Having previously looked at the major positions of need on defense, today we move to the offensive side of the ball. One of the more glaring needs could be at wide receiver. It was a position of strength for Washington last year, with Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson headlining the group while Jamison Crowder provided plenty of production from the slot. The contracts of both Garcon and Jackson are up, and the team is likely able to re-sign one of them if they are to also retain Kirk Cousins and try to rebuild the defense.
The decision to retain Garcon or Jackson is a difficult one, and whichever one the team lets walk, it will have to find a way to replace his production. Josh Doctson is an option, but given he missed the majority of his rookie season with a mysterious Achilles’ tendon injury, it remains to be seen how much Washington can rely on him. The draft could also be an option to help replace one or both players, but having taken a wide receiver in the first round last year, and with so many holes on defense, I’m not sure Washington could justify the selection. The other option for Washington is to look to free agency. There are wide receivers with similar traits to both Garcon and Jackson who are set to hit the open market.
Potential Garcon replacement: Kenny Britt, age 28
Garcon is currently Washington’s possession receiver. As much as he may dislike that tag and has proven he can still be effective deep at times this season, his traits translate best to being a security blanket for the quarterback, especially on third downs. He’s a physical wide receiver who runs good routes and fights for every yard after the catch to maximize the gain on every play.
Britt can fill a similar role. He’s perhaps not quite as crisp a route runner, but he offers more than Garcon as a deep threat, averaging a full yard and a half per catch more.
Here, the Rams isolate Britt outside the numbers to the left on second and long. Britt runs a simple slant.
The ball is thrown behind Britt, despite him winning inside off the snap. Britt makes the adjustment and the catch.
Britt then makes the most of the ball placement on the throw, instinctively using his momentum to come back for the ball to turn back outside and spin out of the tackle attempt by Miami Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell.
Britt fights for every yard, falling forward as he’s tackled by both the corner and a linebacker. He picks up and extra couple of yards, giving his team a third-and-short situation, instead of what might have been third and medium.
Making the adjustment to inaccurate passes and getting extra out of the play is a quick way to earn the trust of a quarterback. That’s a trait Garcon displays regularly for Washington. Another trait Britt and Garcon share is good football intelligence.
On this play, the Rams run a play-action bootleg with Britt running an over route.
As the quarterback rolls out on the bootleg, he has his deep and underneath options well covered. His intermediate option, Britt, isn’t necessarily covered, but has the deep safety driving down on his route.
Britt makes a clever adjustment. With the safety committed to the outside, Britt stops his route and works back inside, making himself an option for the quarterback.
After making the catch, Britt turns back inside and fights through two tackles to get into the end zone for a touchdown.
The move to work back inside and make himself an option was a smart play by Britt and something Garcon has done a number of times for Washington. Similarly, the toughness to fight through tackles is another trait Garcon displays regularly. These types of plays develop a strong sense of trust between receiver and quarterback, which is essential for plays like this next one.
Here in the red zone, Britt runs a comeback route. The play is all about trust and timing.
At the top of his route, Britt makes a veteran move, extending his arm out to keep the corner off him and maximize separation. By this point, the quarterback has already released his pass, trusting Britt to break on time.
Britt makes his break on time, doing an excellent job locating the pass and making a good catch away from his body while still managing to get both feet down inbounds to complete the touchdown catch.
Britt displays a lot of traits similar to Garcon, making him a solid replacement option should the player or team move on. Britt is two years younger and offers a little more of a deep threat, making him likely to cost about the same as Garcon. It might not be worth the hassle of teaching a new wide receiver a new system while he starts from scratch his relationship with Kirk Cousins. But if Washington does opt to move on from Garcon and looks to replace him in free agency, then Britt appears to be the best fit.
Potential Jackson replacement: Kenny Stills, age 24
Jackson is the harder receiver to replace of the two. He is far more than just a speedster. His speed is certainly a big part of his success, but his ability to track the deep ball in the air and make adjustments to make the catch is almost unrivaled. There’s a reason he is one of the best deep threats in the history of the NFL, coming in behind only Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in number of career touchdown receptions of more than 60 yards. Jackson has 21.
Stills isn’t on the same level, but displays similar traits and has age on his side. At 24, he has plenty of time to develop those traits to eventually challenge Jackson’s numbers. But right now, Stills is still a very good deep threat.
Here against the Buffalo Bills, Stills is isolated to the right just outside the numbers. He runs a go route down the sideline.
The Bills corner gives Stills a free release off the line of scrimmage, while quarterback Ryan Tannehill holds the deep safety in the middle of the field.
Like we’ve seen from Cousins this season, Tannehill shows trust in his receiver. He trusts him to run past the coverage, delivering the pass before Stills is even level with the corner.
Stills gets past the corner, and begins to track the throw in the air. The ball is underthrown, meaning Stills has to work back to make the catch. He cuts back inside of the cornerback.
Stills then makes the catch in front of the corner and looks to cut back inside to avoid the safety.
The safety can’t stop his momentum toward the sideline, running into the corner and taking both of them out of the play. That leaves Stills with an easy jog into the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown.
There’s more to being an effective deep threat than just speed. Stills displayed good ball-tracking skills here and made an excellent adjustment to make the catch and prevent what could have been an interception on a badly underthrown ball.
The other big part of Jackson’s game is the attention he draws from defenses. Even when he’s not getting the ball, he still draws the attention of deep safeties, and that extra attention he receives opens things up for other receivers. Stills doesn’t get quite the same attention yet, but still manages to open things up for teammates on occasion.
On this play, Stills and teammate Jarvis Landry stack to the left of the formation. Stills runs directly up the seam while Landry runs an out-and-up route.
The Steelers play cover-three, meaning the deep section of the field is split into three zones. Stills draws the attention of two of those deep zone defenders, the deep middle safety and the outside corner. Getting the outside corner to bite inside is key to this play, as it leaves Landry wide open down the sideline.
The corner does his best to get back outside to Landry, but he can’t prevent the catch.
As Stills continues to develop, he should draw more attention from opposing defenses, opening things up for his fellow receivers. Washington has done an excellent job using Jackson as a decoy to open up things for the rest of its receiving group. Losing Jackson would be a significant loss, but adding someone like Stills could help soften the blow, given his similar skill set. He would be a deep threat who could also be used as a decoy, making him an almost like-for-like replacement for Jackson, though not yet at the same level.
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