The Washington Redskins partake in what can easily be considered the NFL’s toughest division—the NFC East.
With the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins always have their work cut out for them as they battle for a spot in the postseason.
Last year, the Redskins finished 5-11 and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. But the wheels are churning in D.C. and with time, Mike Shanahan could have his young, potential-filled team competing atop the NFC East.
The Redskins boast some exciting talent across the depth chart and while some may take time to develop into dedicated contributors, there are a handful of players who may be ready to have a big season in 2012.
Here are three primed for a big season:
Brian Orakpo, LB
In three NFL seasons, Brian Orakpo has tallied 28.5 sacks, but none were as big as his performance last season. The two-time Pro Bowler recorded nine sacks and four pass deflections while being a consistent, vicious force for the Redskins pass rush.
Surprisingly enough, voters decided to snub Orakpo from a Pro Bowl invite despite another great performance. That should only motivate the lethal pass-rusher to have another big year.
The Redskins have been sputtering for some time now, but Orakpo is a prime example of the direction the franchise could be headed in. He is dedicated, hard-working and leads by example with dominant play on the gridiron.
Improving every season of his pro career thus far, Orakpo should take another step forward as he strives to push the Redskins defense to be one of the better units in the NFL.
Pierre Garcon, WR
Though not quite the marquee signing Redskins fans may have been hoping for at the wide receiver position, Pierre Garcon is not an athlete to scoff at.
Garcon is another player that has improved each year he has been in the NFL, and he stepped up in a big way despite Peyton Manning’s departure in Indianapolis last season, compiling a career-best 947 yards over 70 catches with six touchdowns.
Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III will ease into his role slinging the ball in Washington D.C. and Garcon is going to be his most dependable target in year one. With few “big name” players behind Garcon, the former Colt should be the go-to guy on passing downs.
Though Shanahan may try to limit the amount of time his team spends passing the football, Garcon should see plenty of opportunities to make a play. If he can stay healthy for the second consecutive season, Garcon could eclipse 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his NFL career.
Evan Royster, RB
It took a long time for Evan Royster to get an opportunity, but the rookie out of Penn State seized it when it was finally given to him. Royster capped off the 2011 season with two straight 100-yard games while proving to be a bulldozer when carrying the football.
Royster will have the first crack at the starting running back role for the Redskins in their preseason game against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday. If he can flash any of the brilliance he showed in 2011—rushing for 5.9 yards per carry while embarrassing Philadelphia Eagles defenders at will—the job is as good as his.
With that starting role will come a heap of responsibility. A rookie quarterback behind center will likely mean more ground-and-pound in D.C. and the team’s offensive success will rely on how well Royster is able to run the football.
If his rookie season was any indication, however, Royster and the Redskins will be just fine in the ground attack.