5 Washington Redskins who will have breakout seasons in 2017

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by Jacob Camenker

The Washington Redskins have added a lot of new players to the roster in 2017. Here’s a look at which players are poised to have breakout seasons.

Every year, NFL teams have players that step into bigger roles and have breakout seasons. That’s just the way things go in the league. The Washington Redskins are hoping that some of their newest additions are ready to contribute, but they also have a host of veterans who could be solid players for the team.

Just last season, the Redskins saw a few players have excellent seasons. Rookies Su’a Cravens and Rob Kelley came through to become starters. Trent Murphy finally lived up to his second round billing at rush linebacker. Morgan Moses continued to develop and became one of the better right tackles in the league. Ziggy Hood went from being a roster hopeful to a starter at defensive end and nose tackle. In 2017, the Redskins will be hoping for more of the same.

With that in mind, it is time to take a look at which Redskins are poised to have breakout years in 2017.

5. NT Phil Taylor

Phil Taylor came into the league as a first round pick of the Cleveland Browns back in 2011. As a rookie, Taylor appeared to be a very good prototypical nose tackle. He was a great run stuffer, totaling 59 tackles in his first season, but he also was a strong interior pass rusher. Taylor was able to push interior linemen back into the quarterback and disrupt plays. It looked like he was going to have a bright future in the league.

However, over the next two seasons in Cleveland, Taylor dealt with numerous injuries that kept him off the field and rendered him ineffective. He played in only 28 games over his final three seasons with the team, and only managed to record 50 tackles. Part of his struggles with injuries came due to the fact that he was out of shape. As a 337 pound nose tackle, Taylor had to do a lot to maintain his frame without getting sluggish. That became too hard to do.

Now, in 2017 Taylor is getting one final shot to stick with an NFL club. He has not played a down since 2014, but if he works hard, he will have a chance to earn a job with the Redskins. The team has virtually nothing at the nose tackle position, so Taylor’s path will be clear if he can show even a bit of potential.

Taylor may not play like he did in 2011 ever again. But one thing is certain. If he earns the starting job, he will have a chance to regain form and become a solid starter in the middle of the Redskins defense. Fans should not expect Taylor to become an elite talent, but there is a chance that he could have his best season since his rookie year. Thus, he is a prime breakout candidate.

4. CB Kendall Fuller

As a rookie in 2016, Kendall Fuller saw a great deal of playing time in the middle of the season. After taking over for the largely ineffective Dashaun Phillips at the nickel corner position, Fuller showed some decent coverage skills and flashed potential to become a contributor for the Redskins team. However, he hit a rookie wall towards the end of the year, and lost playing time as a result.

Coming into 2017, there is quite a lot of talent at the Redskins cornerback position. Josh Norman is clearly the No. 1 guy, but Bashaud Breeland, rookie Fabian Moreau, third year player Quinton Dunbar, and Fuller will all be jockeying for position on the depth chart. Because of the injury Moreau suffered at his pro day, he may be hard pressed to produce until the middle of the season. Meanwhile, Dunbar is better served as a depth guy. That will make Fuller the top guy in the race to fill the slot position.

If Fuller can work to improve his technique in coverage over the course of the offseason, he could end up being a quality starter for the Redskins. He will have a chance to be a playmaker for the team, but he has to show that he is capable of holding up. Fuller has the talent to do so, and he could make the leap in 2017.

3. RB Samaje Perine

One of the biggest weaknesses for the Redskins last season was their lack of a consistent running game. Despite sporting one of the better offensive lines in the league, the team struggled to run the ball and were often rendered one dimensional. Things changed a bit when Rob Kelley took over as the primary starter over Matt Jones, but Kelley hit a wall after a certain point. He was not used to carrying a full workload, and that hurt the Skins down the stretch.

Perine was a three year player at Oklahoma who will pair with Kelley to make a tough running duo. Both backs are on the larger side and fit into a power running style. They are downhill runners who can break tackles and are always able to gain a few yards running between the tackles. The major difference between Perine and Kelley is that Perine has more burst and could turn into a big playmaker if he earns the starting job.

The Redskins are still likely to use a back by committee system in 2017. Still, Perine will have a chance to earn the most carries as the season goes on. He could usurp Kelley as the primary ball carrier and is a legitimate threat to break the 1,000 yard mark if he can adjust to the speed of the NFL game. It will be interesting to see how he fares during his first NFL season.

2. LB Preston Smith

Many expected that Preston Smith would have a breakout season in 2016. Smith entered his second season in the league after recording eight sacks as a rookie and being generally disruptive. His 6-foot-5 frame and long arms allowed him to bat down several passes and really attack opposing offensive tackles.

However, a slow start to the 2016 season doomed Smith to be a backup. With the emergence of Trent Murphy as a strong pass rusher across from Ryan Kerrigan, Smith had to play second fiddle to both pass rushers. By the end of the year, he did rack up five sacks, but he lacked consistency in his performance.

Still, Smith has the raw ability needed to be a top flight contributor in the NFL. He showed his ability in a game against the Chicago Bears during the second to last week of the NFL season. Smith had a sack and a key field goal block, and was generally disruptive throughout the game. It looked he was finally putting everything together, and that could be a sign of things to come.

Smith is going to have a chance to regain his starting spot. Murphy is suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season. As a result, Smith will compete with fellow second round pick Ryan Anderson for the starting job. Smith’s experience and athleticism will make him the favorite to win. And if he can perform well, he may hold on to the starting job for the rest of the year.

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