For many Redskins fans the idea of Robert Griffin airing it out and picking up big chucks of yards with completions to Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson, but the reality might be a bit different. Typically rookie quarterbacks (including very successful ones) aren’t asked to be among the top 15 (or 20 in most cases) in the league in attempts. In addition having safety valves at the tight end and running back/full back positions can be the key to success for a young quarterback. Now this is not to say that the Redskins won’t find ways to utilize Griffin’s arm and their young receivers, just that a balanced passing attack will be the best for the Skins new franchise quarterback.
A perfect example of how balance can benefit a young quarterback, is the Carolina Panthers approach last season. While Steve Smith was without a doubt Cam Newton‘s top target, Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen, and Jeremy Shockey, finished 2nd, 3rd and 5th on the team in terms of receptions. In fact backs and tight ends made up 48% of all the receptions last season for the Panthers. The balance of Smith and LaFell stretching the field, and the tight ends and backs working underneath, really helped make Cam Newton‘s rookie year more successful. Now the question is can the Redskins offer the same balance for their rookie quarterback?
The answer is a hopeful one, but it is far from certain. Last year the Redskins backs and tight ends accounted for 49% of all completions. A stat that is even more impressive given the fact that Chris Cooley missed most of the season due to injury and Fred Davis the last four games due to suspension. Also, Roy Helu, who finished 3rd on the team with 49 receptions, was just a rookie and was just a role player for the first half of the season. The question comes can Davis and Helu continue to perform at this high level, and can Chris Cooley stay healthy and become a productive option again. If those three are productive, it would be a major advantage for Griffin. Those safe, short to intermediate routes are the bread and butter for the offense (over 80% of all throws) and if Griffin masters them this offense could begin to function to the Mike Shanahan standard.
The other real question facing the Redskins is do they have the receivers to handle the other half of the equation. While much has been made about the speed and playmaking ability the Skins have added, there are still some unknowns. Pierre Garcon was able to put up big numbers last year even without Peyton Manning, but he’s always been a secondary receiver and a bit streaky. Josh Morgan has shown some excellent promise, but he’ll need to step up into a bigger role. While Leonard Hankerson is coming off an injury and might not be up to full speed. The Redskins still lack a true number 1 receiver like rookies Cam Newton and Andy Dalton had last year (Steve Smith and A.J. Green). So while the Redskins collective WR corps looks pretty strong, it is unclear if it is enough, particularly with a suspect offensive line that might not allow for as much downfield passing as people expect.
These uncertainties in the receiving corps (and along the offensive line) will increase the burden on the tight ends and backs to be effective weapons, to take the pressure off Griffin. Throwing to backs and tight ends might limit some big play ability (though Davis and Helu both have major yards after the catch potential), but in general they make up for lower yards per catch, with having far higher completion rates. Utilizing these options can put the Redskins in far better down and distance situations, and give Griffin the confidence he needs to succeed in the NFL.