It may come as a surprise to see Washington on this list. After all, he was a major contributor to last season’s squad. His contributions, though, were limited to special teams. He carried the ball a career-low 27 times and caught a career-low 9 passes. He had never had fewer than 71 rushing attempts or 25 receptions in any previous season that was not interrupted by injury. He also scored between 3-8 touchdowns rushing and receiving each year before 2010. Expect Washington to play a larger role in the offense a full two years after his leg injury. He is a special player on screen passes and can be a great 3rd down running back on draws and other quick-hitter plays. Tom Cable also has a history of using all the running backs on his roster.
Davis was a pre-season monster last year, sacking the quarterback and dragging opposing players down behind the line of scrimmage in nearly every game. He had a mild 2010 regular season, registering only a single sack. Davis appeared to be a hard worker and quick learner. It would not be surprising to see him come into camp ahead of some teammates and earn additional snaps. It’s possible the team will try him at linebacker. His best position is LEO behind Chris Clemons.
Thurmond was hailed as a medical miracle for coming back and playing last year after a serious knee injury. His story of recovery almost seemed to excuse what appeared to be mediocre on-field performance. While everyone was talking about Thurmond, it was Roy Lewis who stood out to me. Thurmond was not great in coverage, and looked a step slow. He recently tweeted that he was back to his old self physically. He was an All-American corner in college, and if he can step forward to be a legitimate starting corner this season, it will be among the most important developments on the team.
Wright is the first rookie to make an appearance on the list because of the combination of his potential and the team’s needs. Wright could get time at the strongside linebacker behind Aaron Curry. He could see time at LEO behind Chris Clemons. He could play the Raheem Brock role of late last season and sub for Red Bryant in passing situations. He may even be able to sub for David Hawthorne if Hawthorne slides over to play MLB in place of Tatupu. Wright doesn’t need to be special, but good linebackers don’t take long to make an impact.
I debated putting Thomas on this list because he and Russell Okung are guys that really should step up, as opposed to could step up. They are both talented enough that big improvement is expected. Thomas, however, plays such a crucial role and has the chance to be among the best players in all of football if everything falls into place. A Pro Bowl season for Thomas in his sophomore year is possible.
McCoy may never get another chance like the one he had in 2010. John Carlson played like crap, and every tight end on the roster got a chance to start a game. McCoy was injured and never got to see what he was capable of. He has the best combination of catching and blocking ability among the players at his position on the team. Even if he does not become the starter, he could make an impact in two tight end sets.
BamBam was a role player last season. He contributed on special teams, was a goal-line/short yardage replacement at safety and was part of the three safety bandit package the team featured at times. He did a respectable job. Chancellor is the type of athlete that almost certainly will get your attention with additional playing time. He will smash some opposing players in the face, cause dramatic fumbles, possibly sack the quarterback and even intercept a pass or two. He will also likely look foolish at times in coverage, take unnecessary risks and look slow-footed. Chancellor’s ceiling is yet to be defined. He has the physical ability to be a great safety, but also some traits that could force him into more of a specialist role like he played last season. It’s too early to tell, but my money is on the former.
Players like James Carpenter, John Moffit, Marshawn Lynch, Ben Obamanu, Mike Williams and others could all make an impact with either improved play or just being new quality players on the roster. Guys like Charlie Whitehurst, Golden Tate, Aaron Curry and others were left off the list because I don’t yet have reason to believe they will be measurably better this season than last.