If the Washington Redskins are going to repeat as NFC East champions in 2016, they'll need these five youngsters to break out in the coming months.
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Last year, the Washington Redskins pulled off an improbable ascension to the top of the NFC East. If they're going to retain their divisional crown in 2016, they'll need some of their rising stars to step up and make an impact.
Realistically, the Redskins have the talent to stay atop the division. Especially with the other three teams dealing with their own issues, the opportunity is absolutely there for D.C. However, it's going to take more than just another surprise performance from Kirk Cousins to get the job done.
It's going to take an all-out assault from every player on this roster to earn another trip to the postseason. That includes some of the young, unheralded assets the Redskins have been compiling over the past few seasons.
So here they are -- the five young Redskins I believe are on the verge of breaking out in 2016.
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OT Brandon Scherff
Some would say that Brandon Scherff enjoyed a breakout season last year, but I don't really consider rookies as breakout candidates. So many suffer sophomore slumps, so it's only logical to wait at least until Year 2 to truly see if they can handle being stars in this league.
Luckily for the Redskins, I don't see a sophomore slump in Scherff's future. I'm not a psychic, but it's easy to see him continuing to shine after dominating the opposition as a rookie. Just ask Pro Football Focus, which graded out the Iowa product as an exceptional guard (23rd out of 81 qualified) in 2015 due to his well-rounded presence along the Washington front five.
I'd expect PFF to fall even more in love with Scherff in 2016.
Although he played right tackle in college, Scherff excelled at guard for the Redskins. He routinely paved the way for an outstanding Washington ground game, and helped provide Cousins with plenty of time to throw the football.
I'd expect more of the same from the 2015 first-round pick. With another year under his belt, he'll enjoy a true breakout season and help the Redskins try to secure their second consecutive NFC East title.
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ILB Will Compton
There are two ways to look at the damage Will Compton did a year ago.
You can look at it as he was extremely productive, racking up 94 total tackles while starting the final nine games of 2015 for Washington. You can also look at it as he was an unreliable part of the Redskins' run defense, earning miserable marks from Pro Football Focus in that department.
Either way, there's a lot of upside in Compton, a former undrafted free agent out of Nebraska.
He's already earned one of the starting inside linebacker jobs for the Washington defense, according to Real Redskins' Rich Tandler. Compton has also emerged as a leader, which means he now just needs to improve as a run defender in order to enjoy that breakout season he so desperately deserves.
It's going to be difficult for him to hold off players like Riley Perry Jr. and rookie Su'a Cravens for playing time. However, if he can stay productive and be a driving force for the Redskins' defense, I wouldn't be surprised to see him shine in 2016.
Heck, Washington may even find their long-term starter in the middle before the season is over.
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WR Jamison Crowder
Again, another instance of a player who shined as a rookie, but needs to avoid the sophomore slump to truly earn the "breakout" badge. Based on what we saw last year, though, I don't see that being too big of an issue for the electric Jamison Crowder.
The 2015 fourth-round pick was a revelation at wide receiver, quickly emerging as a reliable weapon for Cousins. He immediately excelled out of the slot, using his agility and elusiveness in the open field to make big plays. When the season was in the books, Crowder had amassed 59 receptions for 604 yards and two touchdowns.
Even with Josh Doctson now in the mix, I'd anticipate Crowder remaining an integral part of the Wasington passing game. It also helps that the Redskins were very impressed with his work during the offseason program (via ESPN's John Keim).
While he's been battling numerous injuries over the last month or so, I'm expecting Crowder to hit the ground running come Week 1. He's a versatile weapon who could easily see his numbers increase during the 2016 campaign.
As long as he can stay healthy, Crowder will find himself in the middle of a breakout season soon.
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CB Quinton Dunbar
It's true that Quinton Dunbar is currently buried on the cornerback depth chart. It's also true that he may be one of the Redskins' most intriguing young talents heading into the 2016 campaign.
The former undrafted free agent impressed in limited action last season after transitioning from wide receiver. When injuries began to pile up in the secondary, the Florida product stepped up and showed well down the stretch.
When thrust into action, Dunbar made the most of his opportunities. He saw two starts towards the end of the year, and even saw plenty of action during the Redskins' lone postseason appearance against the Green Bay Packers. He showed good instincts in coverage, and routinely found ways to get his hands on the football. His run support could use some work, though.
While Dunbar still has a lot to learn before he's ready to be a starting cornerback in this league, I believe he's headed for a breakout season. Even with Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller ahead of him on the depth chart, he'll find a way to make his presence felt.
I'd anticipate a few highlight plays early in the season will be enough to earn Dunbar a prominent role. You can never have too much quality depth at cornerback in the NFL.
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RB Matt Jones
There was a lot to like about what Matt Jones brought to the table in 2015.
The rookie out of Florida flashed serious playmaking ability, stealing carries from Alfred Morris and making him expendable in the process. Although he battled untimely fumbles, the potential the 2015 third-round pick displayed early on has the Redskins seeing stars as Week 1 approaches.
That is, if he can stay healthy. He's currently battling a shoulder injury that will cost him the rest of the preseason (via Redskins on Twitter), but is expected to be ready by the regular season. Assuming there are no setbacks, it's easy to see Jones emerging as a star in 2016.
Just watch the film from last season. Jones is an explosive back, offering an excellent combination of strength and speed to pick up yards in bunches. As long as he can remedy his fumbling issues, there's no reason to believe he won't convince the rest of the NFL that he's one of the best young backs in the game.
With Morris out of the mix, Jones will have every opportunity to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this season. My guess is he gets the job done, and then some.
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