By now, you’ve heard all about Redskins draft pick Leonard Hankerson’s big hands and healthy confidence. The day after they selected Hankerson in the third round, the Redskins went for size and big-play capability again, drafting 6-foot-1, 220-pound Niles Paul out of Nebraska.
In Paul, the Redskins believe they have a versatile receiver capable of shining on both offense and special teams.
The Cornhuskers are known for running the ball, so Paul’s opportunities weren’t that plentiful. But he still managed to produce one of the best careers of any Nebraska receiver during his four seasons in Lincoln. His 103 career receptions for 1,532 yards rank fifth in school history, and his 1,887 kick return yards rank second on Nebraska’s all-time list.
As a senior, Paul recorded 39 catches for a team-high 516 yards while also averaging 24.2 yards a kick return and 11.4 yards per punt return.
The year before, Paul had 40 catches for 796 yards (19.9 yards per catch) and four touchdowns and averaged 27.9 yards on kick returns.
Paul’s senior numbers weren’t what he had hoped for partially because he missed two games with a foot injury. He is confident that he would have compiled bigger numbers had Nebraska’s offense not featured his good friend and fellow Redskins’ draft pick Roy Helu. so heavily.
“I’m a physical receiver, who’s not afraid to do dirty work and can go in there and block when I have to,” said Paul, who ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. “I can make plays. I thought I was going to get to make a lot of plays, but I spent a lot of time blocking for my boy Roy. But I do think, pound for pound, I was one of the better receivers in the draft. Just from a production standpoint, I didn’t have the numbers.”
Said Shanahan: “He’s a tough guy. He’s got good size: 220-pound range. He’s one of the better blockers, he can return punts, kickoffs, very competitive. Now you get to throw him into the mix. He’s a little bigger than the guys we have had. You know he’ll be able to help right away on special teams and have a chance to grow as a receiver.”
Given that Paul is seven inches taller and roughly 70 pounds heavier than second-year kick returner Brandon Banks, he could prove more durable. But Shanahan said the acquisition of Paul isn’t an indication that the Redskins are no longer confident in Banks. Instead, he said, “You never know if a guy will go down, get hurt, and you want special teams in your background. … The more depth you can have on your football team, the better off you’re going to be.”
Paul says he has overcome obstacles both “on and off the field.”
“On the field stuff stuff, I made some mistakes on the field,” Paul says. “But I’m really the type of dude where you back me into the corner, I’m going to come out fighting. I feel like I play my best ball when people criticize me.”
The off-field incidents include a DUI charge as a junior, and consumption of alcohol and public urination charges a year ago.
“I’ve grown and learned from [those incidents] in so many different ways,” Paul says. “I’m more mature now.”
Paul credits Helu for getting him “back on track,” and said the two read the Bible together daily last season. Paul said he discussed his past with Shanahan and the Redskins coaches during his interviews, and was completely honest and upfront.
Because of that, Shanahan didn’t have any reservations drafting Paul. He said he believes the receiver has changed.
“I think if you really go into detail and really look what happened, you see a little bit of a mistake there,” Shanahan said. “I think he addressed it through the media. He’s really a quality kid, talking to his coaches and people that have coached him. I don’t think you have to worry about any character issues with him. So I feel very good about him.”