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Free agent wide receivers: A name, a value and a sleeper the Redskins could target

The NFL offseason is in full swing, with free agency just around the corner. Washington has plenty of money to spend, and General Manager Bruce Allen has promised that the Redskins will be active. One of the many positions the Redskins need to strengthen this offseason, via either free agency or the draft, is wide receiver. I thought it’d be a good time to look at some potential targets for the Redskins, starting with a big name, followed by a good value and an under the radar guy.

Big Name: Eric Decker

The Broncos wide receiver is undoubtedly the biggest name at his position entering the free agency period. At 6 feet 3, 214 pounds, Decker is a big-bodied receiver that the Redskins have lacked for some time. Being only 26 years old means that whoever lands Decker should get the peak years of his career. Statistically he’s improved year to year, coming off back-to-back 85-plus catch, 1000-plus yard and double-digit touchdown seasons.

When I watched coaches’ tape on Decker, what immediately became obvious to me was his deep-threat ability. I liked the way he ran his routes to create separation from his defender down the field. Here’s an example:

Here, Decker is running a deep post route against Chiefs corner Brandon Flowers.

Decker does a good job fighting for an inside release and getting inside the numbers. Flowers attempts to slow him down by getting his hand on Decker’s chest.

Decker battles through the physical coverage of Flowers. He begins to angle his route outside towards the numbers.

By angling towards the numbers, he gives himself more room to cut back inside towards the goal post and creates separation between himself and the defender. He gets his head around to locate the ball early. He adjusts to the ball in the air and pulls it in before making his way into the end zone for a touchdown.

Here’s another example from the same game.

This time Decker is running a go route. But instead of running straight down the field, he sets up his defender. Just like above, we see him fighting through physical press coverage.

After gaining a step on his defender, Decker runs to the outside of the numbers, forcing his defender to follow him outside.

Once Decker reaches the outside of the numbers, he cuts back up the field. Just like before, he separates from his defender. Manning is perfectly in sync with Decker and delivers the ball, trusting Decker to run his route correctly and adjust to the ball. Decker does a good job locating the ball and making the catch for a big gain.

A big target that can create separation on deep routes would improve the Redskins offense drastically, opening up more of the short and intermediate routes for Pierre Garcon. However, there’s a reason Decker is likely to hit the open market. Denver views him as a No. 2 receiver, rather than a potential number one. Decker and his agent will be asking for a significant contract. Denver would rather focus their attentions on Demaryius Thomas’s next contract than pay Decker. Washington already has a lot of money invested in Garcon, and with needs all over the roster, can the Redskins afford to have so much money tied up in just two receivers?

Good Value: Julian Edelman

A cheaper option for Washington might be Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman. Edelman doesn’t offer the size that Decker brings to the table, but he is more versatile. He’s a chess piece that can be moved around the formation from outside, to the slot or even in the backfield to create match up problems for a defense. He’s not a receiver to take the top off a defense, but he’s a chain-mover who you can rely on to get open in crucial third-down situations and keep a drive alive. In New England, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady got creative in how they used Edelman, which resulted in him having a career year, leading the Patriots in receptions (105), yards (1,056) and touchdown catches (six).

As I said, he’s not a speedster, but he is elusive. New England would run designed screens for him to pick up solid chunks of yards.

Here, Edelman is lined up close to the formation. New England sends three offensive linemen to get out in front of Edelman to block for him on the screen.

Edelman takes a step forward off the snap, to get his defender going backwards and create separation. Edelman then jumps back behind the line of scrimmage to receive the pass from Brady.

The Patriots linemen do a good job getting into solid positions to block for Edelman. This should have gone for a touchdown, but the linemen could not maintain their blocks. Edelman still managed to gain 20 yards before he was caught.

Screens were a big part of Jay Gruden’s offense in Cincinnati. Edelman has plenty of experience taking screen passes and eluding the first defender, which can make any given screen play explode for a big gain.

