Thursday, February 4, 2010

2009 Receivers Review

One of the few bright spots of the 2009 season was watching the development of Devin Thomas. He first started to shine when Jason Campbell was (frequently) under pressure. He showed a knack for breaking off his route and making himself available as a safety valve, turning a lot of broken plays into drive-sustaining first downs. This appears to be how Campbell gained confidence in him.

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...


  1. I like the idea of trading for Brandon Marshall. He has history with Shanahan and never acted foolish until McDaniels took over.

    He's also a taller reciever who is fimilar with Shanahan's offensive system.

    Another option might be trading Moss or Cooley and a draft pick for Anquan Boldin. His physical style of football would fit right in here.

    Whatever moves we make we can't trade our 1rst rounder which we have to use on a LT.

  2. The question with Marshall has always been motivation, and his recurring problem with drops. He's been targeted enough the last few years that the drops don't show up in his numbers as much, but we already have enough butterfingered ball-catchers on the roster...the names Moss, Randle El, and CB Carlos Rogers come to mind.

    If a player has to be traded, I think Moss is the most likely. Randle El is still servicable slot receiver, a good blocker as said in the above post, but has little or no trade value; and with the development of Thomas/Kelly/Mitchell there will likely be three serviceable WRs.
    I can't see the offense needing more than that with Cooley and Davis on the field; even going five wide, between three WRs/two TEs/one or two pass-catching RBs we should be set.

    The question therefore becomes, who will return punts? And I mean return, not fair-catch or get tackled for a loss. Thomas? Kelly? Westbrook? Even Hall, although he might be a bit delicate for full-time work...anything's better than the staus quo

  3. I wouldn't think Shanahan would let Marshall anywhere near the Redskins. Check out this story:
    Shanahan would have run Marshall right out of town if he hadn't gotten fired before he could pull the trigger.

    I love Anquan Boldin as a player, but he's always hurt and there's no way we're getting him without giving up that high first rounder.

    I don't think we have the depth at receiver to trade Santana. The only positions where we could possible have depth to trade away are tight end or strong safety.

  4. Maybe I spoke too soon a moment ago when I said we couldn't get Boldin without giving up the first rounder. This is from a Rotoworld blurb:

    "Though the Cardinals are expected to ask for a second-rounder, it's believed that Boldin could ultimately be had for a third."

  5. Excellent research on both of the above. I would disagree that TE and SS are the only places we might be able to trade, but only on a limited basis...
    Looking at Green Bay after they switched to a 3-4 defense, they had very little use for Aaron Kampman; they in fact played better after he was injured. In Andre Carter we have a very similar player who really doesn't fit that scheme but has played solidly for years in a 4-3. He might not command a draft pick in a trade, but player-for-player there's plenty of potential.

    True about Moss, also. Although he would have trade value we'd be without a #1 receiver at all.