Redskins position review: Wide receivers

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Redskins Confidential,Sports,John Keim,Redskins Position Review

Starters: Pierre Garcon, Joshua Morgan

Backups: Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Aldrick Robinson, Brandon Banks.

By the numbers: The Redskins’ wideouts accounted for 20 touchdown catches compared to 14 last season. But consider that the Redskins threw 149 fewer times in 2012. The yards per catch weren’t much different: Washington’s receivers averaged 13.2 yards per catch compared to 13.3 in 2011. But they were a bigger part of the passing game, accounting for 66 percent of catches and 69 percent of the receiving yards. Last season it was 51.2 percent of the catches and 62 percent of the total yards.

Better or worse than 2011: Better because of Garcon and because they were more efficient. See above.

Analysis: The main goal after the 2011 season was simple: boost the yards after the catch. The Redskins were successful in doing that, mainly because of Garcon. Before I post his numbers, it must be pointed out that the scheme put the receivers in position to gain yards after the catch. Because the Redskins had a little more speed at receiver – and some of the younger guys knew better what they were doing – they took advantage. But the way this offense fooled the defense’s eyes, the wideouts were often in position to do something with the ball.

That short detour leads me back to Garcon. He was fantastic at doing this because of his ability to explode after the catch. For the season he averaged 6.8 yards after the catch (all these stats are according to ESPN; there’s some variance but it’s pretty good).  Heck, nearly half of Garcon’s receiving yards came after the catch – 298 of his 633. The Dallas catch-and-run 59-yard touchdown was a prime example of him being able to land and explode.

Overall, every Redskins receiver averaged at least 3.9 yards after the catch and three finished with at least 4.9 YAC. That’s a huge improvement over last year when none of their top receivers averaged better than 3.9. This year, the top three in terms of catches all averaged at least 4.9.

Moss is a prime example of the change: In 2011, he managed 189 YAC on 46 catches (4.1); this year it was 225 YAC on 41 grabs (5.5).

Again, you have to credit the scheme and the quarterback for the YAC as well. Just like you can’t only blame a receiver if they never get any. The way this offense relies on misdirection, it gets defenders out of position and creates running lanes.

Signing Garcon was a wise move. Though he missed seven games, his presence helped as he was not only a big-play target but also added a physical nature that had a trickle-down impact. His blocking was tremendous. Same with Morgan, who also routinely had the tough over-the-middle catches in which he’d get drilled.

But Morgan was just a possession type, averaging 10.6 yards per catch. Maybe he still hadn’t regained his explosiveness from before his 2011 ankle injury (in the spring he said he needed another three months of rehab, which would have meant into September). His hands were inconsistent, but his toughness was not.

Moss was in danger of being cut last offseason (hence the pursuit of Eddie Royal), but he entered camp in terrific shape and was used wisely. At this stage, Moss is best as a No. 3 target and slot receiver. A knock on him in the past has been his tendency to wear down. There wasn’t a severe dropoff in 2012 as he caught 18 of his 41 passes in the final eight regular-season games. However, he remained a go-to guy on third downs (15 catches, 274 yards, four touchdowns) because of his route-running ability; he still creates enough separation.

Hankerson developed, but every time he’d have a good game he’d be silent for a week – or several weeks. He had games where he caught seven and six passes, respectively. In both cases he caught one pass the following week. His four-catch, 67-yard performance by Baltimore was followed by three games in which he caught a combined four catches for 78 yards. He also had a crucial drop vs. the Seahawks (yes the ball was out front; yes he absolutely should have caught it). Some NFL defensive coaches did not like his ability to separate. His best work seemed to come vs. zone coverages. And his blocking did improve.

Robinson was a one-hit guy: he caught 11 passes and three went for scores. He did not catch a ball in the final five regular-season games. He wasn’t even targeted. Speed is great; it’s not everything. He’ll have to improve his route-running and knowledge of the offense otherwise he’ll be the guy who occasionally makes big plays and leaves you wondering why he doesn’t do more. His blocking was inconsistent at best.

Brandon Banks made no impact as a receiver. Let’s stop calling him one.

2013 outlook: It should be a good one considering how much time Garcon missed. But a lot depends on how Garcon’s toe responds to whatever treatment he’ll receive in the offseason, whether from surgery or rehab.

Receivers often take a few years to mature so it’s too soon to say Hankerson and Robinson, for example, are finished products. Of the two I’ll strongly bet on Hankerson as the one who keeps progressing. How much so? Depends on who you ask. I’ve talked to defensive coaches who aren’t that sold on him, but the Redskins’ offensive coaches still seem to be. Hankerson did a solid job getting open vs. zone coverage; can he do the same if facing man on a consistent basis?

It’s debatable as to what Hankerson can become: Can he become a No. 2 as the coaches say? Or is he a solid No. 3 as others say? I’d like to see more consistency before thinking he’ll be a No. 2.  Robinson’s speed is an asset and he showed good acceleration in the preseason, but his consistency, for a variety of reasons, will be an issue.

Both players will be with their third position coach in three years, which is never good for young players. Then again, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan spends more time with that group than any so in essence he’s their position coach.

If Moss returns, assuming his cap number is different, then he’ll need to repeat whatever he did last offseason. The Redskins could use Morgan to be more productive. He did not surpass 60 yards receiving in the final 13 games, including the postseason. That’s not good. Come to think of it, he only surpassed that total once all season (62 was his season best). In fact, no receiver other than Garcon even surpassed 80 yards. They need someone else to be capable of big days, not just a big series or one big catch.

Offseason goals: Decide what to do with Moss. He’ll count $6.3 million against the cap, which is a lot for a soon-to-be 34-year old slot receiver. He can still help, but they’ll have to lower his cost. If they added another young receiver I wouldn’t complain one bit. While this group did a nice job, they won’t overwhelm anyone, so they can keep searching. The problem is money: they lack the cap space so they might need to ride with this group another year. They need Hankerson to up his game.

 

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