Next up in our series of Redskins free agency previews is the wide receiver group. Josh Doctson flashed some potential in his second year but needs to be more consistent. The spot opposite him is a question the Redskins need to address. Terrelle Pryor Sr. didn’t fit in during his one-year stint, and Jamison Crowder appeared more effective in the slot.
Here are three options the Redskins could look to pursue, starting with a player they will consider re-signing:
Re-sign candidate: Ryan Grant
Grant has been a favorite of Coach Jay Gruden’s since the Redskins drafted him in 2014. The fifth-rounder doesn’t stand out as a particularly special athlete, but he takes care of the small details. He’s a strong route runner, can adjust to inaccurate passes and is willing to make tough catches in traffic. On top of that, Grant understands all of the receiver roles in the offense, so he can fill in where needed, and he’s also a willing and capable blocker in the run game.
Here, the Redskins motion Grant tight to the formation to help sell a run fake. Grant than runs an out and up before breaking back sharply toward the sideline.
As Grant breaks outside, cornerback Aqib Talib anticipates him cutting vertical again and adjusts his position to stay on top of it. However, Grant pushes his route vertical just enough to get Talib to buy the deeper route before cutting back to the sideline. The pass is a little too far inside, but the separation Grant gets from Talib is enough to stop Talib from making a play on the ball. Grant is then able to make the adjustment to pull in the catch.
Grant’s knowledge of the offense and dependability make him a good receiver to bring back on a relatively cheap deal as the third or fourth receiver on the depth chart.
High-level target: Allen Robinson, Jaguars
Robinson looked well on his way to becoming one of the top receivers in the NFL after his first three seasons, but this past year was cut short during the first game after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The injury will likely cause teams to hesitate before giving him a big contract but, assuming his recovery is on track, he’s the best free agent receiver available. He has become a well-rounded threat with the potential to go deep or turn short passes into big gains with his run-after-the-catch ability.
On this play from 2016, Robinson runs a deep in-breaking route against off-coverage.
Robinson angles his routes outside initially to sell a vertical route to the cornerback. As he reaches the top of his route, he manages to get the defender to open his hips to the sideline, creating lots of separation as Robinson cuts inside. Robinson makes the grab and then shows his ability to create after the catch, eluding defenders on his way to a nearly 40-yard gain.
One of Robinson’s best traits is his body control when adjusting to the flight of the ball. He makes a number of spectacular catches to pull in back-shoulder throws or correct inaccurate passes.
Here, Robinson is isolated to the left of the formation. He runs a simple go route, but Blake Bortles throws to his back shoulder. Robinson does an excellent job not only getting his head around and locating the throw, but turning his body completely around to make an incredible, one-handed grab.
Robinson, if healthy, has the ability to be a true No. 1 receiver for whichever team he signs with. The injury might put some teams off, but his talent makes an investment in him worth the risk.
Under-the-radar target: Taylor Gabriel, Falcons
While Gabriel is small for an NFL receiver, standing just 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, his game isn’t about size. Gabriel is a burner with the speed to take the top off the defense regularly and the foot quickness to create separation in other areas of the field.
This is a play from the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory over the Falcons after the 2016 season. Gabriel matches up against Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler while the deep safety cheats to the other side to help against Julio Jones.
Gabriel bursts down the field in a hurry, quickly finding himself level with Butler. Just before he makes his cut inside, he makes a jab step outside, causing Butler to stumble and fall over. Gabriel then works back inside, where he makes the catch, but the throw leads him into the deep safety, who makes the tackle and saves what could have been a touchdown.
His speed is clear to see, but quick feet are also a huge part of his game. Being able to make a quick but convincing jab step to the outside on that route without losing speed is something not a lot of receivers can do. That quickness makes him a huge threat on double moves.
Here, the Falcons align Gabriel tight to the formation, stacked behind a fellow receiver. That gives him plenty of room to work with outside.
Gabriel releases outside and bursts toward the numbers. He then sells a terrific fake, stuttering his feet as if he were about to make a cut on a shorter route. That fake gets the deep cornerback to bite, while Gabriel bursts out of his fake and accelerates to top speed quickly. The cornerback has no chance to recover as Matt Ryan delivers a good pass, allowing Gabriel to run away from the defense for a 76-yard touchdown.
Gabriel’s height may be an issue for some teams, but the Redskins lacked a receiver who could stretch the defense vertically after losing DeSean Jackson in free agency last season. Gabriel provides that deep threat at what should be a reasonable price, which could make him an attractive option for the Redskins.
Read more on the NFL: