Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Critical year for Redskins' WR corps
By Dan Graziano
Redskins wideouts Leonard Hankerson, Pierre Garcon, and Josh Morgan need to prove they should be a part of the long-term plan in D.C.
With so much of the focus on quarterback Robert Griffin III and his recovery from knee surgery, it's easy to overlook the Washington Redskins' non-quarterback concerns. But any quarterback needs wide receivers, and whether it's going to be Griffin or Kirk Cousins under center, the Redskins' wide receiver group is obviously going to be a vital part of their quarterback's success in 2013.
But while the Redskins are likely to spend this offseason figuring out how to stack their depth chart at wide receiver, they'll spend the season working out which receivers are or are not part of the long-term plan. The Redskins are going to be built around Griffin, now and for the foreseeable future, so you'd better believe they're working hard on evaluating which of his receivers look like long-term keepers for him.
Start with Pierre Garcon, in whom the team made a heavy free-agent investment last season. Mike Shanahan targeted Garcon because he believed he had the skill set to be a true No. 1 wideout -- the size to fight for the ball downfield and the speed to turn a short route into a long touchdown -- and was young enough to grow with Griffin. Garcon turns 27 in August. Garcon surely performed like a No. 1 wideout when he was on the field in 2012, catching 44 passes for 633 yards in only 10 games, but the foot injury that cost him six games and limited him in a few others early in the season is an alarm bell. Garcon cannot continue to grow with Griffin as the go-to No. 1 guy if he can't stay healthy, and that has been an issue for him so far in his young career. The Redskins would like to see Garcon hold up for 16 games, or else they could find themselves looking for a No. 1 wideout again in a year or two.
The other free-agent wideout they signed last offseason was Josh Morgan, who gained a measure of negative fame early in the season when he literally threw away a game in St. Louis on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Morgan turns 28 this month but has always been more about promise than production, and this is likely a year in which he needs to convert a whole lot of the former into the latter. Like Garcon, Morgan is an excellent blocking wide receiver, which gives him value in Shanahan's eyes even if he's not a big-numbers part of the passing game. But if he's not a guy who needs to be accounted for by defensive backs, that's going to make Garcon's job more difficult. Morgan has the size and the skill to succeed as a wide receiver in the NFL, he just hasn't done it yet. Only once in his five-year career has he had a 100-yard receiving game. As the Redskins look ahead into Griffin's future, they're going to work to surround him with reliability. Morgan must demonstrate some.
They do like Leonard Hankerson, their third-round pick from 2011. And while the rule on receivers is to look for the breakout in the third year, Hankerson may not be on track for that just yet since he lost so much of his rookie season to a hip injury. He doesn't offer what Garcon and Morgan do as blockers, so he has to show himself to be either a big-play threat on the outside or a capable long-range replacement for Santana Moss in the slot. Griffin targeted him more (obviously) when Garcon was out, but it didn't translate into production. The Redskins believe in Hankerson's talent, but right now, if the choice is between him and Morgan for snaps, they're likely to go with the better blocker than the 24-year-old whose upside is still speculative.
Aldrick Robinson showed some ability as a home-run threat for Griffin last year, and as long as he can contribute on special teams he's likely to stay on the roster and keep finding those opportunities. Moss is still around and was productive as a slot receiver last year, but he's 34 and surely not a part of the long-range plan for Griffin. And it also will be interesting to see how many catches talented tight ends Fred Davis and Jordan Reed take away from the wideouts. But from here, I would say this looks like an important year for the three wide receivers at the top of the depth chart -- Garcon, Morgan and Hankerson -- as the Redskins look to determine who they think Griffin needs around him for the first half-decade or so of his career.