Bucky Brooks, former football player and scout and now NFL.com analyst, anointed the Washington Redskins as the best receiving corps in the league, proclaiming it is “hard to find a more complete receiving corps in the NFL.”
The Redskins have assembled a group of pass-catchers with the size (Reed checks in at 6-foot-2 and 243 pounds), speed (Jackson), explosiveness (Garcon) and quickness (Roberts) to torment defensive coordinators around the NFL. While most rosters feature a number of playmakers on the perimeter, few teams can rival the production delivered by the crew in Washington.
It’s a curious choice, especially in light of the amount of talent the Chicago Bears (ranked second by Brooks) and Denver Broncos (ranked third) – bring to the table.
Ideally, there should be a classic No. 1 receiver capable of running the entire route tree. This receiver excels at defeating double coverage while also displaying the toughness and clutch ability to deliver when the game is on the line.
Redskins’ DeSean Jackson certainly fits the bill. According to ProFootballFocus.com, D-Jax led the league last season among receivers targeted at least 50 percent of the time in WR Rating – the rating quarterbacks have when they threw to a wide receiver – with 124.4. Jackson was second in catch rate (48.5 percent on passes of 20 yards or more and fourth in yards per route run (2.45) when he went into a pattern.
The Denver Broncos have two legit No. 1 options in Demariyus Thomas (122.6 WR Rating, second best in 2014) and Wes Welker (106.7, tenth best) while the Chicago Bears have Brandon Marshall (103.7).
Then things start to get murky in terms of the complementary receiver.
The complementary receiver, meanwhile, should be a speedster with the acceleration and burst to blow the top off of coverage; he should be great at running the vertical routes while also being a legitimate “catch-and-run” threat on quick throws and bubble screens. As he’ll face a lot of one-on-one coverage, it’s imperative that he has the playmaking skills to be able to punish the defense for overloading to stop the No. 1 receiver.
Pierre Garcon felt he was underrated when selected as the 81st player in the NFL this year, but it turns out that’s a fair ranking for someone who is outside the top 10. And as a “speedster” who can go deep, Garcon caught just four of the 21 deep balls thrown his way.
As far as deep threats, Denver has two of those as well: Thomas and former Pittsburgh Steeler Emmanuel Sanders. The two of them caught 19 of the 20 catchable balls thrown their way in 2014 for 603 yards and five touchdowns.
Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery can also go deep (14 receptions and four touchdowns on targets of 20 yards or more) and boasts a 2.36 yards per rout run when in a pattern.
The third receiver in Brooks’s analysis lines up in the slot.
The slot receiver doesn’t need to be a blazer, but he should be quick enough to run away from nickel corners and linebackers between the hashes. Additionally, he must display the toughness to withstand the punishment that comes with venturing over the middle. Either a big-bodied pass-catcher or a jitterbug with remarkable stop-start quickness and exceptional hands will work in this role.
Decker led the league in catch rate when lined up in the slot (80 percent, just one drop) and averaged 1.7 yards per route in this formation but has moved on. Welker average 1.72 yards per route run in the slot for Denver and had seven touchdowns. Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery only took 21.1 percent of the snaps for Chicago but never dropped a pass (16 receptions) and averaged almost three yards per route run (2.89). The Redskins’ Andre Roberts, on the other hand, caught just 58.1 percent of passes in the slot for Arizona and averaged less than one yard per route run (0.86) – 30th out of 33 receivers lining up in the slot for at least 50 percent of those snaps.
At tight end, I prefer a sizable athlete with exceptional length and ball skills. He should excel at the “post-up” game (the act of using his body to create space from defenders over the middle of the field); it makes sense that former basketball players are thriving between the hashes in the NFL. If the tight end is capable of playing away from the line, it’s an added bonus, because it allows the offensive coordinator to incorporate some exotic formations to exploit mismatches on the edge. The presence of two tight ends with complementary skills makes an offense tough to stop with base and nickel defenses.
Redskins’ tight end Jordan Reed got yardage when the slot receiver (1.91 per route run, zero touchdowns) and in a pattern (2.19 per route run) plus had 100 yards after the catch on passes caught down the middle within nine yards of scrimmage. Denver’s Julius Thomas, however, scored four touchdowns form the slot without dropping a pass and was a threat all across the gridiron.
Chicago’s Martellus Bennett ran 323 routes as the slot receiver plus made 34 receptions on 51 targets with two touchdowns. His yards per route run in a pattern was average (1.46) but he too was a threat all over the field.
There is no doubt Washington upgraded its receiving corps with the additions of DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts, but it is hard to see them edging either Denver or Chicago for the league’s top spot.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus