With camp being open now for a week I thought it was a good time to get a grasp on what everyone was thinking about possible breakout players heading into the season.
Which player on the Redskins depth chart do you see as the "break-out" candidate for the 2012 season and why?
There's always one, right? I considered Kevin Barnes, DeJon Gomes and Josh LeRibeus. But you know I am not going to pass up a chance to pimp Hank the Tank. It is easy to break out when you only really had one good game. Hankerson was showing an ability to operate out of the slot and work himself open before he got hurt. Robert Griffin will really be able to use Hank's size and strength over the middle. Given the attention defenses will have to direct toward Fred Davis and Pierre Garçon, Hankerson could find himself running free at times. As long as he earns the trust of RG3, he'll be on the receiving end of a lot of quick passes. Here's hoping his health holds up.
I think we have a few guys who have the potential to have break-out seasons. Hankerson could easily have a great season if fully healthy (as he appears to be), I personally believe Niles Paul will thrive at tight end, and I think rookie guard Adam Gettis could crack the starting line up at some point this year.
Having said all that, my guy is Trent Williams. All reports so far indicate that he's in the best shape of his career and has really stepped it up in camp, shutting down both Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Rich Campbell called him "The best player in camp right now". We've never doubted Williams potential and ability, more his focus and commitment. It appears that the drug suspention realy hit him hard, and now he's come back the right way; putting in the work and effort required to take the next step towards being an elite left tackle.
My breakout player is TE NIles Paul. I know on some level he is overhyped and our expectations are too high, but I think the Redskins and their fans will be happy with his play this year. No the Redskins shouldn't clear room in the Ring of Fame or even expect him to be a top starter, but he should be productive in his new role as a TE. His blocking might not be on par with Rob Gronkowski, but his high effort and intelligence should help the Redskins running game. Also his speed and athletic ability should cause match-up problems, and make him a viable receiving threat. I could see him putting up a solid 20-25 catches and 250 plus yards, in addition to his special teams and blocking value.
I think there are two guys on this roster that really have a chance to break out. On the defensive side of the ball it has to be Perry Riley. He's coming into his third year, has some experience under his belt, and is finally getting the starting nod. Hopefully the Bayou Bengal can become a tackling machine like his partner London Fletcher. There hasn't been anyone better for Riley to learn from and hopefully Fletcher has rubbed off on the youngster.
Mike Shanahan keeps believing in Tim Hightower and at some point he's either going to hit the wall or TIMMY! is going to be the next great Shanahan running back. I think if Hightower stays healthy then he has the ability to be a 1,000-1,200 yard back and score over 10 touchdowns. Hightower also benefits from sharing the backfield with a guy like Roy Helu Jr. and could help take the load off of Robert Griffin III this year.
The first thing I think about when asked that question is exactly what the definition of "break out" player is. In my book, it's the moment when you start putting big numbers up and being a reason your team wins games. Obviously rookies can be considered, but for the sake of the conversation I won't choose Robert Griffin III.
I truly believe that Brian Orakpo will have a breakout stats year in terms of sacks (I'm thinking in the ballpark of 15+), but he has been to multiple Pro Bowls, which leads me to Ryan Kerrigan. I believe Kerrigan's ability to put pressure on the quarterback and cause turnovers have him on the brink of a stellar sophomore year that could include an invite to the Pro Bowl. If Kerrigan had a weakness in his rookie season it was his pass coverage ability, I believe in year two of his conversion from a down lineman to a 3-4 linebacker he will be just fine in that department.
It's almost cliché at this point, but I have to go with Leonard Hankerson. Actually, let me put it this way: if it isn't Leonard Hankerson, then a lot of people are going to be disappointed. The Redskins invested a third-round pick on him a season ago and now have a stud of a quarterback prospect to feed him the football. Hankerson had everything you look for in a wide receiver prospect from a physical standpoint and from a statistical standpoint, and all of that has been documented ad nauseum. He looked as advertised in the glimpse we caught of him last season, and so far in camp he appears to have picked up right where he left off in making defenders miss and consistently using his large and physical frame to separate defenders from the football. If the Redskins are to right the ship, I'm looking at Hankerson to be the breakout player this season for the simple reason that he needs to be. The time to break out is now.