2011 Washington Redskins: Who Can Fill the Holes at Wide Receiver in 2011?
No lies; the Redskins have holes in their receiver core. Holes that can't be ignored, can't be put off, and can't be shrugged off.
But are they as big as you think?
Depends on who you ask. The Redskins have been dealing with holes at their receiving position for a long, long time, and have seemingly been incapable of filling them. Many times the Redskins have tried to bring in wide outs through free agency, only for them to bust out. They've also tried to draft wide receivers, to much of the same result.
For the last seven years the only reliable receiving talents have been Santana Moss and Chris Cooley. The Redskins added another threat in tight end Fred Davis in 2008, but other than that, the Redskins wide receivers have been lackluster to say the least.
The Redskins couldn't do much to address the holes through free agency and in the draft last season, and now, with few draft picks, and without knowing when free agency will start, it's even harder to gauge what will and what won't happen with the Redskins needs at receiver.
So, let's take a look at and evaluate the wide receiving position; who will stay, who will go, and who can be added to improve the Redskins receiving core in the future.
Best Position: The Tight Ends
Mike Shanahan said at the 2011 Scouting Combine that the position that had the most depth on the football team was the tight end position, and he was right.
Chris Cooley was reliable as ever in 2010, snagging 77 receptions for 849 yards, and average 11 yards per reception, adding in three touchdowns. (Shoulda been four, but that's another story.)
Fred Davis always was fairly productive, record 21 receptions for 31 yards (with an average of 15 yards per catch) and three touchdowns as well.
Going into the season, many speculated that the Redskins would operate out of more two tight end sets, which they did. The problems with the offensive line, however, meant that one of the tight ends usually had to stay into block, and a big advantage the Redskins had couldn't be taken advantage of by the team. In New England, the Pats used two tight ends to their advantage, and if the 'Skins can solidfy the offensive line, the Redskins can do much of the same.
Another pleasant surprise and addition to the 'Skins tight end core was former UCLA product Logan Paulsen. Paulsen was an undrafted free agent that earned a spot on the team. Though he spent most of his time blocking (which he was very good at), he caught a couple passes and added a touchdown to his credit. That, and he has a bit of a nasty streak, which can only be better for the team.
At the very least, the Redskins can walk into the season knowing the tight end position has been solidified.
Current Starters: Anthony Armstrong
No one thought much of Anthony Armstrong before the season started, but by the end of it, there was a buzz surrounding his name, and he proved to be a big play, deep threat that the Redskins desperately needed.
Armstrong became the first wide receiver besides Santana Moss to amass over 800 yards receiving since 2005. The Redskins have been desperately looking for a number two receiver to use with Moss, and Armstrong certainly became that as the season wore on.
Armstrong impressed in preseason in a big way, so much so that he'd all but made the football team before it was over; Armstrong was amongst the starters sitting on the bench in the preseason's final game, while 2008 second round draft pick and all around bust Devin Thomas was still running bad routes and trying to earn a job.
Armstrong started the season lower on the depth chart than veteran wide receiver Joey Galloway, but his consistent play and his big play ability soon vaulted him past Galloway. Armstrong was the teams number one deep threat, using his speed to break in the secondary. Many a time Armstrong came up with a big catch at the ring time, and a few of those plays could've gone for touchdowns, had it not been for a couple underthrown footballs.
He finished the season with 44 receptions, 871 yards and three touchdowns.
Armstrong still needs to work on his route running a bit, and sometimes struggles against press coverage. Some people view him as nothing more than a good number three receiver, but Armstrong more than earned the number two slot on the team, and at this point, he's the only viable receiving threat the Redskins have.
If the Redskins don't bring Santana Moss back (more on that later), Armstrong would move into the slot position, which would better utilize his speed, while finding another threat outside.
Still, Armstrong came up to the NFL the hard way, and has more than earned an opportunity to start.
This is pretty much as biting an indictment of the fact that free agency was pretty much non-existent last year. Roydell Williams not only made it to the Redskins opening day roster, he also managed to stay with the team throughout the season, despite not contributing anything of value.
Williams grabbed a grand total of eight passed for 108 yards and no touchdowns. It's not for lack of calling his number either; Williams was certainly called on, but he never managed to do much when he was called on. His main strength (if you can call it that) was as a special teams contributor, and even there he didn't do a whole heck of a lock.
Williams will likely be gone next season, but he also won't be missed much, as he somehow managed to contribute to the team less that Joey Galloway.
