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2012 Washington Redskins Team Preview: Shanahan looks to RG3 to turn the Redskins Around

Howard Schindel

Howard Schindel

Howard Schindel writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

Last season marked the second year of the Mike Shanahan era and with it came another losing endeavor. The Redskins finished 5-11, one game worse than the previous season's mark. While that record appears to be a step backward on paper, the team actually made big improvements in personnel. The 2011 draft paid early dividends for a team that's routinely the oldest in the league. On offense, Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster proved that they can produce at the NFL level. The defensive side of the ball was fortified by standout first-rounder Ryan Kerrigan and contributions from DeJon Gomes and Chris Neild. Moreover, the team avoided the sort of locker room issues that clouded 2010, as Shanahan only kept focused and motivated football players around.

There were two major contributors to the Redskins' poor record in 2011. The team was absolutely decimated by injuries, as well as hindered by poor quarterback play. Starters missed significant time at almost every position. Tim Hightower tore his ACL, Chris Cooley never fully recovered from offseason knee surgery and Santana Moss broke his hand. Then there was LaRon Landry's Achilles, Leonard Hankerson's hip, Jarvis Jenkins' knee, on top of four out of five starting offensive linemen missing significant time. Combine the slew of injuries with an offense helmed by turnover-machine Rex Grossman and the underwhelming John Beck and you have a recipe for disaster.

The good news is that the team has been very proactive in addressing problem areas. The Redskins made an aggressive move up in the draft to select Robert Griffin III. That solves the quarterback problem. The Redskins had big plans for free agency, but they were scaled back when the league penalized them for taking advantage of the uncapped 2010 season. The penalty cost them $36 million in cap space over the next two seasons, but even with the sanction, the team added wideouts Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. With the additions on the offensive side of the ball, the team didn't have enough cap space to fill holes on the defensive side, though. On the plus side, London Fletcher was re-signed, but Landry was let go. Meanwhile, the secondary lacks impact players outside of DeAngelo Hall.

Looking forward, the continued development of Helu and Royster figures to give the Redskins an explosive punch in the backfield. Garcon and Hankerson should give the team big-play threats at wideout, something they lacked last year. The defense, while weak in the secondary, has a powerful pass rush. Brian Orakpo and Kerrigan get pressure from the outside while Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen and Jarvis Jenkins stuff the middle. The team continues to add young talent and has a strong base to build around. At the very least the Redskins will be competitive in 2012.

KEY ACQUISITIONS
Robert Griffin III,
QB, Baylor (Round 1, 2nd overall)
The Redskins traded a ton of assets for the rookie quarterback, but Griffin has the arm, quickness, intelligence and work ethic to succeed. He will be the team's starting quarterback.

Pierre Garcon, WR (Colts)
Signed to a five-year $42.5 million deal and is the only wideout guaranteed a starting job. He proved last year that he can produce (70 catches, 947 yards) even with a mediocre supporting cast. He has good speed but has been known to drop passes.

Josh Morgan, WR (49ers)
Morgan, who missed most of 2011 with a broken leg, will compete with Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson for a starting role.

Kirk Cousins QB, Michigan State, (Round 4, 102nd overall)
Lasted until the fourth round of the draft, so the Redskins took him as a value pick. He will compete with Rex Grossman for the
top backup QB job.

KEY LOSSES
LaRon Landry, S (Jets)
Battled Achilles' injury for the second year in a row and was not re-signed after the team lost salary cap flexibility.

Jabar Gaffney, WR (Patriots)
Had his best season in 2011, but lacks upside and was released after the team signed Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan.

John Beck, QB (Texans)
Was the odd man out after the team drafted two signal-callers.

Oshiomogho Atogwe, S (FA)
The ex-Ram was injury prone and disappointing in his one year with the Redskins.

TEAM NOTES IN ROBERT WE TRUST
Head Coach Mike Shanahan is staking his job on the talented shoulders of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. To make that happen, he traded away his 2012 first and second-round picks, plus a 2013 first-rounder and 2014 first-rounder. That is quite a lot for a player who has never played at the professional level. Griffin is an extremely smart person with a strong arm and Olympic sprinter speed. On top of that, he comes from a military background and has shown strong discipline and dedication to his craft. So the big question here is what to expect from Griffin in 2012? He has to learn an NFL playbook and adapt to the speed of the pro game. In 2011, rookies Cam Newton and Andy Dalton were able to produce without the benefit of a training camp. However on the flip side, the likes of Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder struggled. In addition, two of Griffin's top receivers also have to learn the playbook. Moreover, the team's offensive line will have multiple moving parts during training camp. The team expects big things from Griffin, but it may take some time for him to develop.

WILL A NO. 1 RECEIVER PLEASE STAND UP?
The Redskins leading receiver in 2011 was Jabar Gaffney, not exactly the most dynamic player. To improve the receiving corps the team signed Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. Garcon had his best season last year with Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky throwing to him. He is expected to step up and be RG3's top target. He has the speed to extend the field, but will have to face off against top corners every week. Josh Morgan hasn't caught more than 52 passes in a season. He broke his leg in 2011 and only played in five games. He will likely jostle with Leonard Hankerson (also coming off an injury) for the second and third receiver slots. Santana Moss struggled after returning from a broken hand and may be the odd man out if he struggles early. He has reportedly lost 15 pounds and has renewed focus, though, so don't count him out yet.

RUNNING BACKS
The team enters 2012 without an entrenched starter. 2011 rookies Roy Helu Jr. and Evan Royster are vying for the top spot along with 2012 sixth-round draft pick Alfred Morris and Tim Hightower, who is bouncing back from a torn ACL. Shanahan typically likes to have a whole stable of backs that he can interchange at will. We expect Helu to get first crack to start, which makes him the one to target in early fantasy drafts, but Royster can't be dismissed and anything's possible with Shanahan holding the remote.

Value Meter RISING: Fred Davis was on pace for a 1,000 yard campaign before a four-game suspension. He should begin 2012 ahead of Chris Cooley on the depth chart.

DECLINING: Santana Moss struggled after missing four games with a broken hand. He will now be forced to compete to retain a significant role in the offense.

SLEEPER: Roy Helu Jr. registered three 100-yard rushing games late in 2011 and the explosive back should see plenty of touches.

SUPERSLEEPER: Leonard Hankerson had one breakout game in 2011 before he suffered a torn labrum in his hip. He underwent surgery and is hoping for a full recovery in 2012.

IDP Watch

London Fletcher, LB
At 36, recorded career-high 166 tackles with 1.5 sacks and two interceptions. Will time ever catch up to him?

Brian Orakpo, LB
60 tackles and nine sacks in 2011. Needs to improve against double teams to get to the next level.

DeAngelo Hall, CB
Ball-hawking corner had a down year in 2011, recording 90 tackles and three interceptions.

TEAM DEFENSE:
RotoWire Rank: 27