The Washington Redskins’ red-zone offense received a boost when they signed receiver Terrelle Pryor. They might have received another one by drafting Samaje Perine. And, suddenly, a red-zone offense that struggled throughout last season could be much better.
The Redskins' offense lost a lot of production when they allowed Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, both 1,000-yard receivers, to depart via free agency. But even their presence could not help the red-zone efficiency in 2016. Washington ranked 29th in this area.
Meanwhile, Perine scored 49 touchdowns at Oklahoma, excelling in short-yardage situations in part because he's built low and strong at 5-foot-11, 233 pounds and runs with excellent balance.
"He's gifted man," said Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. "His strength shows up and his vision shows up and he has a great feel for getting the ball in the end zone. There were times we didn’t block it up perfectly that he won. There were times we'd scheme it up so there’s only one free hitter, and a lot of times he’d run through or around that person to make it happen. He has a great skill set for it and I would think he’d be an impact guy in that scenario."
Last year's starter, Robert Kelley, didn’t have great success inside the 20. There were a combination of issues, but the bottom line is he averaged 2.41 yards per carry in the red zone (22nd in the NFL) and only 1.16 yards after first contact (ranking 18th). Just running more isn't the only recipe for success. There were top-10 red-zone offenses that threw more (New Orleans, Green Bay), others who were run-heavy (New England) and those who were balanced (Dallas, Tennessee).
The threat of both, though, helps. That's why it's not just about adding Perine. It's also Pryor, who could now team with multiple targets for red-zone success: receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed. And Pryor would be replacing one guy (Jackson), who struggled in the red zone.
The Redskins will miss Jackson's speed as a deep threat, capable of changing a game with one play. But he was not effective inside the 20-yard line, with only five catches in 12 attempts the past two seasons combined. It wasn’t just about his size; Crowder, smaller than Jackson but a more versatile route-runner, caught 14 passes (out of 25 attempts) with five touchdowns over the same period -- including one on, gasp, a well-run fade route from the slot position.
Garcon was OK here, with 13 catches and six touchdowns in 28 attempts thanks to his ability to muscle through traffic.
But Pryor offers more size at nearly 6-foot-5. With Cleveland last season, Pryor caught 9 of 14 passes with four touchdowns in the red zone.
Josh Doctson could help -- he's 6-foot-2 and jumps well, but must prove himself as a route-runner in this area. During a conversation in March, Pryor said his quarterback days -- and a desire to learn -- have helped him in the red zone. On certain routes, some receivers start too fast and mess up the timing with the quarterback. So, for example, on a fade Pryor knows he must be patient, create separation by starting inside and nudging back wide. If you don't do the former, the route won’t be open.
"That’s something I learned from Carson Palmer," Pryor said of the Arizona quarterback. "A lot of times he had a problem with Chad Johnson [while in Cincinnati]. He'd be in the gun, so Carson would have to catch the ball and find the laces quick. Down there you have to be precise. Chad would beat his guy and the guy caught up [because the route was too fast]. It’s hard to make that throw.
"Carson would look over to Chad and put his pointer finger and point at his teeth. That would mean take his time at the line. Be slow. He needs to catch the ball from the gun and it gives him time to throw to the proper spot."
All of that would help Cousins. Two years ago he threw 22 touchdowns with no interceptions in the red zone, completing 64.1 percent of his passes (fourth in the NFL). Last season, as defenses used more zone trying to take away Reed, Cousins threw 14 touchdowns and two interceptions, completing 47.5 percent of his passes -- 24th in the NFL.
The Redskins needed stronger choices here and, through free agency and the draft, might have found them.