But Edelman is at his best when he’s lined up in the slot. New England likes to spread a defense out and try to get Edelman lined up against safeties or linebackers.

On this play, Edelman is matched up against a linebacker. That is an instant win for the Patriots offense. Edelman is too quick for any linebacker to keep up with. He only needs to run a simple five-yard out to get open.

He sticks his foot in the ground and breaks outside without any wasted movements. A slot corner would probably struggle to cover this play, let alone a linebacker. Brady was so confident in Edelman winning the match up, he didn’t need to look elsewhere.

Edelman makes the catch and has room to turn and run upfield for additional yards after the catch. The linebacker on this play actually does an exceptional job with a last ditch dive to bring down Edelman before he can get away. But Edelman is still able to turn a simple out into a seven-yard pick up. That kind of ability to separate and get open on quick, short routes is a big weapon on third downs. Washington’s only reliable third-down threat this season was rookie tight end Jordan Reed, who could not overcome his concussion problems and missed the final four games of the season. Having another go-to receiver on third downs would greatly benefit Robert Griffin III’s development and help keep the offense on the field and in rhythm.

Another aspect of Edelman’s game that I believe is underrated is his ability to locate and adjust to the ball in the air. This makes him even more of a reliable target, even in the red zone, as we’ll see here.

Edelman finds himself lined up tight to the formation again. The Patriots are running a rub/pick route concept.

Edelman cuts underneath the receiver to his right, who breaks inside and creates traffic for the defender covering Edelman.

Tom Brady puts the ball in the air and trusts Edelman to make the play. Edelman does an excellent job locating and tracking the ball, while the corner fails to turn his head to find the ball.

Despite being pushed to the ground, Edelman manages to secure the touchdown pass, even at an awkward angle.

With Santana Moss’s performance declining with age, Washington could use with a versatile and reliable slot receiver option to help keep the chains moving. Edelman would be exactly that. The Patriots will no doubt want to keep hold of their leading receiver, but Edelman will want more than the one-year, minimum veteran salary he was given last offseason. The Patriots have other needs to address too, including cornerback Aqib Talib, which might take their attentions away from Edelman.

Under The Radar: Kenny Britt

Like Decker, the 6-3, 223-pound Britt is a big receiver, which Gruden had plenty of in Cincinnati. On the field, Britt displays plenty of traits that you want from a No. 1 receiver, but is inconsistent. Britt’s problem has been off the field. He’s found himself in trouble with the law on multiple occasions, among other things, which saw the Titans restrict his playing time this year. He appears set to leave Tennessee as he looks for a change of scenery.

But when you look at his video, you can see why he might be worth the risk of the off-field trouble. He knows how to run routes and create separation.

Here, Britt runs a stop route against off-man coverage. It looks simple enough, but Britt runs it to perfection.

Britt closes the cushion between himself and the defender quickly, forcing the defender to open his hips and begin to bail.

At that moment, Britt puts his foot in the ground and works back to the quarterback, creating the maximum amount of separation possible.

That gives the quarterback an easy, wide-open target to throw to, which Griffin didn’t always have this season.

Britt also has the ability to go up and, at his highest point, catch the football over the top of his defender.

On this play, the Titans ran a double move. The corner didn’t bite and covered Britt well. But the quarterback put it up for Britt to go make a play on. Britt does an excellent job tracking the ball and high-pointing it, going over the defender to do so.

But that inconsistency I mentioned earlier shines true on this play.

After doing the hard work of getting to the ball, he drops a simple catch that hit him right in the hands.

Britt can do a lot of things that many receivers aren’t capable of, but his inconsistency and his off-field problems are huge red flags. He has little leverage, meaning he’ll probably have to accept a cheap one- or two-year deal to prove he’s worth more than that in the long term. He could be a risk worth taking for a Washington team with so many holes to fill.

Who would you like to see the Redskins target at wide receiver in free agency?

Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions of the Redskins’ play without the benefit of access to the team.

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