Thursday, February 4, 2010
As the season wore on, Thomas was a primary read on more and more plays. And a lot of the wide receiver screens and quick hitches that has long been directed to Santana Moss were now called to Thomas. Think of how long Moss has been the one playmaker who justified finding ways to get the ball in his hands in space – by mid-season Devin Thomas had taken over that role. Santana had once been the most important man to keep healthy; without him the offense collapsed. But the last two weeks of the season, when Thomas was out with injuries, a similar decline occurred. And Santana Moss was not enough to overcome the loss of Thomas.
And I would be remiss if I left out one very significant sign of Thomas’ progress: blocking. Early in the year he simply didn’t block. It’s not that he blocked poorly – he didn’t even try. I regularly got worked into a rage in the game reviews as running plays were easily stuffed by the cornerback who had lined up over Thomas. But somewhere along the way, he figured out what it means to be a football player at this level. All of the sudden, defensive backs started going down. Like all wide receivers he is occasionally guilty of weak blocks. But those are outnumbered by more solid efforts, and his realization that his blocking is actually a significant part of most plays is dramatic progress from early in the season.
So if Devin Thomas is now the Redskins’ premier receiver, then what of Santana Moss? As noted above, there is no longer an imperative to get the ball in his hands. He will be 31 years old this summer, and as a player who relies almost entirely on speed there is the potential for his decline to be rapid. The best way to maximize Santana’s remaining usefulness would probably be to make him a full time slot receiver, so that even if his quickness fades a bit he would still outclass most linebackers or safeties. In order for that to happen, of course, a new split end has to be found to start opposite Devin. Assuming no receivers of significance are added during the offseason (and I think that’s a realistic assumption), one of the major stories this offseason should be whether either Malcolm Kelly or Marko Mitchell develops sufficiently to fill that role. We’ve seen too little of Mitchell, and Kelly has not yet demonstrated the light bulb-turning-on season of his draft-mate Thomas, so it is far from certain either of these two can displace Moss. But the Redskins will be much better if one does.
You may note that Antwaan Randle-El did not figure into the above conversation. Randle-El has always been outclassed on the outside, but that’s not really his fault because he’s a natural slot receiver. If Santana moves into that role, obviously Randle-El is in a bit of a pinch. And it is worth noting that if we go to a capless year, which seems overwhelmingly likely, there will be nothing to prevent him and his contract from getting cut. Of course at the same time, the lack of a cap means there’s not much deterrent to keeping him on for depth as an overpaid 4th or 5th receiver. One note in his favor – Randle-El is the best blocking receiver on this team, and if taken out of the slot he would be a noticeable loss for the running game.
Previous position reviews: Offensive line, running backs, fullbacks
UPDATE: Be glad I didn't find this TORB post until after I had already decided what picture to put at the top of this review.
FURTHER UPDATE: Oh dear God...
Posted by Dave O at 9:34 PM