Taking a look at the Washington Redskins' rookies and how they performed this season, watching at least three of their games -- in the beginning, middle and end of the season -- to measure their progress.
Player: Jamison Crowder
Round selected: Fourth
Stats: Crowder caught 59 passes for 604 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 5.27 yards on 30 punt returns.
Games watched: New York Giants (first meeting), New Orleans, Philadelphia (second meeting), Dallas (second meeting).
The good: Crowder was a productive rookie receiver, which can be difficult to do in the NFL. From early in camp on, Crowder looked like he belonged and the Redskins wisely inserted him for Andre Roberts. Crowder is a good fit in the slot because of his quickness and ability to get open right away. When DeSean Jackson was sidelined, Crowder was a good option, as 40 of his receptions occurred when Jackson was either sidelined or had just returned from his hamstring injury. After that point, Crowder became an underneath option, but there were a handful of times when he might be free underneath but so was tight end Jordan Reed on a different route -- and that’s where the ball went. But it wasn’t always because Crowder was somehow doing anything differently. Crowder showed toughness and a willingness to block, moved his feet to stay in front of defenders and was good with his hands. He showed excellent instincts on screens, with a good sense of knowing how quickly he needed to catch, turn and accelerate. They turned into punt returns in a way for him and he was adept at darting through traffic. He works well in tandem with others -- on a few routes he held the safety’s attention, allowing Reed to catch a touchdown pass. Crowder was good out of a stack formation and vs. zone coverage, knowing the soft spots to find.
The bad: He didn’t create enough separation downfield. Crowder does not have great speed (he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds at the combine) and still needs to work on creating more separation off his fakes. Crowder absolutely destroyed some defensive backs in training camp (looking at you, Houston), but in games he didn’t always get defenders leaning to a side, for example, and therefore creating more room for himself. He did throw a nice move against Malcolm Jenkins on a seven-yard gain vs. Philadelphia in Week 16, but more often than not defenders were close to him when in man coverage. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t open but that he did not create extra separation off his initial move. But the issue was bigger when going downfield (he finished with just seven catches of 20 yards or more, three of which occurred in the regular season finale). Crowder was only targeted on 11 throws that traveled at least 15 yards or more, catching six. Crowder is best off the line; in a bunch set vs. the Eagles he was aligned on the ball and Jenkins’ jam disrupted him from the start. Crowder actually recovered OK, but his lack of size prevented him from getting free for a ball thrown his way. His impact at punt returner was nothing like I expected. Crowder gained more than 10 yards on only seven punt returns and had none that went for more than 20 yards.
Summing it up: I liked him from early in camp and throughout the season. Crowder admitted having tired legs late in the season, although he said that eventually went away. It’s hard to knock a 59-catch season for a rookie -- and when Jackson was out, you can’t ignore Crowder's productivity. He’ll be a good option for Washington next season as well. I’d like to see him create a little more separation off the line and after his initial stem. It would help him on crossing routes, pivot routes, etc. If he can create just a little more space, combined with his ability to catch and turn quickly, it would help him quite a bit. I’d like to see him do a little more damage downfield -- 46 of his receptions traveled less than 10 yards in the air. But he can hurt teams just underneath and a little more separation would be all it takes.