Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Redskins position preview: Wide receivers

Confidence Level: 3

Another look back at my earlier attempt to project the 53-man roster:

Wide Receivers (6 Keepers)
Keepers: Santana Moss, Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, Bobby Wade, Mike Furrey, Terrence Austin
Cuts: Joey Galloway, Brandon Banks, Roydell Williams, Shay Hodges, Anthony Armstrong

There has been much focus this offseason on the perceived slow development of the Redskins two young receivers (who by the way have been referred to as The Two Young Receivers for some time now) as they enter their third season. There has even been speculation that one of them could even not make the final roster. The most likely victim in this scenario would be Malcolm Kelly, who despite putting up similar numbers to Devin Thomas does not appear to have refined his game much. The fact that he has already lost training camp time to his constantly recurring injury issues means his job could be in jeopardy simply because he never gets a chance to get on the field. I have him on my 53 man roster projection, but mostly because I am unimpressed with the various veterans who would replace him.

I am quite a bit more optimistic about Devin Thomas because he displayed a very encouraging progression last season. After being invisible early on, he gradually gained more and more chance to show off his extreme athleticism. He developed into Jason Campbell’s go-to safety valve on the many, many occasions when Campbell was running for his life. Of course we all know that speed and athleticism by themselves don’t get you too far in the NFL, and it was telling that Thomas only showed up in an improvisational fashion on broken plays. However as the year went on he was Jason’s primary read more and more often, and increasingly often the passes were timed to hit Thomas as he came out of his break, which I took as an indication that he had significantly improved his route running - a skill difficult to judge with TV camera angles.  He is also, in the words of a representative YBF commenter, “SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO DAMN FINE,” so he has that going for him too I guess.

Old friend Santana Moss seems pretty secure as the top receiver. Santana would probably be better off in the slot where he would face less press coverage and favorable matchups would be schemed for him, but there seems to be little chance of finding two good receivers to free him up by manning the flanker and split end spots. Moss isn’t quite ready for the glue factory just yet, but it probably says something that late in ’09 the WR screens, quick hitches, and other plays designed to get the ball into a playmaker’s hand and give him a chance to run were increasingly directed to Thomas. It was a pretty noticeable changing of the guard. That said, If the tight ends and at least one other receiver can perform well enough to keep the defense from focusing on Moss, he can still be a useful and occasionally exciting receiver.

So if Moss and and Devin Thomas are likely the #1 and #2 receivers, and Kelly stands a decent chance of ending up farther down the depth chart or off the team, then who is the #3?

A number of questionable veterans have been brought in to shore up the questionable depth. Joey Galloway has gotten the most attention, but to me he makes the least sense. Just for starters, he’s a 38 year old speed receiver. He’s been a non-factor the last two seasons, and the Patriots clearly considered his signing in ’09 to be a complete failure. He’s had himself a nice career, but I just can’t take him seriously (and yes I know that he lined up as a starter for the first two days of training camp – but I have a hard time seeing that as anything other than one of Shanahan’s motivational ploys).

Roydell Williams has been out of football for the last two seasons, so he would have to be considered a longshot to make the team as well until he proves he can still have a viable NFL career. Mike Furrey has only been truly productive in Mike Martz’s offense in Detroit, but I put him in the final 53 more or less by default due to my lack of faith in Galloway or Williams.

Bobby Wade probably makes the most sense, because he is just the kind of safe and boring receiver that a team with serious questions at the position needs. Last year’s Football Outsiders Almanac even described him as “mediocre wide receiver comfort food… He’s steady and works hard, so teams know what they’re getting…” Not exactly inspiring praise, but it means there’s little risk of him being a bust. And given that the tight ends are expected to play a large role in the passing game, he would really only be asked to play a depth role. If the Redskins top pass catchers are Santana, Thomas, Fred Davis, and Chris Cooley, then whoever gets the #3 receiver job won’t need to be featured nearly as prominently as usual.

Given the ubiquity of age and/or injury risk here, it seems almost certain that at least 5 receivers would need to be kept. I gave the benefit of the doubt here to Terrence Austin on the grounds that a) he was a draft pick, albeit a 7th rounder, and b) he might make the team purely as a kick returner.  Brandon Banks qualifies on teh second point as well, but I'm sorry I'll believe that a guy listed at 150 can make a NFL roster when I actually see it happen. 

There are a couple other longshots: undrafted rookie Shay Hodge and second year practice squad guy Anthony Armstrong. It is practically a training camp tradition for some obscure wide receiver to make a few plays in the 4th quarter of a preseason came and convince many fans and some of the media that he is an undiscovered star... shortly before getting cut and never being heard from again.  But if ever there was a wide receiver corps that left an opening for an unknown to make the team with a strong performance, this is it.

Next up: Tight ends

Previous position previews:

Defensive line
Defensive backs
Offensive line
Running backs


  1. Austin has also been playing well in training camp according to multiple reports. (But then again, it is training camp) I'd really like Kelly to get healthy for once and take the #3 spot, but he just seems to be injured all the time.

  2. Looks like Roydell is getting a lot more attention from the team. He's been listed in front of Devin Thomas in the early going, and Mike seems happy with him.

  3. Yep. It would also appear I have understimated Galloway.