The Washington Redskins had little depth at receiver last season, and lacked a dynamic playmaker among their starters. Pierre Garcon caught a lot of passes, but for his 113 catches he only averaged 11.9 yards per catch and caught just five touchdown passes. So they signed Andre Roberts and then DeSean Jackson, the latter solving the playmaker problem in a big way.
But they still need depth. Leonard Hankerson might not be ready until mid to late August and he’s had durability issues in the NFL. Aldrick Robinson is a fine backup and Santana Moss would be as well. However, the Redskins needed more than just this group.
That’s why they’re looking at signing more receivers and that’s why they had Anthony Armstrong and Austin Collie in for workouts. Neither had signed as of Friday afternoon. But if you’re looking for depth, you’re not just going to look to the draft or undrafted free agents. Far from guarantees.
Which is why they brought in Armstrong and Collie. They’ve combined for 10 catches the past two seasons. They’re players you bring in because you need to fill out your 90-man roster and you want legitimate competition. You can’t just bring in a bunch of undrafted guys and perhaps one draft pick.
But, also, boosting special teams play has been a big focal point this offseason. The Redskins received little help on special teams from receiver last season (or a number of other positions for that matter). A guy like Armstrong would help special teams (if he's even signed and then, of course, makes the roster).
Let’s stick with receivers for a minute. Roberts told me last month he was frustrated with his role in Arizona last year as a No. 3 receiver (his targets dropped by 41 from the previous year) and he signed here because he’d serve as a No. 2. With Jackson and Garcon ahead of him, that’s no longer the case. I don't blame him for now wondering what his role will be. If I went to a new company thinking I'd be filling one role and then later find out they're bringing in someone more expensive to fill a similar role, I'd wonder, too. So would anybody.
Four receivers were targeted at least 70 times by Cincinnati, where Jay Gruden coached last season. And in 2012, three receivers received at least 80 attempts. There was a rather big disparity, however, between how many passes A.J. Green got compared to the others (70 more than anyone else in 2012; 98 more last season). There is not the same dropoff in quality from 1-3 in Washington this year as there was in Cincinnati the past two years.
The problem, a nice one to have, is that Washington also has an excellent tight end in Jordan Reed. How can they keep everyone happy (and that includes running back Alfred Morris)? By winning. This is a business, but players will sacrifice numbers if they know it results in winning. And with Jackson on board, everyone will have to give up something. Garcon won’t catch 113 passes again; it wasn’t healthy for the offense, anyway. But with Jackson he can be more productive on his catches and won’t always have to be the guy on smoke routes or receiver screens.
And I don’t worry about Garcon. He’s an emotional player, but the guy always plays hard and will still be their best all-around receiver. He’s their most physical wideout for sure and will break more tackles after the catch. Garcon is tough to bring down. I've heard good things about Roberts, too. But this will be interesting to watch how it unfolds.
The guy who must handle it all is quarterback Robert Griffin III. If guys are getting enough chances and the team is winning, then all is good. It helps that none of the top receivers’ contracts are up in the next two years. There’s no immediate contract they’re trying to secure; all have been paid. But Griffin will have to hit more on his downfield throws than last year. It’s not just about improved protection in the pocket, either. The better he gets from the pocket, the more passes they can complete downfield.
Jackson will help open things up, but so too will not falling behind as much or as fast. So, too, will the run game as play-action passes with these weapons would be difficult to defend. There are enough ways they can improve their downfield passing game; adding Jackson helps but it's not the only thing that will make a difference.