Taking a look at each position group for the Washington Redskins entering training camp. Today: Receiver
Returning starters: DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon
Key additions: Jamison Crowder, Evan Spencer
Key losses: Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson
Up for grabs: Another spot where there isn't grand uncertainty. That's not to say one of the young players can't end up playing more, but nobody is going to bump Garcon or Jackson from the starting lineup. The question is, can one of the younger players wrestle time away from Andre Roberts? Not sure about that yet; while young players such as Ryan Grant show promise and look good in camp, so, too, did Roberts a year ago. He was a guy quarterbacks trusted because of his precise routes. So it's very possible Roberts will look good again this camp.
Five or six?: As in, how many receivers will they keep? My guess would be six, enabling Spencer to be part of the final roster. He gives the Redskins something they've lacked in recent years: a receiver who can be a help on special teams as something other than a returner (in addition to being a good blocker from scrimmage). At this point, I have a hard time seeing any other receiver threaten for a roster spot, barring injury.
Boom/bust: Jackson recorded six games of 100 or more yards receiving and five in which he finished with less than 40. I wonder if the Redskins can have even more success finding him for big plays this season. Last year, the quarterbacks at times were reluctant to throw deep to him because he appeared to be covered. They were instructed: Throw it anyway. They need to trust Jackson will do what he often does and pull away at the last minute to make the catch. Despite the learning curve, he still had five more catches of 40-plus yards than any receiver in the NFL. Griffin missed him a few times -- two or three happened vs. Tampa Bay -- so that must change as well. The good news for Washington: The plays to Jackson are available. He's also a reason why teams did not use a lot of eight-man fronts. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Redskins faced an eight-man front 78 times (16th most in the NFL) but ranked fifth in average yards per pass attempt (8.38) vs. that look. Credit Jackson's presence for limiting eight-man fronts. Oh, one more thing on Jackson. If you've spent the offseason focused heavily on your outside activities, you best need to keep producing during the season.
Garcon's role: While there's a lot of talk about this being a key season for other players, it's one for Garcon as well. He counts $10.25 million vs. the cap in 2016, so he'd need a strong season to justify that hit. If the Redskins decided he was too expensive, he could renegotiate his deal or be willing to go elsewhere. Either way, he needs better numbers than the 68 catches he had in 2014. Garcon averaged only 4.85 yards after the catch, his lowest figure in three seasons with Washington. His strength is his ability to get tough yards after the catch, particularly on screens. But he was not used as often in that manner last season; his average air yard per target of 9.51 was the most over the past three years. But that also speaks to the lack of separation he's getting downfield; in 2012 a lot was created for him by play design and fakes. The Redskins want to get him more involved -- they said so during the season and again in the offseason. Moving him around a little more could help, but so, too, could having him be more of a factor on third downs.
Keep an eye on: Grant. He has fans all over the organization -- some who were not around last year as well -- and he should. He's one of the better young route runners I've seen in Washington and he approaches the game in a mature fashion. He's not flashy, he just works on his craft.
Outlook: It's a solid group and, if Grant and Crowder come through, a potentially deep one. Both have skills that can translate to success, even if it's in a smaller role. Crowder's feet make him dangerous; he has the ability to feel defensive pressure and blindly cut accordingly. The Redskins don't have Odell Beckham Jr. or Dez Bryant, but they do have, potentially, excellent depth. The Redskins have a deep threat in Jackson and a tough intermediate guy in Garcon. But they absolutely need Roberts to produce more. I've used this stat a few times this offseason, but quarterbacks had, by far, their worst passer rating when throwing to Roberts with Kirk Cousins having the best mark at 54.4. Here's a look at the quarterbacks passer ratings with various targets. If Roberts makes more of an impact, this could be a very good group. But he has to improve, Grant has to translate practice success to games and Crowder has to show he can help as a rookie. It's possible, but will it happen?