One of the biggest questions facing the Redskins offense this offseason was how it would replace starting wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Washington signed free agent Terrelle Pryor, who should fill in one of the starting roles, and has 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson returning from his Achilles injuries that kept him out for the majority of his rookie season. But another option is using slot receiver Jamison Crowder on the outside more often.
“I’ve said all along Jamison can play anywhere,” Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden said. “He can play outside, inside. He can play running back probably if he wanted to. So we’ll utilize Jamison and try to get him more involved, not just in the passing game and the running game.
“He’s an excellent player, dynamic player. He just continues to prove every day why we like him so much. He’s great on option routes, he can run vertical stems. He can run just about anything you ask him to run. … He gets himself open because he’s got a great feel. He’s got quickness in and out of his breaks. He plays a lot longer than his size. He has got really long arms. He goes up and gets balls. Sometime he plays bigger than a taller receiver because he uses his height [and] he’s got great jumping ability and times the jumps extremely well. Some tall guys you see, they misjudge it and they don’t jump. But Jamison, he times them perfect and makes big plays.”
Pryor is a tough, strong, big-bodied receiver who should take much of the workload Garcon received. But filling Jackson’s role might better suit for Crowder than Doctson, at least in two-receiver sets. While Crowder obviously isn’t the same player as Jackson, they do share a few similar traits, such as the way Crowder runs some of his routes.
Here, Jackson lines up a few yards inside the numbers to the left of the formation. He runs a dig route, which is an in-breaking route, but it’s the way he runs it that makes it effective. While he starts inside the numbers, Jackson very deliberately angles his release to outside the numbers. He does that to widen the position of the cornerback, who is playing with outside leverage, and thus creating more of a gap between the corner and the safety.
Jackson also quickly eats up the gap between himself and the corner, forcing the corner to flip his hips and run down the field to stay on top of him. From that point, Jackson has the route won, but he tops it off with a quick cut inside, to maximize the separation and make him an easy target for quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Crowder shows some of these same route-running techniques.
Like Jackson, Crowder lines up a few yards inside the numbers, although he’s aligned to the right of the formation. Crowder follows Jackson’s lead, deliberately angling his route toward the numbers to widen the corner. Crowder’s route is a shorter, quicker route than Jackson’s was, so he doesn’t have time to work all the way outside the numbers, but he still created the space he needed. On this occasion, he doesn’t make the sharp cut that Jackson did, but I suspect that is more due to the quicker timing of the play.
As is the nature of a slot receiver, Crowder’s routes were often run shorter distances than Jackson’s on the outside. But there are still traits to be drawn and compared with similar styles of routes.
On this play, Jackson lines up in the middle of the three receivers to the left. Cousins works to his right off the snap, meaning Jackson is on the back side of the play, but he still runs his route well, knowing the read might work all the way back to him. Jackson angles his route slightly inside, trying to bait the defender into thinking he’s creating space to work outside. He gets right up onto the toes of the defender before selling a fake to the outside. He works almost like a basketball player using a crossover to attack the basket. The defender bites on the outside fake as Jackson cuts back inside for an easy touchdown pass.
Crowder didn’t get many opportunities to run post routes. He did, however, get to run some option routes that displayed that same crossover move Jackson used to win inside.
Here, Crowder is stacked behind Garcon to the left. He starts just inside the numbers, but works to the outside shade of the numbers to draw his defender outside. Crowder then executes the same crossover we saw from Jackson, cutting inside sharply and leaving him wide open in the middle of the field. Cousins quickly pulls the trigger and Crowder makes an easy catch for a first down.
It’s clear Crowder has learned plenty of route-running technique from Jackson, whose skill in that area has always been underrated because of his speed. Crowder still has a way to go before he’s on the same level as Jackson, who runs certain routes at an elite level.