Terrence Austin has the potential to be a solid number three or slot receiver, but is he a starter? Probably not.
Austin played at UCLA, where he was primarily a kick returner. He set school records doing that, but ultimately, Austin was tucked away on the practice squad at the beginning of the season. This was despite the fact that fans were practically screaming for Austin to get put on the field instead of Joey Galloway.
When Galloway was released, Austin was bought up to the main roster. Austin didn't see much playing time, but he did come up with some impressive catches in crucial situations.
He'll need another season to continue to develop, but Austin seems to have some genuine talent.
Still, I wouldn't put all my faith in him making the receiving core better instantly. Definitely in time, though.
It seems the Redskins are doing whatever they can to try and get the ball in Brandon Banks' hands. They have him return punts and kicks. They tried him in the Wildcat. We've seen him line up at wide receiver as well, but he only managed to snag 2 receptions for 10 yards.
Banks has an explosive play making ability. It's just a matter of finding out how to use it. Banks seems like he'd be best at catching the ball out of the backfield or catching bubble screens that allow him to make people miss, or on end arounds, but a nagging knee injury limited the potential role he could play in the offense.
I guarantee you, Kyle Shanahan is racking his brain, trying to figure out how to get Banks more involved. Expect Banks to play a bigger role in the offense next season, including sending him deep on those routes that Anthony Armstrong used to get.
Malcolm Kelly was a member of the Redskins 2008 draft class, in which he was drafted along side wide receiver Devin Thomas.
Three years later, Thomas is praying that he can catch on with the New York Giants next year, and Kelly is praying that he can avoid the injury bug that's plagued his career since day one.
Kelly has all the potential in the world. He's got the size. He's got incredible hands. He's a solid route runner with good speed. He has the drive, he watches the game film, and even on injured reserve, he attended all the meetings. If the Redskins had put Kelly on the physically unable to perform list instead of injured reserve, there is a large chance that Kelly could've seen the field early.
But the issues with his health are killing this kid. Potential to be a dominant wideout in the NFL doesn't amount to much of anything if you can't stay on the field.
Kelly was actually active for 16 games in 2008, but only started in 10, partly due to injury. (And partly due to Jim Zorn being an idiot and putting Devin on the field instead). He racked up 25 receptions for 347 yards.
He has the potential, and clearly Coach Shanahan saw something in Kelly that he didn't see in Thomas. Still, if Kelly can't stay healthy throughout the preseason and training camp, it's likely he won't be long for the burgundy and gold.
And that would be a real shame.
Look out For: Taurus Johnson
The Redskins stashed a lot of wide receivers on their practice squad last season, but there may be no wide receiver more interesting than former USF wide out Taurus Johnson.
Johnson has the size and ability the Redskins seem to be looking for, and if there is going to be another Anthony Armstrong this season, it seems Johnson could (potentially) be it. He went undrafted in 2009 and spent the season bouncing around different practice squads before catching on with the Hartford Colonials in 2010. After their season, he landed with the Redskins.
Johnson was a pretty productive wide out in college and seems to have the tools to be a good receiving option. With Redskins training camp being all about open competition, and using Armstrong as an example, it wouldn't shock me if Johnson was another one of those gems that Coach Shanahan always seems to pluck out of nowhere.
As Good as Signed: Andre Davis
Just before the lockout, the Redskins met with former Texans wide receiver Andre Davis, and it's been said that the two sides were about as close to a contract as one can be without there being ink put to paper.
Davis primarily saw action for Houston as a kick returner. His career year receiving wise came in 2007, where he snagged 33 receptions for 583 yards and 3 touchdowns.
It seems to run counter to the Redskins youth movement that the 'Skins would sign a 31 year old wide receiver who's production has declined dramatically over the past few seasons. (Especially if they're going to let Santana Moss walk after his single best career year.) Last year, Andre Davis didn't play any football at all. But, I guess I'm not a general manager, and despite Brandon Banks being phenomenal last year, people still seem to think the Redskins need a kick returner.
Welcome our new Roydell Williams, folks.
Potential Free Agent Signings: Jacoby Jones
The Texans placed a second-round tender on Jones before the lockout, but, depending on what the rules are if there's a new CBA, or whatever the ruling on the lockout injuction is, Jones could still be an unrestricted free agent, and undoubtedly he'd be on of the guys the Redskins most aggresively pursued.
Jones is a fine receiving talent; not so much a number one receiver as a really, really solid number two. Consistency is probably his biggest issue; there are games where Jones completely disappears, and then games where he comes up huge.
