The Washington Redskins dressed five of their seven wide receivers Sunday, with rookie fifth-round pick Niles Paul beating out veteran Donte Stallworth and third-round pick Leonard Hankerson for the last spot.
During the preseason, Paul recorded four catches for 92 yards, and averaged 9.8 yards a punt return and 32.5 yards on kickoffs. He also impressed coaches with his ability on coverage teams, and when it came time to make a decision on Sunday, the Nebraska product got the nod.
“We believe in all seven guys, otherwise we wouldn’t have had them on our 53,” Shanahan said. “But Niles Paul, by far, has been a guy that can work on special teams. He’s been very consistent all the way through the preseason games and the way he’s practiced.”
On Sunday’s kick return units, Paul played at the upback spot (Brandon Banks’ lead blocker), which was manned by Byron Westbrook the last couple of years. Paul also lined up deep on punt returns in case teams tried to kick away from Banks. On kickoff units, Paul played the spot that usually belonged to Mike Sellers. He saw four snaps as a wide receiver (all of them in the second half), but wasn’t targeted on any of the plays.
“I busted my butt all throughout training camp and hopefully I can continue to grow as a player and as a receiver and stay active,” Paul said. “As of now, I’m just focusing on me doing what I can, all I can, on special teams and to play my role on this team. Obviously we’ve got ‘Tana,’ Jabar, Anthony and those guys in there making their plays. Me as a receiver, I’m just a role player as of now. I just continue to play my role and that’s what I’m focused on.”
Shanahan said Paul’s well-rounded play and special teams contributions gave him the edge over Stallworth, but added that the decision wasn’t an easy one.
“Donté Stallworth has been right up there, but there have been questions which direction we were going to go and we had our top five,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes it’s tough to make those decisions, because you could go either way. I have a lot of belief in these guys. Hankerson is a little bit further behind, but it doesn’t mean he’s not going to be a great player, but he just has to keep on working...to consistently show the coaches that he’ll be ready to play on game day.”