Last year it was expected that the Redskins would utilize more of a two tight end look, to maximize the effectiveness of their weapons Chris Cooley and Fred Davis. Unfortunately an injury plagued season for Chris Cooley and season that was cut short due to suspension for Fred Davis wrecked those plans. 2012 though is a new season, and while some questions remain surrounding Cooley and Davis, a third name has entered the discussion as 2nd year player Niles Paul has converted from WR to TE. Will the Redskins actually utilize their TE’s more this season is the question, and one who’s answer could impact just how effective the Redskins can be this season.
Now two years ago Redskins TE’s accounted for a very respectable 27% of all skill position snaps (28-32% is considered on the high side, Patriots are in the 40% range), but that number fell to 24% last year. Between the the 3% drop in snaps and the extended absence of Cooley and Davis, the Redskins TE’s saw a drop off in targets, receptions, yards and TD’s last year. Even in 2010 though the Redskins under-utilized their TE’s as receiving options, as Fred Davis (despite 182 snaps as a receiver) saw just 29 targets as the number 2 TE. Teams that effectively use a 2nd TE as a weapon typically throw 40-60 targets their way (Patriots are in another world with 110+ targets for both their top TE’s). What was more troubling is that the Redskins receivers that season behind Santana Moss were a complete joke (Joey Galloway, Roydell Williams and Anthony Armstrong), and the Redskins were among the league leaders in passing attempts.
Now hopefully last year was just a blip in the radar due to circumstance, but it is noteworthy that the Redskins went out and added two wide receivers at the start of free agency. Adding Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan with Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson (who is another player kinda questionable due to injury), would indicate that the Redskins would like to see a greater emphasis on their wide receivers. At the very least the Redskins are going to want to maintain their level of targets from last season among their wide receivers (otherwise it is a very questionable use of resources). Which means additional targets for the tight ends will need to come from the running backs, which isn’t a bad thing since their receptions have the lowest yards per catch.
Of course it is easy to say that you want to increase targets among tight ends or receivers for that matter, but it quite another thing to actually do so. The tight ends have to get open, and the quarterback has to have time to throw the ball down the field. The lack of pass protection these last two seasons, has led to a ton of quick passes to running backs to get rid of the ball. It’s also led to more passes thrown 10 yards or fewer to the receivers/tight ends (this is an area where Chris Cooley is very adept). For the Redskins offense to function properly and the tight ends to be used effectively the Redskins need to have more of an intermediate passing game (11-20 yards in the air). This is an area where Fred Davis and Niles Paul (if he develops) could really thrive since their speed can create separation, and this is a no-mans land for most linebackers in coverage.
In an ideal world Chris Cooley will be healthy, Fred Davis will stay out of trouble (and remain consistent), and Niles Paul will develop, giving the Redskins options. Cooley could be a great short yardage security blanket for Robert Griffin, utilizing his strong awareness and good route running to be a quality underneath option. Davis and Paul have more of an ability to stretch the field and own that intermediate area, as well as add some deep threat potential. Unfortunately, early reports about Cooley’s health leave some real questions about how effective can he be (if he makes the team at all). And until Niles Paul proves himself there will be questions about how effective he can be as well.
What do you think? How will the TE snaps and targets play out? Will the Redskins be able to count on this position in 2012?