Two weeks removed from a top-to-bottom evaluation of his side of the ball, Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan says that a dynamic threat at wide receiver ranks among his top needs.
That addition, Shanahan said, would make a significant difference for a unit that ranked 16th in the NFL total yards, but averaged just 18 points a game (26th in the league).
It’s no secret the Redskins’ wide receivers struggled throughout the 2011 season.
The only consistent receiving option was Jabar Gaffney, who had a career year with 68 catches for 947 yards and five touchdowns. Some of Gaffney’s success stemmed from his ability to beat pressure at the line and find holes in the secondary. But his impact was limited, because he wasn’t a big yards-after-the-catch guy.
Donte Stallworth also did well getting off the line, and he produced yards after the catch, but not all year long. After getting cut following a quiet first eight games, Stallworth was resigned in Week 11, and then made solid contributions with 17 of his 22 catches and 263 of his 309 yards coming during that stretch. But at 31 years of age, he isn’t a top receiving option, either.
After that, the bright spots were hard to find. Santana Moss got off to a solid start, but broke his hand, and then after a four-week layoff, came back rusty and lacked the quickness and explosiveness to get open consistently. Anthony Armstrong had an impact as a first-year player in 2010, but struggled with consistency once defenses started applying more attention to him this season. Rookie Leonard Hankerson had a breakout game versus Miami, but then was lost for the season to a torn labrum in his hip. And Terrence Austin couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities he received.
The common factor in the receivers’ struggles was a lack of explosiveness. An inability to get separation severely hampered Washington’s efforts in the passing game, says Shanahan, whose wideouts had to rely on creative formations and precise route-running to produce openings. So while Rex Grossman’s tendency to throw interceptions hurt the Redskins’ efforts in the passing game, an inability on the receivers’ parts to create separation did so as well.
“We do need to make more plays,” Shanahan said after the South team’s practice for Saturday’s Senior Bowl. “The one thing that hurt us the most was every touchdown pass we made was caught in the end zone. There wasn’t one that was caught outside the end zone and ran in until Week 16 when Helu caught that screen versus Philly. The other one was [Brandon] Banks’ throw to [Moss], who caught it and ran in. Our guys need to do a better job of getting up the field and making some plays after the catch so we get some points on the board by running it in instead of us having to go all the way down the field and trying to throw it in.”
And that’s why Shanahan craves a potential play-making receiver either through the draft or free agency.
“Everybody needs that. I definitely think we do also,” he said. “It helps, not for the numbers he gets, but it helps everybody else. Having a guy like Andre [Johnson] in Houston, even when he wasn’t getting the ball, it was for a good reason. It was because they were paying a lot of attention to him and that takes pressure off of the quarterback, the O-line, and the other receivers. You don’t have to do everything so hard, and have everything go perfect. Some times you need to have a player that can just take over and make a big play when stuff isn’t right.”