Expert Picks (Consensus: fourth)
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 Robert Griffin III gives Redskins fans reason to be excited, but this is still a team in building mode. This year should help show them whether Pierre Garcon can be a true No. 1 WR and whether Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan can be a dominant pass-rushing duo.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 Robert Griffin III has generated plenty of excitement. It's Mike Shanahan's mission to either scheme or build a talented offense around him, which may take some time.
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 Good enough to beat the world champion Giants twice last season and surprise many this season.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 Washington has enough defense to compete. The question is how fast coach Mike Shanahan can get rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III up to speed.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 4 After more than a decade, the Redskins think they've found their franchise quarterback: Robert Griffin III. There's a lot to like about him.|
Five things you need to know about the Redskins:
1. The quarterback is a rookie: Robert Griffin III has been one of the NFL's most hyped players this offseason. That happens when your new team trades three first-round picks and a second-round pick for you. Griffin is the Redskins' future, and he shoulders the burden of having to be a franchise quarterback, and to play like one as soon as possible. But it's important to remember that Griffin is a rookie, and that all rookies have to learn and get used to the NFL game. There will be growing pains for Griffin in 2012, along with signs of hope for the future.
2. The quarterback needs help: There are unproven pieces in place around Griffin. The Redskins believe free-agent signee Pierre Garcon and 2011 third-round pick Leonard Hankerson have the makings of star NFL wide receivers, but both are young and still need to show they can produce at that level. The Skins like all of their running backs but would like someone from the group of Roy Helu, Evan Royster and Alfred Morris to emerge as a clear-cut starter. And they need to see the offensive line healthy and playing together consistently. Griffin will only be as good as the group around him is, especially as a rookie.
3. Can they cover? The Redskins are doing odd things with their cornerbacks this offseason, playing DeAngelo Hall on the inside (and, occasionally, at free safety) in the hopes that he can make some plays and Cedric Griffin and Josh Wilson can cover receivers on the outside. It feels as though they're trying to disguise weakness by moving people around, and if the front seven can't create pressure on the quarterback, they could be very vulnerable on the back end.
4. That front seven is pretty good: With Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan as the pass-rushing outside linebackers, London Fletcher anchoring things inside and a strong, deep, big defensive line rotation, this should be the strength of the team. What the Redskins would like to see is continued development from Kerrigan, their 2011 first-round pick who had a fine rookie season, and Orakpo, now a fourth-year veteran in need of a couple of new pass-rushing moves to take his sack numbers to the next level.
5. Year 3 of the "Shanaplan": Mike Shanahan signed a five-year contract to be the Redskins' coach and rebuild the organization. He has orchestrated a near-complete overhaul of the roster he inherited in 2010. Fans want to see results this year in order to believe he knows what he's doing. But the Redskins still appear to be a year away from contention and could post a record similar to those Shanahan has had in his first two seasons in Washington. The difference this year is that he has his quarterback and should be able to show fans that things are at least moving in the right direction.
-- Dan Graziano, ESPN.com
Inside The Numbers
The Redskins struggled to create big plays in the passing game last season, something Robert Griffin III excelled at during his senior season at Baylor. The Redskins had just 15 passes gain at least 30 yards last season, tied for eighth worst in the NFL. Griffin picked up his 15th such play in his fourth game last season.
Washington's failure to create big plays stemmed from an inability to complete stretch passes. The Redskins had the lowest completion percentage (22.0 percent) on throws that spanned more than 20 air yards last season, as well as the most interceptions on such throws (11).
Griffin completed more than half of his attempts on passes traveling 20 or more air yards downfield last season, with a plus-20 touchdown to interception differential. However, Griffin and the Redskins will need their wide receivers to step up as well on the deep ball. The only wideout on the Redskins to catch multiple passes at least 21 yards downfield last season was Jabar Gaffney, who is no longer with the team. Santana Moss had a league-leading three drops on such throws.
• Last year, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan played every defensive snap for the Redskins in his rookie season. Kerrigan was the only Redskins defender to play 100 percent of the snaps.
• The Redskins' offense was one of the worst at finishing drives last season. Washington scored a touchdown or field goal on just 76.5 percent of its red zone appearances, third worst in the NFL. Redskins quarterbacks threw three interceptions in the red zone last season, tied for fifth worst in the league.
-- ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN The Mag: Insider's View
DeAngelo Hall: Inconsistent playmaker.
Best Unit: Linebackers
Led by London Fletcher, the LBs are playmakers in this 3-4 scheme. Amazingly, Fletcher isn't slowing down at 37, and his leadership is crucial in the development of his young mates. ILB Perry Riley is a breakout candidate, and OLBs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan provide the necessary edge rush.
Worst Unit: Defensive backs
There's trouble behind the front seven. Josh Wilson is the top DB, even if wildly inconsistent DeAngelo Hall gets more fanfare. Safety is the pressing issue. Tanard Jackson has shown talent in coverage but has been erratic off the field. He's suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL substance abuse policy -- his third such suspension. Brandon Meriweather is on his third team in three years; Madieu Williams, Reed Doughty and DeJon Gomes are in the mix by default.
-- Gary Horton