This time, Jackson lines up in the slot to the left of the formation. The Giants blitz their corner over Jackson, leaving safety Landon Collins to rotate down to cover him. Jackson runs a superb route that very few safeties would be able to cover. Jackson alternates his stride length and angle as he closes the gap between himself and Collins. He almost zigzags inside and out to give Collins no clue of his intentions.
He starts working inside, which forces Collins to open his hips inside. Jackson takes that as his cue to work back outside and threaten Collins deep. Collins can only flip his hips and begin to bail to make sure he stays on top of Jackson deep. As soon as he turns to bail, Jackson works back inside, making sure to get in Collins’s eye line. Collins follows Jackson back inside, which creates the space outside for Jackson. Jackson cuts sharply back outside toward the sideline with plenty of separation from Collins, who is forced to turn around completely to try to close the gap. Jackson is an easy, wide open target and makes the catch for a big gain.
Crowder isn’t at that level yet, and he has rarely been asked to run that deeper out route. But the shorter, quicker out route is one of his best and most common routes.
Here, Crowder is the innermost receiver of the three receivers split to the right. One of the big challenges of running the shorter out routes is often having to beat press coverage. But Crowder does that easily here. He takes a step inside and then uses that crossover move again to jump back outside of the defender. He quickly gets on top of the defender and stacks him inside before making a sharp cut to the boundary, leaving him open for the first down.
While the route wasn’t at the elite level that Jackson ran, it was still very hard to defend. Crowder has also displayed a variety of moves and fakes to help create separation on these types of routes.
Again, Crowder is the inside receiver of the three receivers split to the right. But this time, Crowder uses a stutter step on his release to get the defender off balance before working outside. He displays a quick burst to accelerate away from the defender as he works outside. As he prepares to break outside, Crowder subtly angles his route back inside slightly and uses a head fake.
He flashes his eyes over his inside shoulder back to the quarterback. With the defender beaten, Crowder knows the defender can’t see the quarterback and thus will assume Crowder is looking for the throw as he runs down the seam. But it’s just a fake to create separation. Crowder cuts outside sharply, causing the defender to slip and fall as he tries to keep up. Crowder makes the catch and picks up the first down.
These tricks of route-running should enable Crowder to be effective, regardless of where he lines up. I don’t see any reason he couldn’t be successful on the outside. He has the ability to run any route and create separation. It would, however, be harsh to expect him to be the same deep threat Jackson was. He is a good one in his own right, but Jackson is one of the best in the NFL due to his speed, route-running, ball tracking and adjusting to the flight of the ball.
This route demonstrates exactly why Jackson is such a big-play threat. Too many people think he’s just all about speed. Speed is certainly a factor, but there is far more to this route than just speed. As we’ve seen before, Jackson identifies his corner is playing with outside leverage before the snap, so he deliberately widens his route toward the numbers to create space for himself. He’s helped by the safety biting on an underneath route, giving him even more space, but then his ball-tracking skills make the play.
The ball travels more than 50 yards in the air, meaning Cousins had to put a significant amount of air under it. Jackson has no issues locating the throw and adjusting his path to that of the ball. He also has the presence of mind to know the corner is closing on him as he adjusts to the path of the ball, so Jackson makes an incredibly clever move. He keeps his route outside of the hash marks, to keep the corner outside and make sure he is the only one with a chance to make a play on the ball. Then, at the last second, Jackson cuts inside to make the catch with the defender hanging off his back.
Crowder, or any receiver on the Redskins roster, won’t be able to regularly replicate that type of ability on deep shots. But Crowder is perfectly capable of becoming a deep threat on the outside, having made some big plays from the slot. He is good enough as a route-runner to play outside and has certainly picked up some of the tricks of the trade from Jackson over the past two seasons. He’s still one of the best slot receivers in the league, so in three-receiver sets, I would expect him to remain inside and become a nightmare for defenses to match up against. But in base packages, the team could benefit from keeping Crowder on the field and using that as a way to get him more catches.