The Redskins’ draft class of 2010 has made its mark with Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams and rising star linebacker Perry Riley. The class of ’12 has RG3 and Alfred Morris to brag about.
But the class of 2011 is, well, a work in progress. It was a huge class with 12 players drafted due to a series of trades. But among those dozen prospects, only Ryan Kerrigan has established himself as a quality starter. Of the other 11 players, nine are still with the team. Jarvis Jenkins started 14 games at defensive end last year due to Adam Carriker’s injury but he was quite average. Other than him, nobody drafted that year has started more than a handful of games.
In tonight’s preseason game against the Titans tonight, however, we saw some of the members of that draft class show some signs that they could start to make their presence felt.
Roy Helu Jr., the team’s fourth-round pick that year, looked like the player who led the team in rushing in 2011. In fact, he looked even better in some respects. In a half of playing time, Helu carried the ball 13 times for 57 yards. He also had an 18-yard run called back due to a holding penalty.
Helu showed why the Redskins were so high on him in 2011, finding running lanes behind the Redskins zone-blocking scheme. His quickness and burst, missing as he suffered from a variety of injuries late in 2011 and for much of last year, were back.
No matter how well Helu plays, he isn’t going to beat out Alfred Morris for the starting job. But there is an opening for a change-of-pace back and Helu could perform well in that role.
Leonard Hankerson has been on an uneven career trajectory since he was the Redskins’ third-round pick in ’11. The coaches didn’t think his game had enough polish initially and he was inactive in several games early in his rookie year. When he got into the lineup he had a big game against the Dolphins before suffering a hip injury that ended his season. Last year, he was up and down.
Tonight, Hankerson was up. He had four catches for 38 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown pass that showed some ability to run after the catch. His best play was his last, the touchdown pass.
Grossman threw Hankerson a little screen right about at the line of scrimmage. Hankerson cut inside to take advantage of a block by Tom Compton, built up some team and dove through blocks by Josh LeRibeus and Kevin Matthews to get into the end zone.
Hankerson has an opportunity to take the starting job opposite Pierre Garçon. Mike Shanahan said last week that consistency was the key for Hankerson so we will have to see what he does in the coming weeks to get a handle on his prospects.
Hankerson and Helu weren’t the only two members of their draft class to perform well. Kerrigan got a sack in very limited action. Evan Royster led the team in rushing with 14 carries for 62 yards. Wide receiver Aldrick Robinson had two receptions for 28 yards but he did have a bad drop that helped kill a drive.
There is a long way to go from playing well in the first preseason game to establishing yourself in your third NFL season. That is where the class of 2011 is and the third year is often considered “make or break”. But you have to start somewhere and a few of those players facing pivotal seasons got off to a good start tonight.