The Redskins’ playoff hopes have all but disappeared, and the attention now turns to the bigger questions the team needs to address in the offseason. Outside of the obvious situation at quarterback with Kirk Cousins’ contract, one of the biggest issues the Redskins will face this offseason is the wide receiver group. The Terrelle Pryor experiment failed, and it would seem unlikely he’s back. That leaves the Redskins with a need for a true No. 1 receiver.
That is, unless Josh Doctson can step up and fill the role. The second-year receiver’s stats don’t exactly jump out as spectacular, with just 24 catches for 354 yards, though he does lead the team with five touchdown receptions. It’s taken a while for Doctson to get fully healthy and find his feet in the NFL. But once Pryor went down injured, Doctson has become the full time starter at the X receiver position, and has shown flashes of the potential that led to him being drafted in the first round.
Doctson has become known for his ability to outleap defenders and steal spectacular catches over the top of them. It’s taken a while for quarterback Kirk Cousins to fully trust his ability to win, but in recent weeks that’s become less and less of an issue as Cousins has given Doctson plenty of opportunities.
Here, Doctson lines up to the right of the formation, inside the numbers and tight to the offensive line. This gives him room to run a corner route to the back of the end zone. The Cowboys run cover-two, which leaves safety Byron Jones to cover Doctson’s route. Jones is a phenomenal athlete who blew up the NFL scouting combine a few years ago, but not even he was able to defend the ball thrown up to Doctson, who makes the most of his jumping ability to secure the touchdown.
Doctson’s ability to win jump balls is a huge threat in the red zone, but it can also be effective on deep shots down the sideline.
Against the Saints, Doctson gets press coverage that forces him a little closer to the sideline than he would have liked. The ball is placed further inside, with Cousins expecting Doctson to get a cleaner release than he had. The cornerback appears to have the route fairly well covered, sitting on Doctson’s inside hip as he turns back to locate the ball. But then Doctson takes over, jumping over the corner and stealing the ball from his grasp.
The ability to pull in these ridiculously athletic catches makes Doctson a threat against just about any corner, because if the pass is remotely catchable, Doctson will be able to make a play on it over most corners. He gives the quarterback a huge margin for error.
This is a throw that Cousins probably wouldn’t have made earlier this season, let alone in previous seasons. Doctson aligns to the right and runs straight down the sideline. The Cowboys corner bails off the line of scrimmage and plays with eyes on the quarterback. Doctson isn’t even level with the corner when Cousins hits the top of his drop and releases his pass. It’s a throw made purely on trust in Doctson’s ability.
But while he doesn’t beat the corner, Doctson still makes Cousins right on the throw. He goes up and high-points the ball in front of the corner. He couldn’t quite manage to pull in the catch, but it was a tremendous effort to even get to the ball and stop what would have likely been an interception if thrown to a different receiver.
Clearly, Doctson has the ability to affect games in a big way. He can be a deep threat down the sideline as well as a significant threat in the red zone. But to become a true No. 1 receiver, he has to prove he can run a full route tree and win on routes that aren’t just jump balls. Since earning more playing time, Doctson has begun to show how good of a route runner he can be.
Here, Doctson aligns to the right of the formation, outside the numbers. He runs a slant route as part of a slant-flat combination with tight end Vernon Davis.
Davis ultimately ends up as the target of the throw, but the route from Doctson was excellent. He sells a vertical release outside, forcing the corner to open his hips to the boundary to run with him. As soon as the corner opens his hips, Doctson makes a sharp cut across his face. By that point, Cousins had already thrown the ball to Davis in the flat, but that doesn’t take away from the strong route from Doctson.
Some have accused Doctson of a lack of effort when he’s unlikely to get the ball, but that just isn’t the case.
On this play, Doctson runs a delayed under route. Cousins’ primary reads are on the right side of the field before working back across, leaving Doctson as the last read in his progression.
But being the last read in the progression doesn’t stop Doctson from running a strong route. Like before, Doctson sells a vertical route up the sideline, getting the corner to open his hips to the sideline. He then stutter-steps, getting the corner to stop his feet before taking an extra jab step up the sideline. This baits the corner into thinking Doctson is running a double move down the sideline. The corner takes the bait while Doctson cuts back inside, where he’s open, but finds Cousins has already thrown the ball elsewhere.
Perhaps Doctson’s best route of the season also came in that first game against the Cowboys.
This time, Doctson aligns tight to the formation to the left. He stacks with Jamison Crowder, which is becoming an effective look for the Redskins more recently.
Doctson drifts to his left upon release, creating traffic to ensure Crowder gets a free release off the line of scrimmage. Doctson then bursts vertically past his defender and bends his route behind the safety. Cousins is pressured quickly, but gets his throw away to Doctson, who makes a good adjustment to secure the catch and the touchdown.
Overall, Doctson has the talent to become a true No. 1 receiver for the Redskins. While the numbers don’t necessarily reflect that yet, he’s progressing well for someone who missed the vast majority of his rookie year due to injury. The Redskins will likely still look to add to their receiver group during the offseason, but they shouldn’t impede Doctson’s development. He has proven he can be a big threat; now he just needs time to improve his consistency.