Last year, the plan was for Malcolm Kelly or Devin Thomas to start at the split end position, allowing Santana to stay at flanker and Randle-El to be a permanent slot receiver. Due to a combination of injuries and general cluelessness, the rookies were unable to fulfill that role and we had absolutely no depth as backup, so our passing game was pretty much neutralized when defenses were able to roll coverages towards Moss at will.
If the passing game takes off this year, it will be because we found someone to competently man split end. A decent split end would allow us to keep Santana at flanker, helping him avoid press coverage and steer much of the offense towards putting the ball in his hands. Meanwhile, Randle-El largely disappears when split out wide. He will never be worth all that we paid for him, but he can still be quite effective out of the slot, where we can scheme match-ups for him and he can use his quickness to exploit the holes left open by slower linebackers and safeties.
To hear the Redskins DBs tell it, nobody could cover Malcolm Kelly during his rare appearances in practice. Unfortunately, he has yet to show an ability to practice three days in a row without his knee swelling up on him. Thomas managed to get stay upright a bit more, but was so flummoxed by the playbook that he was never trusted to be a significant part of the gameplan. It’s pretty routine for rookie receivers to fail to make an impact in the NFL, but these guys underachieved even by the modest expectations that were laid on them.
Other than the health of Chris Samuels, whether or not these guys start looking like professional receivers is probably the most important variable in determining the Redskins 2009 success. If they fail, we’re stuck with another year of ARE and Santana playing out of their ideal positions and getting smothered by defenses. The only other viable option at split end is Roydell Williams. He’s another little receiver – 5’9” - and therefore is not a prototypical split end (the split end is often the “big receiver” because, being directly on the line of scrimmage, he has to fight through more press coverage), but he is in the race simply because he caught 55 passes for Tennessee in 2007, meaning he has demonstrated at least a marginal level of NFL competence.
Barring injury, the five receivers we’ve discussed so far are probably the only ones that have a chance to make an impact this year. However, I’ll quickly run down the other receivers we’ll have in camp. Not in any real depth, but just with the basic information readily available so we’ll at least have some idea who we’re watching this August. Also, it's inevitable that the local media will fall in love with one of these guys during the preseason as they watch him rack up receptions against special teamers.
Keith Eloi – Another little fast guy. A small school prospect who is on the roster because Vinny Cerrato saw a You Tube video of him jumping into the back of a pickup truck. Seriously.
Marko Mitchell – At 6’4”, he’s supposedly the big receiver we’re always looking for. From what I’ve read, he’s one of those guys with a ton of athletic ability who is incredibly raw when it comes to professional receiving skills. Probably practice squad at best for 2009.
Jaison Williams – That’s not a typo, Jaison really is spelled with an “I”. At 6’5”, this is big guy prospect #2. UPDATE - he's already been cut right after we signed Kevin Barnes.
Marques Hagans – College quarterback pure athlete type – has never been a productive receiver despite bouncing around the NFL a couple of years.
Trent Shelton – He’s spent two years in the NFL but hasn’t yet recorded a catch. His main advantage is that he spent 2008 with the Seahawks, so he should already be somewhat familiar with Zorn’s system. But given the breathtaking series of injuries Seattle suffered at WR last year, it probably says something that he still wasn’t able to make the field.
Next overview: Tight Ends