score and run and block and, every now and then, play a little defense. They may still have a few too many holes to contend for this year's playoffs but (a) anything's possible and (b) they're not going to be any fun for any of the contenders to play.
Williams is one of the reasons why. So is quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has been an as-advertised phenomenon in his rookie season after his team dealt four high draft picks in order to get him. So is Ryan Kerrigan, the outside linebacker who's been terrorizing opposing defenses even once Brian Orakpo went out for the season with a pectoral injury. Williams, Kerrigan and Griffin, in order, are the three players the Redskins have picked in the first round since Mike Shanahan took over as head coach. And if your first-round picks are supposed to be your franchise cornerstones, early returns on all three look rather promising.
Teams prioritize in this salary-cap era. Since you can't spend your money and your resources everywhere, you decide what's important. Most teams will tell you quarterback, left tackle, pass-rusher, cornerback and big-play wide receiver are the big-ticket items. Shanahan has spent first-round picks on each of the first three, and he spent this year's free-agent money on the wide receiver (though Pierre Garcon hasn't exactly panned out due to his lingering foot injury). He's still looking for the help he needs at cornerback, and due to the Griffin trade he doesn't get another first-round pick until 2015. But from a building-block standpoint, you can see a viable blueprint taking shape in Washington.
Next year's Redskins draft and free agency should prioritize the defensive secondary, and probably some offensive line help around Williams. But you don't need every key part of your team to be a first-round pick. Alfred Morris, for example, who's starring for them at running back, came out of the sixth. Washington's in good shape in the long term if Griffin, Williams and Kerrigan can keep performing the way they've performed so far this year and they can keep putting pieces around them.
They're also not in terrible shape for the short term. Coverage on the back end continues to be a weekly issue they need to address with creative scheming, but the last couple of weeks they've managed to do it. When you're averaging 29.3 points per game, you don't need to ask your cornerbacks to lock down receivers all by themselves. You just need to get enough stops to get your star quarterback the ball with a chance to score. They seem to be finding ways to patch it together on defense, and that's really their only goal at this point.
And on any given week, the Redskins go into a game feeling like their quarterback, their left tackle and their top pass rusher each has a chance to be the best player on the field. That makes a team confident. That makes a team legit. That makes a team tough to beat. The Redskins may still be a year or so away, but they're nobody's doormat anymore. They have real stars at too many important positions for anybody to take them lightly.