Still, he has the most knowledge of Kyle Shanahan's system of anyone available in free agency, and on a team that needs playmakers, Jones can certainly be one. Jones is coming off a career year in receptions (51) and receiving yards (562) with three touchdowns. Under Kyle in 2009, he had a few less receptions and yards, but had six touchdowns.
If Jones makes it to free agency, it's all but guaranteed the two teams battling most fiercely for his services will be the Redskins and Texans. Don't be shocked if Jones ends up and burgundy and gold next year. It's more likely than you'd think.
The Packers did extend a restricted free agent tender to wide out James Jones, but once again, it might be meaningless, and it seems like Jones will hit the free agent market. Jones is another talent the Redskins will pay special attention to.
Jones is another wide receiver who has the size and speed to be a solid receiver, but he's also had some pretty bad drops in some pretty big games. The knock on Jones is that inconsistency. Capable of coming up with big plays, but the drops are going to be the concern with him.
That, and the money. If Jones chooses not to resign with the Packers, he will likely go elsewhere and look for number one receiver money, despite his inconsistence and the fact that he's never actually been a number one receiver. Jones is worth more than a look, but the 'Skins have to know what they're getting into with the wide out, and they'll have to worry about those troublesome hands of his.
Mike Sims-Walker will be a free man regardless of the situation with the CBA, as the Jaguars more or less announced their intention to not resign the wide receiver. Why, I have no idea. But Sims-Walker will undoubtedly be a free agent, and he's shockingly under the radar, despite his talent.
This could mean the Redskins could get the young, athletic wide receiver for a steal on the free agent market. Sims-Walker posted a career year in 2009 with 869 yards off 43 receptions with 7 touchdowns. His numbers fell of a little this last season, but he still managed seven touchdowns and was still a number one receiver for the team.
Sims-Walker could be the best all-around value in the free agency pool, and would be a very good, tall, physical receiving threat; something the Redskins desperately need.
Despite being productive and rounding out a pretty solid receiving core for the New York Jets, it seems likely that the Jets will decide to keep only Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards, and all the news and rumors suggest that Jets were leaning more towards keeping Holmes.
That leaves the Redskins with another interesting option in free agency, but one that they will evaluate very closely. Edwards certainly has the talent, and his consistency in recent years has improved a lot. But he has a lot of nagging character issues, and somewhat of the "Diva receiver" attitude. Edwards still has a lot of potential, but it'd be interesting if he could move from the Rex Ryan style of coaching (not knocking it, I actually like Rex) to the Mike Shanahan style of coaching.
If he can make that transition, Edwards would be a fine receiving threat. But character counts in Washington, which dings Edwards value, not to mention the big check he'll likely want and command from other teams.
The Vikings tendered a first-round draft pick for Sidney Rice's services before the lockout, but once again, the new CBA will likely mean he'll be a free agent, and he'll be the most sought after free agent wide out this season, whenever free agency occurs.
Rice has all the physical tools. He's big and tall, he's physical. He's a jump ball receiver capable of making insane catches, he has a nose for the end zone, and he's undoubtedly a playmaker.
That is, when he's healthy. Since being drafted in 2007, Rice has only played all 16 games of a season once. It's also worth mentioning that he had the ball thrown to him by a Hall of Fame quarterback, which begs the question "Is it the player, or is it the quarterback"?
Rice is going to command a big check, and he'll probably deserve it more so than a lot of the receivers in free agency pool. But his health concerns are legitimate and somewhat worrisome, and there are cheaper options that provide better value.
If the Redskins go all out, they'll sign Sidney Rice. But for some reason, I'm not sure they'll go all out.
Despite it all, there is still a big time chance that Santana Moss resigns with the Redskins before it's all said and done. That's not to say the Redskins won't add someone else in free agency, but Moss was clearly the best receiver on the roster, and in the event that the Redskins don't hit a homerun in free agency or the draft, bringing back Moss would be a number one priority for the club.
Moss recorded the second most productive season of his 10 year career last season, with 93 catches for 1,115 yards and 6 touchdowns. He operated mainly in his "natural" position as a slot receiver, but still was by far the numberone guy. Even at age 31, while Moss might've lost a step speed wise, he's still one of the best and most underrated round runners in football, and still has some gas left in the tank.
The Washington Redskins new way of operating is allowing their veterans go out and test the waters of free agency, and then make their deals accordingly. This is no different; while Moss is an unrestricted free agent right now, there's been no indications that teams were moving to meet with him, and he will likely shop around his services after the lockout ends. When the market place deems what kind of money Moss will make, the Redskins will offer him a contract that corresponds.
