So here's something that can be considered as interesting: the Redskins don't have a lot of great players on their roster. They have a bunch of pretty good players, a couple of starters that just aren't good enough, and very spotty depth at a lot of positions. Perhaps, though, among the very best players on the roster are their most recent first round picks: SS LaRon Landry (2007), OLB Brian Orakpo (2009), and LT Trent Williams (2010).
For LaRon Landry, development has been a four letter word. He was a impact player as a rookie in 2007, and just as valuable in 2008, though his role as the free safety rarely made him a visable player for television cameras. In 2009, he regressed. Badly. Landry was protected for much of 2008 by the fact that teams thought it a bad idea to try and attack deep against the Redskins most physically imposing defender, so they never tried. By 2009, teams had figured out that the secret to beating LaRon Landry was to go right at him. He just couldn't defense the pass if he wasn't getting there at full speed.
This year, with a new coordinator, the Redskins are finally trying something new with Landry, and he fits perfectly in the Pittsburgh-styled pressure schemes the Redskins now run. Landry is just as tough to block on the pass rush as Brian Orakpo is, and that skill allows him to get up in the box to help shut down the run without being a liability against the pass. This, of course, makes the Redskins ILBs much more important in pass coverage and between them and the other safety, the Redskins have plenty to work out over the next few weeks, but being good at something is the first tenet of a dominant defense. It's what the Redskins were missing on defense last year.
Brian Orakpo himself, of course, is very much unblockable. The question with Orakpo wasn't his awesomeness in the draft relative to other players available, it's whether or not the Redskins passed up far bigger needs to take Orakpo in 2009. The answer: probably, but who cares? The Redskins might have cost themselves more than a couple wins by not taking Michael Oher or Alex Mack with the 13th pick in the draft, and struggling through the entire year on offense.
Oh well. Teams that draft just to find players for the upcoming season are going to get outdrafted by other teams over the long run, and it's hard to argue that Orakpo wasn't THE value pick of the top 15 just a year ago. For their investment, the Redskins have a second year player who shows up on tape a lot more often than he did last year, is a moveable piece in the defense, and is as rare a weapon in a pressure scheme as LaRon Landry is. Orakpo has also shown much improved coverage skills this season. Still, he's at his best when he's rushing the passer.
However, neither player is having the singular effect on the offense as is Trent Williams is in stabilizing a left tackle to a level unseen since Chris Samuels in his prime. Having two unique defensive weapons is awesome, but if you don't have a left tackle, you don't have a productive offense. The Redskins not only have a left tackle now, they appear to have one of the very best. Fans, we may get a taste of what this offense can do without Trent Williams this weekend, and I'm going to predict that all it will do is prove how important to the team Trent Williams is.
There were a lot of acquistions this past offseason, but none more important than Williams, who has made the entire offensive line look good. Consider: they've been rotating their left guards and right tackles, their center remains a liability, and their right guard is a guy who was thought to be a utility lineman by the rest of the league. And against the pass: the OL has been a strength. That's the effect of Trent Williams on the 2010 Washington Redskins.
Others are playing a significant part in this season, particularly on the offensive end where the Redskins are improved in the passing game. Santana Moss is back towards his usual level after a down year in 2009. Chris Cooley is healthy. Adam Carriker has been a sound pickup, and the cornerback duo of Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall are playing better as a tandem than I thought would be possible. London Fletcher is having perhaps his best month as a Redskin in coverage. If, however, the Redskins really make some noise in an NFC East division that lacks a clear favorite, it will be because their last three first round picks have yielded three franchise cornerstones.