Experts rank Redskins as tops in NFC East for the next three years

For the "Washington Redskins never get respect" crowd, this is how it works: You don't receive respect until you earn it. And the Redskins for many years earned very little. But coming off a division title and with a solid base of young talent, they’re now earning legitimate praise.

In this Insider's piece, ESPN’s panel of experts -- Louis Riddick, Mike Sando and Field Yates -- ranked the Redskins as being in the 12th best shape for the next three years. They were tops in the NFC East, ahead of the New York Giants (16th), Philadelphia Eagles (24th) and Dallas Cowboys (26th).

It’s not a big surprise. I wrote about their young talent in May (excluding the rookies, but clearly some of them will be on this list a year from now). At the end of the 2014 season, their young talent was in need of a major boost. General manager Scot McCloughan’s first free-agent class didn’t help -- only Ricky Jean Francois remains from among the key signings.

But the first draft class produced four players who will have prominent roles this season: guard Brandon Scherff, linebacker Preston Smith, receiver Jamison Crowder and running back Matt Jones. Safety Kyshoen Jarrett would have, but he’s still dealing with the nerve issue in his arm and there’s concern about his future. Still, as Riddick said, the Redskins are one dominant pass-rusher away from having high-quality players at the most important positions -- quarterback, tackle, receiver, defensive end/outside linebacker and corner.

The 2014 class, which wasn’t McCloughan’s, has produced two starters (tackle Morgan Moses and corner Bashaud Breeland) and might produce a third (guard Spencer Long). Trent Murphy, their 2014 second-round pick, was switched from linebacker, but it’s too early to say how much he’ll contribute -- at best he was a fourth linebacker.

It’s obviously too early to say what the current rookie class might do, but the additions from the last two years have helped increase the young talent base.

A lot of the Redskins' success over the next three years depends on how quarterback Kirk Cousins performs. If his play doesn’t drop off, then the Redskins really are set for several seasons. If it does then they’ll be back in the market for a starter at the game’s most important position or at the least wondering what they’ll get from the position each week. But they do so with a solid base of talent around quarterback.

They will have two high-profile offensive free agents after the season: receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. It’s conceivable the Redskins see which one is still productive and re-sign that player or they could opt to let both walk. But even then, they’d have tight end Jordan Reed and receivers Crowder and Josh Doctson, this year’s first-rounder, to build around.

They have an offensive line in which four of the starters this year will be 28 years old or younger.

Defensively, to maintain team success in the future, the Redskins still need to add young talent -- especially along the line. The Redskins have one projected defensive starter under 25 years old (Breeland), unless Smith also starts. (If Junior Galette is healthy and effective, then Smith, as of now, would be their third outside linebacker but still play quite a bit.) And they have just three who are younger than 28, including linebackers Will Compton and Ryan Kerrigan.

When you’re looking at success over the next three years, it’s really about having players just entering their prime or having young talent to develop. That’s why more work is needed defensively when it comes to success beyond 2016. But the young talent they have offensively allows the Redskins to focus more on defense in upcoming offseasons. One concern, cited by Sando, is making sure McCloughan remains in the job for a good while, unlike previous stops in San Francisco and Seattle.

Regardless, the perception of their future has changed dramatically in the past 18 months. The key will be making sure it stays that way after this season.