A few days after the Redskins’ 31-28 win over the Ravens, Coach Mike Shanahan offered praise for second-year wide receiver Leonard Hankerson.
“I thought he played excellent,” Shanahan said. “He had 25 plays and really looked good on all of them. He didn’t get the ball all the time, but he was open almost every time. I was pretty impressed with how he handled himself.”
Hankerson had four receptions for 67 yards against Baltimore on Dec. 9, including a 29-yard catch in the first quarter as Washington drove toward its second touchdown and a 15-yarder on Kirk Cousins’s first play of the game after he replaced Robert Griffin III in the fourth quarter.
“He separated as good as anyone, he separates when we go to him,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “And I really liked Hank catching balls with his hands and really trying to get up the field, making guys tackle him making them bring him down.”
Arguably more significant than the key catches Hankerson made against the Ravens, though, was the consistency and confidence the 23-year-old showed in the outing. The next test for Hankerson is to show he can continue the trend and follow up one strong performance with another Sunday at Cleveland.
It’s been an uneven season for Hankerson, who is still finding his way in the NFL. He’s had as many clutch receptions as unfortunate drops. Despite signs that he may be finding a rhythm, Hankerson downplayed the suggestion of a transformation to his game.
“I feel like I’ve been playing the same way since the start of the season,” Hankerson said. “I don’t feel like anything’s changed or anything like that. I’ve been blocking pretty good the whole season and whenever the ball comes to me I try to make a play. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
While Hankerson may not necessarily be the go-to recipient on the Redskins’ passing plays, he takes a considerable amount of pride in his ability to support the run game by blocking. Kyle Shanahan singled out his ability to keep defenders at bay, thus freeing up space for Griffin or any of the Redskins’ running backs to break free. It’s those contributions, Hankerson said, that prevent him from being frustrated by how many catches he does or doesn’t get during any given game.
“Whether you’re catching a pass or not catching a pass, whether it’s blocking and opening up a long run, you’re going to feel good,” Hankerson said. “Say you go the whole game without getting a catch, [but] you spring a run for 30, 40 yards. You’re going to be pumped up, just as excited as everybody else cause we out there doing our jobs.”