With the injuries piling up on offense for the Redskins, coach Mike Shanahan needs to turn to a trio of guys that he had faith in last April when he drafted them. Wide receivers Leonard Hankerson and Niles Paul, haven’t had many opportunities to contribute just yet, but both have plenty of talent that can impact this offense. Running back Roy Helu has gotten some chances, but he will need to take on a significant role now that starting back Tim Hightower is done for the season. Here is my break down on the three players, and what type of role I’d like to see from them this week:
Hankerson has taken a good bit of grief for his lack of production thus far. And on one hand, I get it. He was a top 80 pick, who was unimpressive in training camp and the preseason, and was known for dropping balls. Hankerson has also not played well enough to be an active receiver for the first 5 games of the season. And in week 6, he only managed to get one pass thrown his way, which was promptly intercepted given that he ran the wrong route. On the other hand though, it is important to remember that rookie WR’s are usually not that productive. Sure there are some big name success stories, but there are also plenty of guys who disappeared as rookies only to find success later in their career. It’s even less of a concern this year considering he didn’t have a normal offseason and training camp with the lockout.
The other factor that makes Hankerson’s ‘miscues’ a non-factor is that the guys that he’d really take snaps from, Anthony Armstrong and Donte Stallworth, have had their fair share of drops and miscues this season. Even if Hankerson isn’t fully integrated into the offense, he should be able to produce as much as Armstrong/Stallworth. Hankerson can also be an asset in the red zone, with his impressive size and leaping ability.
Overall I’d like to see Hankerson get about 25+ snaps on Sunday. He should be used on all red zone plays, as well as over the middle routes to hopefully draw safety coverage away from Fred Davis. Hopefully in those snaps he’ll see 5-7 targets and begin to show the promise that led the Redskins to draft him.
Helu actually has gotten some work in spot duty for the Redskins, and has had a positive impact on the offense. He’s been effective both as a runner and receiver in limited work. Surprisingly he’s also looked solid in the nuances of the position, such as blitz pick-up. Now though Helu needs to go from being a part time player, to practically a full time role, with Tim Hightower being out. His touches per game need to jump from the 5-10 range to the 25+ range. So far Helu is averaging 4.9 yards in his 27 carries, and while that number isn’t sustainable behind the Redskins offensive line, he has the quickness and shiftiness to break off some big gains. The Redskins rushing attack is more important than ever, as in just about every game this year, the opposing offense will be more talented and the best way to neutralize them, is to keep them on the sideline. A successful rushing attack can also take a lot of pressure off John Beck, and not force him to try to win games by himself.
Paul has had a good year so far as a Special Teams ace, and a blocker on running plays and screens. And on a team with Santana Moss, Fred Davis, Chris Cooley, Jabar Gaffney and Anthony Armstrong, it was understandable how he was overlooked despite a strong training camp. Now though two of those guys are injured, and Anthony Armstrong is playing very poorly this season. Which could give Paul a chance.
Last week was finally called upon to be used as a weapon on offense and he responded, with two receptions for 25 yards. On both catches, Paul showed a nice ability to get open and his athleticism. Paul has good speed to go along with his 6’1″ size, and has displayed both good route running and hands. If given the opportunity, Paul really could surprise this year and be an effective weapon in the passing game for Washington. Hopefully he is targeted 7-10 times a game, and can establish himself as an additional threat to Davis and Gaffney.