This is the NFL in its wildest era in terms of offense. The four highest-scoring seasons in league history just so happen to be the most recent four seasons in league history.
So the notion that, in such a heated arms race, anyone could have too many weapons seems preposterous. But because it's July and no potential concern can be overlooked when breaking down NFL rosters, we've reached a point at which that has become a possible issue for the Washington Redskins.
The 'Skins, after all, added All-Pro wide receiver DeSean Jackson as well as high-priced veteran Andre Roberts in the offseason, arguably overcrowding an arsenal that already contained 2013 NFL receptions leader Pierre Garcon, rising tight end Jordan Reed and longtime contributors Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson and Leonard Hankerson.
Consider, too, that Alfred Morris has carried the ball 611 times since the start of 2012, which is more than every other back in the league except Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. And offensive coordinator Sean McVay has already stated—per ESPN.com's John Keim—that the running game will remain similar under new head coach Jay Gruden.
So, will the Redskins have trouble keeping everyone busy and satisfied?
Breaking it down in terms of time on the field
Only five eligible receivers and/or backs can be on the field at once, and your average NFL team ran 1,040 plays last year. That leaves just 5,200 appearances in plays to go around. Last year, the 'Skins ranked fourth in the league with 1,107 plays run (excluding penalties), but that only gives you another 335 opportunities for your skill-position players.
To give you a feel for how those opportunities are typically spread out, here's a look at a three-game sample from midway through the 2013 season. In this breakdown, a "rep" is defined as either a carry or a target (complete or incomplete).
|How the Redskins divided snaps, reps and targets, 2013|
|Player||% of snaps||% of reps||Reps/game||% of targets|
|Taken from a three-game sample between Week 8 and 10 (when everyone was relatively healthy)|
Look at how often the second tight end (Logan Paulsen) is on the field. Garcon and Reed were getting more than half the targets on the team, and the depth receivers—most of whom are still on the roster—were getting plenty of work. It's clear there will have to be some demotions, because the Redskins are basically adding two premium weapons to that chart while only taking away Josh Morgan.
Plus, there might be even more work for the tight ends.
Last year, Gruden used dual tight ends a league-high 43 percent of the time, according to Football Outsiders. Bengals tight ends hogged 1,847 total snaps, while Redskins tight ends were on the field for 1,557 plays. And even if they stick to a solo backfield all season (excluding situations in which the tight end lines up as a fullback), that's another 1,100 snaps.
Let's take that 1,100 and find a happy medium between 1,557 and 1,847 (which is being generous). That's 2,802 snaps for the backs and tight ends. Assuming each starting receiver gets about 1,000 snaps (that was the case for both guys last season), that leaves you with an absolute maximum of 700 snaps for every other receiver, back and tight end on the roster.
Roberts averaged 742 snaps the last two seasons. So they can almost pull it off if they basically lead the league in plays run, pass more than ever before and completely neglect the rest of the offensive players on the roster, including Moss, Robinson, Hankerson, Roy Helu, Evan Royster, Chris Thompson, rookie fourth-round pick Ryan Grant and whoever the third tight end is.
Breaking it down strictly in terms of targets
The most pass-oriented teams in the league throw it no more than 67 percent of the time. Last year, the Broncos led the NFL in pass attempts at 675. But the Redskins ran the ball 453 times last year, and Gruden's Redskins ran it 481 times, which—despite Gruden's pass-happy reputation—ranked eighth in football.
Morris will get plenty of reps. And even though quarterback Robert Griffin III isn't expected to run read-option plays as often this season, you can be sure he'll still take advantage of his speed and keep it himself at least a few times per game.
The point is that, unless they completely ditch the running game, it will be impossible for the Redskins to throw the ball more than about 600 times next season. And ditching the running game would indicate much worse developments.
Even if we're liberal with that projection, that gives the 'Skins about 40 targets per game.
And it speaks volumes that Griffin has acknowledged the potential issue, although he doesn't appear to be concerned. Here's what he told 106.7 The Fan in Washington on Monday, per CSN Washington's Tarik El-Bashir:
These guys know that there are some weapons around them on the field, so they don’t have all that pressure on them. But they also know when they get the ball, they are going to have to do something with it because there’s no guarantee that the ball is going to come to them 10, 15 times a game. They might only get three or four of five shots a game, and they have to make the most it.
Garcon was targeted 10.9 times per game last season, while Jackson was thrown at 7.4 times per outing in Philly. Hell, even Roberts got 4.6 passes per game thrown his way in Arizona. Reed was targeted 6.7 times a game and is fully expected to see his role increase, but that would pretty much be an impossibility if Garcon, Jackson and Roberts were targeted as often as they're used to.
So Griffin is right, all of these guys will have to expect to be targeted less.
Jackson and Garcon were both No. 1 receivers last year, and they were targeted a combined 293 times. Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall were targeted a combined 298 times in Chicago, but the Bears threw only 46 passes to the rest of their receivers and ran the ball only 404 times (the ninth-lowest mark in the NFL). Based on precedents both in Washington and Cincinnati, as well as the fact their personnel doesn't allow for it, that's not how the Redskins will operate.
And it should be noted that, outside of Chicago, no other 1-2 receiving duo had more than 273 combined targets.
Here's what it boils down to: No matter what the Redskins do this year, history indicates they can't possibly complete more than about 400 passes. Garcon, Jackson and Roberts caught 234 passes last year, and if we prorate Reed's numbers for a full campaign, he would have had 80 grabs. If they were all to hit those marks, you'd have about 85 receptions to spread around to the rest of the receiving corps, the second tight end (who, keep in mind, will likely be on the field for a minimum of 500 snaps) and the running backs.
Again, it's possible, but only in the most extreme scenarios.
Here's a more realistic projection for how the opportunities will be divided while everyone is healthy:
|How the Redskins might divide snaps, reps and targets, 2014|
|Player||% of snaps||% of reps||Reps/game||% of targets|
|Brad Gagnon/Bleacher Report|
In this scenario, the sacrifices are made in the depths of the receiving corps. Moss and Hankerson aren't even on the roster.
A good problem to have
Because injuries are impossible to predict, health wasn't taken into account in the statistical breakdown above. And that could be the key here. If everyone stays healthy, it will be tough to spread the wealth around while keeping everyone happy. But the odds indicate guys will go down, and if/when that happens, the 'Skins will have the resources to survive offensively while also giving the rest of their key players more opportunities.
Inevitably, if nobody does go down, some guys won't get as many touches as they arguably deserve.
Roberts, who is making $4 million a year, is supposed to improve on his 2013 numbers. That might happen if Garcon or Jackson gets hurt, or if they become so barren elsewhere in the receiving corps (Hankerson, for example, is still recovering from a torn ACL) that he hogs all of the slot opportunities for an entire season.
|Most money committed to receivers, 2014|
|1. Detroit Lions||$27.9M|
|2. Miami Dolphins||$26.7M|
|3. San Francisco 49ers||$25.9M|
|4. Washington Redskins||$25.9M|
|5. Arizona Cardinals||$25.6M|
Jackson and Garcon are making a combined $16.5 million per year, so the pressure is certainly on them to deliver as well. But they must know that the raw numbers—targets, catches, yards, even touchdowns—might not be as sexy as similarly paid peers on other teams.
But as long as the players and the team understand that, they won't have a problem. And if the excrement hits the fan from an injury perspective, they'll be taking solace.
All snap- and target-related stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.
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