Saturday, April 30, 2011

Redskins 3rd round pick Leonard Hankerson

So far, WR Leonard Hankerson is the draft pick I'm the most excited about. This guy sounds like my kind of receiver.  Let's look at the my favored draft websites to see the particular characteristics that make me think he can contribute.

From NFL Draft Breakdown:
“...nice long arms that he uses to create separation against press coverage... great leaping ability... A hard worker, Hankerson has worked diligently to improve his game and has gotten better every single year. NFL teams will love his make-up as he is a high character and mature player"
NFL Draft Countdown:

          • Displays outstanding body control and ball skills
          • Polished route runner who knows how to get open
          • Understands how to use frame to his advantage
          • Tough and isn't afraid to work across the middle

These sites are describing not only a good receiver, but the type of receiver that the Redskins have been seeking for years.  For how many years now have  we all said to each other that the Redskins need a prototypical "big receiver?" All previous options have been busts. But it is apparent that this is a man who knows his craft, as opposed to an athlete who must learn to play the position correctly. Now no rookie receiver is a sure thing, but all the talk above about his route running skills and work ethic mean this may be the best chance we've had in a while. And there's even more reason to hope for early success:

Breakdown: “nice long arms that he uses to create separation against press coverage”

Countdown: "Physical and can beat jam at the line of scrimmage"

CBS Sports: “Able to defeat the initial jam with his hands and good lateral agility”

This is huge. There is a lot of technique and nuance to releasing cleanly into routes, and many receivers who bust do so because they never pick up this particular skill. It would appear we can cross this common concern off the list.

It gets even better. As you know if you read this site regularly, I like well rounded players and tend to fixate on the blocking abilities of running backs and receivers. And the fact is that wide receiver blocking is the most underrated aspect of any succesful running game.

Countdown: "Good strength and more than capable as a blocker"

Breakdown: “Hankerson is a finesse blocker and only displays marginal strength. He is willing to block however...”

CBS Sports: “Provides a good initial pop to the defender, but doesn't latch on with intensity consistently. Will look to help his teammates with a downfield block.”

You may note that the second and third quotes are actually mostly critical, but they don't bother me too much. Because the key is the willingess to block. A lot of receivers seem to just think they're above blocking, and this guy does not. If the technique is poor, well then that's why coaches get paid. The fact that he wants to block means the coaches will have something to work with.

But surely there must be downside somewhere or this guys wouldn't have slipped to the third round. The reason for that appears to be that teams are almost always fixated on finding "playmakers" in the first two round, so speed and perceived "deep threat" seem to be key to getting drafted high. Well that's just not who Hankerson is:


• Average speed, lacks a burst, and isn't explosive
• Will likely struggle to get separation in the pros
• Isn't shifty or elusive as a runner after catch
• Not a deep threat and won't stretch field vertically

“He struggles to get his hips low and explode out of cuts. Hankerson takes time to build up to top speed and is not overly explosive off the snap. He creates separation by being a smart football player and setting up his breaks well.”
The thing is, though, that I am not one of those people who uses the term "possession receiver" derisively. An inability to consistently move the chains has hamstrung the Redskins for years. Anthony Armstrong and either Santana Moss or his free agent replacement will be here to stretch the field.With Hankerson we have a guy who will work the middle and make catches in traffic to sustain drives. Not exciting or flashy, but exactly what this offense badly needs.

I rarely have much confidence in young receivers, but given the current state of the Redskins depth chart and the particular aspects of his game that are garnering praise, Hankerson has a better chance than most of cracking the top three at his position and helping this team as a rookie.

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