It'd be a shame to lose Moss, who is the most consistent playmaker the Redskins have had this side of Clinton Portis. But fear not; the chances of Moss ending up back in the burgundy and gold are probably better than you think.
You know, if his agent Drew Rosenhaus isn't a total jerk.
Potential Draft Prospects: Leonard Hankerson
Those suggesting the Redskins should pick Julio Jones in the first round obviously don't remember that Mike Shanahan has only ever picked a wide receiver in the first round once, and he got burnt on him. Meanwhile, the wide receiver he took in the fourth round in 2006, Brandon Marshall, wound up being one of the most consistent and viable playmakers on his team and is still productive 'til this day.
Excuse me if I think Shanahan picking a wide receiver in the first round is a little bit absurd.
The Redskins have more or less announced (loudly) their intent to give their 10th overall selection away to the highest bidder in an attempt to get some of the draft picks that spent on Donovan McNabb, which means Jones is out of the question. That's why the Redskins will begin mining for wide receiver talent later in the draft.
Leonard Hankerson from the University of Miami currently has a second or third round value on him, and with good reason. A physical wide receiver, a solid route runner with good hands, and more than capable of creating some big plays. He excelled at the U despite mediocre play at the quarterback position, and has found his draft stock improving as the draft draws near.
If the Redskins manage to get some of their picks back, or if on the off chance they get another second round pick (not likely, but still...), it wouldn't be a bad idea to take a chance on Hankerson. What's the worse that can happen?
You know...besides him being like Devin Thomas.
Greg Little is an interesting prospect, in that he was one of the (many) Tarheels who was suspend for the 2010 season. He enters the draft with a late second or early third round value, potentially even later. If he falls far enough, he could be another draft steal.
Little is a little bit raw in terms of his route running, but he's got solid speed and good hands. He's big and physical and capable of going up for the jump ball over a corner's head, and with some development, he could become a very good option for the Redskins pass game.
Austin Pettis isn't garnering the same kind of buzz his fellow Boise State wide receiver Titus Young is, but he's been a consistent player at Boise State, and his last two seasons were extremely productive. Pettis is a big, tall guy. He's not the fastest guy in the world, but makes up for it in his route running and his great hands.
Going for value, the Redskins could always use a tall, physical threat, and Pettis has the potential to slip into some of the later rounds of the draft. He's more of a possession receiver, but his size and hands will make him a great red zone threat.
Greg Salas might not be the fastest or biggest wide receiver in the draft, but he makes up for that with tenancity and great yards after the catch. Mostly used as a slot receiver, Salas is a smooth route runner, has great hands, and is a tough guy to bring down, no matter what you through at him.
The question with Salas (and most Hawaii receivers for that matter) is whether their production comes because they're talented wide outs, or because Hawaii went to the "Andy Reid School of Playcalling" and are aggressively pass happy. Still, Salas will likely be available in a later rounds, and would be a solid addition regardless.
Analysis: Wide Receiver a Big Hole, but One More Easily Patched
Is wide receiver a big hole? Yes, yes it is.
But, looking at the options available, it's one of the holes that would be easiest for the Redskins to patch up. Even if they don't find a true "number one" receiver (and the definition of "number one receiver" has changed over time, as neither football team in the Super Bowl this past year has a number one receiver as it's been traditionally defined), there are more than enough options to upgrade the receiving core in a hurry.
The question isn't so much "will they grab a receiver" as how they go about it. Do they open up Dan Snyder's pockets and spend the big bucks for the biggest free agent? Do they reach for a guy in the draft and neglect a more needed position?
Something tells me neither. The Redskins have a new way of doing things; while them going all out wouldn't be shocking, it would be a departure. The team made it clear with the signing of free safety O.J Atogwe that they weren't going to overpay anyone anymore. They will undoubtedly pursue certain guys, but will let the market dictate their asking price before making an offer, instead of setting the price for someone.
As for the draft, the Redskins would do well to realize they might have more talent at wide receiver than they thought, and try not to reach for the best available wide receiver just because? There are still several solid receiving options worth having in the later rounds, and a slew of options in free agency.
This is a case where, if we have any sort of normal free agency and CBA, the Redskins could come out with a solid core of receivers from guys culled from within the team, in free agency and the draft.Maybe a second coming of The Posse isn't too far away.
Next time, I'll take a look at the defensive personnel as a whole and how to improve the team's ever growing 3-4 defense.