With a new head coach, some intriguing free agents and a quarterback on the comeback trail, the 2014 Redskins are loaded with storylines. Between now and the start of training camp, Redskins Insiders Rich Tandler and Tarik El-Bashir will be examining the top 30 questions the Redskins face as they get ready for the season.
Which Redskin will break out on offense in 2014?
Each year, a player enters the season with modest expectations and ends up surpassing all expectation. Last year, it was Jordan Reed, who missed chunks of the offseason while recovering from leg and foot injuries, fueling speculation that he would need time to catch up. As it turned out, the time off had no significant effect on Reed, who finished the season ranked second among all rookie tight ends in receptions (45) and yards (499), despite missing six games. So who will earn the title of breakout performer in ’14?
El-Bashir: I’m going with running back Roy Helu, whose versatility should make him a weapon in Jay Gruden’s offense. Under the Shanahans last season, Helu rushed for 274 yards on 62 attempts and reeled in 31 passes for 251 yards. I suspect Gruden is going to find a way to get the ball into Helu’s hands (a lot) more often, particularly through the air. Why? Look at Gruden’s history with the Bengals. Last season, dual-threat running back Giovani Bernard was a focal point of the Cincinnati offense, hauling in 56 passes for 514 yards and rushing for 695 yards on 170 carries. I’m not saying Helu is as good as Bernard or that Helu can replicate Bernard's numbers. But Gruden loves players that he can get creative with, and Helu has proved in the past that he can thrive when deployed properly. Remember Helu’s rookie season? When he rushed for 640 yards and caught 49 passes for 379 yards? Three years later, he’s more experienced, completely healthy and still only 25 years old. Why can’t he do it again?
Tandler: I like Helu also. I’m going to go with his fellow member of the draft class of 2011, Niles Paul. He was drafted as a wide receiver and then moved to tight end in 2012. Kyle Shanahan never really figured out how to use his speed from the tight end position and in three years he has 14 receptions for 228 yards and one touchdown. His primary role has been on special teams. Enter Jay Gruden, who knows how to utilize multiple tight ends. He should be able to get something out of Paul at tight end. Of course, Reed will be the main man at tight end and Logan Paulsen will be the blocking tight end. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Paul line up in multiple TE sets and for Gruden to devise ways to sneak him into some wide open spaces as defenses worry about Reed, Pierre Garçon, and DeSean Jackson. I’m not looking for huge numbers from Paul but it’s possible that he could have 25 receptions, average 12 yards a catch, and score a few touchdowns. Considering his career numbers to date, that would be a solid breakout year for Paul.