Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Receivers Situation Is Really Much Ado About Nothing

Out though

Since the Thursday Night Massacre when Antwaan Randle El was released, Redskins fans knew receiver was going to be sore spot for Washington in 2010. Santana Moss is now five years past his franchise record for receiving yards1 and Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly made no significant strides as franchise receivers in their second years in 2009.

The 2010 free agency crop of receivers was not terrific, even adjusting for the fact that in the current collective bargaining agreement environment team owners are more inclined to stay out of the market. There was some quality there, check the names (op. cit.), aside from Antonio Bryant and Vincent Jackson though the Redskins never seriously went into the top drawer.

This past April's draft was also not bursting at the seams with receiver talent, in the first round only two receivers were selected and none higher than number 22, and there were only four selected in the first two rounds; the Redskins never even mentioned a receiver's name in draft consideration that I can think of.

So heading into camp the team had a motley collection of receivers in camp, from classic cars like Joey Galloway to untested coupes like Brandon Banks, with a bunch of sport wagons and a couple of beaters in between.

One of the big stories, maybe the biggest story in a camp where many positions are all but settled, has been the competition among these receivers, who will make the team and who will be on his way. Depth charts change by the day, playing time in preseason game one may or may not be an indicator.

One guy muffed the opening kickoff and then caught a 44 yard second half touchdown. Another caught quarterback Donovan McNabb's first competitive touchdown pass as a Redskin except he bobbled it and if the game had been live the Bills would have challenged the score and won (or maybe they would have just lied there a bit longer and let the Redskins finish before taking a shower). One guy dashed 77 yards for a dazzling second half punt return score, but not before muffing the punt return before that one. A bunch of other guys got one or two ball tossed at them, nothing enough to evaluate and one guy has been hurt all camp and cannot play.

I am ready to make a couple of early predictions about who makes the team and they are based on a couple of factors.

First, I think head coach Mike Shanahan might keep four ball carriers. Now that Brian Westbrook is out of the picture coach is free to execute his plan. All three Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker will make the team, barring a complete meltdown or some revelation that one or more of them simply cannot play at this level. Both Ryan Torain and Keiland Williams looked good in action Friday, and coach Shanahan may want a young set of legs to mix it up and get some experience. If not then both Ryan and Keiland look to be eligible for the practice squad, which of course would mean that either or both would have to be cut and then pass through waivers and not be signed by another team which they would be if they were scouted as quality by the rest of the league but I digress.

So four ball carriers would imply a higher likelihood of five receivers instead of six. There is also a natural economics to NFL football, in most offenses there is really not room for more than three receivers at most, and you know the tight ends and or tailbacks will count for many of the passing yards in Dono's first year in Washington.

So in my opinion to a great extent there is no benefit to keeping more than five receivers on the roster, you can always find a body to put on the practice squad and in the event you are down to playing your fourth and fifth or practice squad players then you have had serious injuries or the bottom has dropped out of your season and you are auditioning for next year anyway.

So who do I think will make the team? Well one is easy, Santana Moss, this season will be his swan song in Washington.

The next is easy as well, Devin Thomas. Even though his place on the depth chart has fluctuated that is because coach Shanahan is playing mindgames with Devin, trying to tease out a motivation that has been lacking the last two years and find out once and for all if Devin looks so mediocre because he is not talented or because he has not been properly motivated. One of those conditions can be corrected by a guy like Mike Shanahan.

The next is the hard working everyman, Bobby Wade. Bobby is only 29 and has put up consistent number three receiver production the past four season. He can step by pushed into the number two spot if Devin pulls another disappearing act. Bobby gets the nod over Roydell Williams on experience, Roydell has been out of the game for two seasons and there are a lot of guys with more experience in his salary band, and over Mike Furrey on production, Mike has number four receiver numbers.

The fourth is the grizzled veteran, Joey Galloway. Every team needs an Art Monk or a Henry Ellard, a wily vet that can put out just enough production to keep the chains moving and can tutor the guys on the sideline in the ways of the NFL. Plus Joey has a relationship with new real actual general manager Bruce Allen from Tampa Bay days, I think Bruce considers Joey a quote character guy unquote and you like to have these guys around your team.

The fifth is the wild card, it will be one of the three musketeers, Brandon Banks, Anthony Armstrong and Terence Austin, whichever distinguishes himself in preseason play, as both a receiver and special teams player.

And Malcolm Kelly is done, his Redskins career will be over. That he has been unable to play is bad enough, I also think Mike Shanahan will be looking for other examples of old guard players to turn out as he remakes the team in his image. That process started with the aforementioned Thursday Night Massacre, continued with quarterback Colt Brennan and will conclude on cut day with Malcolm Kelly.

One or two of the young guys will land on the practice squad, unless they are claimed by another team in which case it will be time to go to market and nab some other team's castoffs.

There are some caveats here, this configuration I have put together has only one receiver over six feet tall, Devin Thomas at six feet two inches. If coach Shanahan wants more height explicitly his options are Malcolm Kelly at six feet five, Mike Furrey at six feet zero and rookie Shay Hodge at six feet two.

And of course it may be that the team has no intention if jettisoning Malcolm yet, they could keep him at number five and play a four receiver rotation until Malcolm's hamstring heals.

I just tend to think back to something I heard Randy Cross say on Sirius NFL Radio's Opening Drive years ago, and that is guys usually are what they are, and Malcolm has shown no signs of being a legitimate number one or number two receiver. So with hungrier guys out there why keep him?

1. Official NFL Record and Fact Book 2009 (New York: Time Life Books, 2009), 227.

Malcolm Kelly: AP photo from here.