Saturday, August 13, 2011

Redskins position preview: Receivers

I will be posting some notes on the preseason game after this, but wanted to get this up since I had it mostly written before the game started. So before I start rewatching last night's performance, here's another entry of the continuing depth chart review.

Here's the original receiver projection:

Wide Receivers
Starters: Santana Moss, Jabar Gaffney
3rd WR: Anthony Armstrong
Backup WRs: Leonard Hankerson, Niles Paul, Brandon Banks
Notable cuts: Donte Stallworth, Aldrick Robinson, Malcolm Kelly, Terrence Austin

Jabar Gaffney, in my opinion, was a great little pickup. I exchange for a fourth or fifth defensive lineman, we got ourselves a guy who is almost certainly going to be a starter at a position of dire need.  He's not an exciting receiver. He is a possession guy that will run good routes and always be where the quarterback expects him to be.  Paired with Santana he will provide little deep threat but plenty of opportunities for whoever our mediocre quarterback is to move the chains and sustain drives. He is the perfect acquisition because he stabilizes a key position now but with a small enough investment that no one will be worried about eventually giving some of his snaps to a younger guy who may earn it. He will help the team immediately, and the sooner the Redskins can replace him the better.

We already know what Santana can do, and he and Antony Armstrong round out a fairly solid (at least compared to recent years) top three. In the 3 WR sets Santana should continue to slide inside to the slot, where he is at his best anyway, while Armstrong provides a (somewhat inconsistent) deep threat from the flanker position.

Behind those three guys, however, the depth chart is probably the toughest on the team to predict.  When he was drafted, Leonard Hankerson appeared to be more likely than most receivers to contribute in the short term. However, his constant drops in camp and poor performance in the first preseason game call that into question. If these problems persist, it could be Niles Paul who is punished rather than Hankerson.

In the case of injury to one of the top three guys, the Redskins are certainly going to want another game-ready receiver on hand. The hope that Hankerson would be that guy was why I had Niles Paul making the roster in the fifth spot - they could afford to have Paul develop on the roster because he would be buried deeply enough they wouldn't need to count on him for significant playing time. But if Hankerson continues to struggle (and yes, its only the first week of preseason - a few weeks from now we could forget we were ever worried about the guy) then they will have to find a way to put Donte Stallworth on the roster. In my view Stallworth was brought in as insurance in case of injury or if the young guys aren't ready. He is easily cut if unnecessary, but has the experience to step in as a top three receiver if you don't trust the kids. The problem is, third round picks like Hankerson don't get cut. So if it is necessary to put Stallworth on the team, he probably bumps Paul. Such is the ruthless nature of NFL depth charts.

All this leave Terrence Austin in a difficult spot. I actually like Austin as a player; he is a surprisingly polished route runner despite his lack of experience. The problem is that his ceiling is probably as a quality fourth receiver. With Hankerson's roster security, Paul's upside, and Stallworth's veteran experience, Austing probably needs to count on an injury or two to even have a chance. Even his efficient kick return ability doesn't help him due to the presence of Brandon Banks.

Speaking of Banks, there's a reason I haven't talked about him competing with anyone for the sixth WR spot. I don't think Banks is competing against other receivers at all. Rather, the contest is between the value of setting aside a roster spot for a third kick returner versus the value of added depth at some other position. And if Banks is back to his pre-injury form (and last night it appears that he is) then you would be hard pressed to convince me that he will help the team less than a ninth linebacker.

As for a couple of the other recognizable names -

Aldrick Robinson seems to have little chance. He is a raw and undeveloped deep threat sort. We have other, better guys like that. And his kick return ability is also duplicated elsewhere.

And as I have said repeatedly in the past, until he proves he can stay healthy, Malcolm Kelly does not exist.

Previous position previews:
Defensive line

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