Through July, I will be running positional breakdowns for the Washington Redskins. Each assessment will be broken down into four areas: Past Statistics, Experience/Potential, Positional Competition, and Intangibles.
Today we’ll take a look at one of the most maligned group on the Redskins roster from 2008: the wideouts. There are a couple of known commodities and several unknowns, but there are a few things about this position that are certain. The wide receiver position was one of the most inconsistent and unreliable positions as a whole in 2008, and they must find more weapons and soon, or the entire offense, and ultimately the whole team will suffer as a result.
We’ve already examined the tight ends, but they’re going to be lumped in here a little bit also. The Redskins’ Receivers as a whole made up the 22nd best group in the NFL in 2008. They collectively racked up 3291 yards over the course of the season on 265 receptions. Out of those numbers, the wide receivers collected 159 catches or about sixty percent of the offense. This is not a terrible number for a west coast offense considering that the team has such weapons like Chris Cooley as well as Clinton Portis out of the backfield. In comparison, the top passing offense (the Saints) only had about 49% of their passes hauled in by receivers. However, the only wide receiver in the top 50 in catches, yards, and first downs was Santana Moss. Behind Cooley and Moss, the Redskins lack any sort of an elite talent that shows itself on the field. Randle El had a nice little season for a 3rd receiver (53 catches for 593 yards), but it’s obvious that they need a true number two guy. Moss has proven himself as a deep threat with fifteen catches of 20+ yards, but Randle El and the rest of the group only combined for six. Unless the wide receivers can spread the field, the offense will be limited in running the football and looking for tight ends in the red zone.
Moss and Randle El will both be on the wrong side of 30 by the opening game of the 2009 season. Both have nice hands and are great components to a passing game. Unfortunately, both struggle to hit 5’10” in their measurable, and that doesn’t scare many people. Randle El has become a very reliable possession receiver, but he must stay healthy and find ways to stay open against bigger cover corners as well as linebackers (when he’s lined up in the slot). Everyone in the league knows that the Redskins have talent on the outside, but they don’t have reliable size, so they adjust their defenses accordingly. That brings me to the young guys. There is a lot of possible potential on the roster. We’ve already touched on Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly in previous posts, but at least one must find a way to become a difference maker and soon. Both stand taller than 6’2” and have the athleticism to frustrate defensive coordinators, but both showed an unwillingness (or inability) to work hard enough to crack the gameday roster regularly in 2008. Again, the wide receivers must be able to stretch the field for Jason Campbell in order to help the running game and tight ends, so Kelly and Thomas find themselves in the pressure cooker in 2009.
The most interesting factor here might be the departure of longtime vet and special teamer James Thrash. Between Moss, Randle El, Kelly and Thomas, there should be only one more spot available for a newcomer. Enter Roydell Williams, Marko Mitchell, Keith Eloi and Marques Hagans. Williams is a four year vet that started his career in Tennessee. He was a fourth round draft pick and had his best season in 2007 before a foot injury sidelined him and led to his release prior to last season. Williams has decent size at 6’0”, but he’s a little light, weighing in at only 187 lbs. Mitchell was a seventh round draft pick in 2009 and was a big force for Nevada in college (literally). He checks in at 6’4”, 218, and has big play ability, averaging over 18 yards per carry over his collegiate career. His highlights can be seen here. His big knock is that he tends to catch the ball close to his body, but he has the big hands to adjust. Eloi is a physical freak (as evidenced below) out of Nebraska-Omaha. He’s got a size disadvantage but ridiculous leaping ability, and also carries value as a strong returner. Hagans is a converted quarterback from (vomit) UVA, who never impressed me as a particularly great athlete, but always seemed to have a good bit of fight in him. He’s also smallish at 5’10” 205, and has nine career receptions for 108 yards. Whichever guy comes out of this group could have a big impact this season, especially considering the injury history of Malcolm Kelly and the willingness for the coaching staff to find a playmaker to compliment Moss.
While this group doesn’t have a lot of size (that contributes yet at least), the veterans have heart. Moss and Randle El have no fear in going against bigger guys and running through the middle of the field. Both have made a strong effort with the young guys this offseason, and have a great team-first attitude. Whether or not that translates to the field will be a big question, but the young receivers certainly aren’t short of leaders ahead of them. The only big loss here is the leadership and tenacity of a guy like James Thrash, who was a HUGE locker room guy and a fan favorite.
The Redskins have a great deal of untapped potential, and could be one of the better units in the league if they can develop their young talent. However, they will be handcuffed if that talent doesn’t show a better work ethic and willingness to learn this time around. If Kelly and Thomas don’t turn around their careers quickly, they will be thrown into the bust pile and could set back the offense quite a bit. I don’t look for Kelly to have a huge impact this season considering his ongoing knee problems, but I do believe that Devin Thomas will improve on his 2008, and will probably throw in 30-40 catches. That should be enough to take some pressure off this group, but they certainly will remain one of the weak links on the roster in 2009.