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Evaluating The Redskins’ 2011 Season: Looking Back At The Rookie Class

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

This is the first part of a four-part series looking back on the Washington Redskins’ 2011 season.

When the Washington Redskins swung a series of trades throughout the NFL Draft last April and ended up selecting 12 players, it seemed impossible that all of them would remain with the team past training camp.

But that’s just what happened. By the end of the season, 11 of those players had spent time on the 53-man roster – the only one who didn’t, second-round defensive end Jarvis Jenkins – tore his ACL in the preseason – and the team even had an undrafted free agent rookie on the active roster all season.

“We’re going to play the people that we think give you the best chance to win,” head coach Mike Shanahan said last month. “A lot of times, it is a younger player, or a player who we think has an upside. A lot of it depends on if you plan on having somebody back the following year, and so you give that guy a chance to prove what he can do.”

Some rookies contributed. Others didn’t. What is clear – the Redskins are trying to go younger.

Kerrigan

Ryan Kerrigan (first round, 16th pick): If not for San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith, Kerrigan might be the defensive rookie of the year. A converted defensive end from Purdue, Kerrigan was 10th amongst rookies with 63 tackles, tied for fourth with 7.5 sacks and tied for second with four forced fumbles. He also returned an interception for a touchdown and, most impressively, played every single snap on defense this season. He should only get better after this season.

Helu

Roy Helu (fourth round, 146th pick): Though he began the season as the Redskins’ third running back, Helu took advantage of injuries and a lack of productivity to carve out a role in the running game. He became the first Redskins rookie running back to have three consecutive 100 yards games when he did so beginning against Seattle on Nov. 27 and finished the year as the team’s leading rusher with 151 carries for 640 yards and two touchdowns. He has breakaway speed, is a capable receiver and, if free agent Tim Hightower returns next year, will push for the top role.

Royster

Evan Royster (sixth round, 177th pick): After spending the first 11 weeks of the regular season on the practice squad, Royster was signed to the active roster before the game against Seattle and finished the year as the featured back by running for more than 100 yards in two consecutive games. He has better vision than Helu and is adept at gaining yards after the catch, though will likely enter next year as the third running back.

Paul

Hankerson

Leonard Hankerson (third round, 79th pick) and Niles Paul (fifth round, 155th pick): The two receivers were thought to be able to grow into major contributors by the end of the year, though extenuating circumstances prevented that from happening. Hankerson, inactive for the first five games, finally saw extended time at Miami on Nov. 13 and caught eight passes for 103 yards before sustaining a season-ending labrum tear in his right hip late in the game. Paul battled turf toe for a stretch midway through the year, but he was valuable as a gunner on coverage teams and is very good at blocking on run plays. They’ll get another shot next season to develop.

Smith

Hurt

Maurice Hurt (seventh round, 217th pick) and Willie Smith (undrafted): Slotting two players who weren’t highly regarded coming out of college on the left side of the offensive line for significant stretches could lead to a long season for the Redskins. It was, but not because of these two. Though both need to make vast improvements with technique to stay capable backups in the league, Smith, at left tackle, and Hurt, at left guard, were sufficient enough in the run game and in protection.

Neild

Gomes

DeJon Gomes (fifth round, 146th pick) and Chris Neild (seventh round, 253rd pick): Gomes was up-and-down over the final four games while working in for both Oshiomogho Atogwe and LaRon Landry at safety and often struggled when matched up against opposing tight ends. Neild, the second-to-last pick in the draft, was quiet after picking up 1.5 sacks in the season opener against the New York Giants but still saw about a dozen snaps a game as a reserve nose tackle. It’s possible they’re back next season.

Jenkins

Others: Jenkins (second round, 41st pick) is expected back for organized team activities in mid-April and has a bright future, according to his coaches. Receiver Aldrick Robinson (sixth round, 178th pick) was on the practice squad all season before being promoted for the last game, in which he did not play. Cornerback Brandyn Thompson (seventh round, 213th pick) was back-and-forth on the practice squad and spent most of his time on special teams. Linebacker Markus White (seventh round, 224th pick) was active for two games and played one play on special teams.

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