Today we continue a new series of articles looking at each position on the Washington Redskins and rating them for strength and weaknesses, from starters to reserve players. This is part of run-up to Redskins training camp 2010, where DC Pro Sports Report coverage will be bigger and better than ever before.
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Yesterday we covered Quarterbacks. We continue our positional analyses with Wide Receivers.
Outgoing: Antwaan Randle El [released], Marko Mitchell [released]
Incoming: Joey Galloway [free agent], Bobby Wade [free agent], Mike Furrey [free agent], Roydell Williams [free agent] Terrence Austin [draft, 7th round], Brandon Banks [rookie free agent], Shay Hodge [rookie free agent]
Holdovers: Santana Moss, Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, Anthony Armstrong
The wide receiver position was a complete mess last year, as Santana Moss slumped to a career-worst 12.9 yards per catch [70 receptions, 902 yards, 3 TD] and made only a handful of big plays all year. Antwaan Randle El [50 catches, 530 yards, 0 TD] was mediocre, as usual, making virtually no big plays and getting himself replaced as the punt returner. The Redskins wisely let him leave. Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly both continued to disappoint and struggle with injuries. Kelly [25 catches, 347 yards, 0 TD] won the starting job initially, but lost it after five games due to his inability to get open or catch passes, two things normally required of a wide receiver. Devin Thomas [25 catches, 325 yards, 3 TD] took over as the starter, but did no better, apart from one big game against the Saints. Thomas eventually missed the last two games due to injury. The lack of production from the other wide receiver position allowed defenses to roll coverage to Santana Moss, making it difficult for him to get open deep and make plays in the open field. The fact that the Redskins got only 3 TD catches from their top 4 wideouts tells you a lot about the problems with the passing game in 2009.
Some of the problems from last year can be blamed on an incompetent coaching staff and an offensive line that simply did not permit Redskins quarterbacks or play-callers to envision making a lot of plays down the field. Nevertheless, much blame for the lack of production from this position must be laid upon Thomas and Kelly, who have throughly failed to look like real NFL players during their first two seasons in the NFL.
Unlike Vinny Cerrato and Jim Zorn, Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan have no ties to to Malcolm Kelly or Devin Thomas and no reputational reasons to keep them around if they don't perform. With all the new [but old] faces at this position at Redskins Park these days, it's pretty clear Shanahan isn't exactly overwhelmed by the talent and production of Kelly and Thomas. There are 11 wide receivers on the team roster right now, most of them past their prime [Galloway, Furrey, Wade] or unproven and unheralded [Armstrong, Hodge, Austin, Banks]. In desperation, Shanahan is just grabbing as many warm bodies as possible and hoping at least one of them decides to impress him.
Furrey and Wade are dependable, if unspectacular possession receivers who will catch most balls thrown their way, but don't expect them to make big plays, stretch a defense or scare a secondary coach. Galloway still has pretty decent speed, but not enough to make up for his lack of size, and he's missed 20 games the past two seasons. Galloway was never the hardiest of players and that's unlikely to improve with age.
Armstrong spent some time with the Dolphins and the Arena Football League before landing on the Redskins practice squad last year. He's looked great during this offseason, but he's never proven anything in a real game and will have to tear it up in the preseason to make the roster.
Austin is too skinny to ever be reliable as a wideout, I suspect, so he'll need to make a real impression as a return specialist if he's going to make the roster. Banks is tiny [about 5'7"] and may also need to make a splash on special teams to fulfill his long-shot dream.
If he's healthy again, the team basically knows what it can expect from Santana Moss, assuming the NFL doesn't suspend him for as-yet unproven doping violations. The big question is whether anyone else at this position is capable of playing at the level expected of an NFL starting wide receiver. The early indications are not good and if they prove accurate the Redskins offense will once again struggle to make big plays, stretch defenses and come from behind to win games. Some improvement in the passing game can be expected with the addition of Donovan McNabb, as well as improved blocking and coaching, but eventually it's going to come down to whether or not someone not named Moss -- probably Thomas or Kelly -- can make plays consistently. If they can't, the Redskins offense will let the team down again.