E.J. Biggers may rank as the top defensive sleeper, but here are 5 more guys who could possibly breakout. For the purpose of this rookies aren’t included, and neither are established starters. Keep in mind these are just possibilities and their upside is fairly limited:
-Jenkins lost his entire rookie year to a preseason torn ACL in 2011. Though he was healthy last year, he missed significant development time and like most ACL recovery cases saw a drop-off in his explosion/speed that first year back. Jenkins was a starter to begin the year, but after Adam Carriker went down in week two, his role steadily expanded. Towards the end of the season Jenkins put together some pretty solid games and looked potentially like the player the Redskins were hoping for when they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2011. With Carriker still not back yet from his injury the door is wide open for Jenkins to take over as the primary starter. With a full offseason and preseason of development time, and his 2nd year back from injury, Jenkins could be in line for a big season. There are a lot of unknowns, involving Jenkins but the potential is definitely there.
-Baker could be fighting Chris Neild for a roster spot (depending on how many DL the Redskins keep), but if he wins the spot he could be looking at an increased role this season. Baker for the most part fared pretty well as a run stopper last year, which works out well given that is starter Barry Cofield‘s weakness. The Redskins could look to expand Baker’s role in an effort to give Cofield more of a breather and to strengthen a league average rush defense. Baker won’t be a full time starter, but if he continues to improve as a run defender and becomes a specialist in that area, he could have a big impact on a lot of high leverage (3rd and short, goalline, etc.) plays.
-Crawford is one of the more interesting cases this season. He’s getting rave reviews already in OTA’s and that is coming off an impressive training camp/preseason last year. He was miscast as a slot corner during the year last season and struggled in most of his opportunities. He did have a nice game late in the year versus the Eagles, but the sample size is small and of course he was playing against a weakened Eagles passing attack that was dealing with a number of key injuries. As an outside corner, Crawford has some nice potential, but I just don’t know if he’ll get the chance to “breakout” this season. With established players like DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and E.J. Biggers ahead of him, as well as 2nd round corner David Amerson, it is going to be very hard for Crawford to see the field. Though Amerson will likely be behind him from a developmental standpoint the team will probably look to give Amerson opportunities ahead of Crawford, given Amerson’s draft status. If Crawford does “breakout”, it will likely mean the Redskins corners are dealing with multiple injuries as well as Amerson being a huge liability. In 2014 though Crawford could get the chance to win a starting job, with the Redskins top three CB’s impending free agents.
-Robinson showed a little promise as a rookie in some spot duty for London Fletcher last season. With Fletcher getting older and struggling more against the pass, Robinson could get more playing time this year. If he proves to be better in coverage, he could carve out a significant niche of playing time this season. That would give him a decent level of impact and possibly set him up to take over as a starter in 2014, given that both Fletcher and Perry Riley are impending free agents. The big question mark is will Robinson be healthy as he returns from a torn pectoral muscle, and will the loss of development time hinder his chances to be productive.
-Pugh currently may be on the outside looking in to make this team, but that could quickly change is Brandon Meriweather doesn’t return as quickly from his ACL surgery and/or rookies Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo struggle. Pugh was cut last year by the Carolina Panthers and was unable to unseat Madieu Williams at free safety. He did work as part of a platoon plan with Reed Doughty to handle the strong safety role, and it is that type of role that Pugh may be asked to handle again. Pugh struggles in the box, but he showed decent coverage ability last season. He could be asked to split time with Doughty or perhaps one of the rookies if they are struggling to start the year. Pugh does have some potential to play the free safety role from a coverage aspect (his tackling and run defense are lacking), which helps him given that Meriweather, Thomas, Doughty and fellow roster bubble mate, DeJon Gomes are all more ideally suited for the SS role. Thomas especially though will be given a shot to see if he can handle the free safety role, if he is to prove a liability, Pugh could get the chance to give the Redskins some solid pass defense snaps.