As we head towards the 2nd preseason game I thought it would be a good time to take a deeper look at where the wide receiver position battle stand. Though there will obviously be an order for this group, the focus is on who is making the roster. That means I won’t be focusing on Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan, since they have their roster spots locked up. Also, I’m not going to really address any of the “camp bodies” at the position. Instead I’m focused on the guys who I think have a real chance to make it, and first up is the wide receiver battle.
It’s unclear how many receivers the Redskins plan to start the season with, but 6 seems to be a fair number. The chance that they go with just 5 seems unlikely, given how much the coaching staff values the position. Also, with the top four guys set, and there being little chance they will help out much on special teams (maybe you’d see Morgan some, and perhaps Moss as a punt returner), the Redskins will probably want to take two guys with some special teams utility to balance out the roster. I would also say that it is unlikely that we see more than 6 receivers, given the fact that they are keeping three quarterbacks this year, and given the injuries along the offensive line, keeping less than 9 linemen would seem to be irresponsible. That means there are five players competing for two spots.
Dezmon Briscoe– Briscoe was a late add to the mix as the 3rd year receiver out of Kansas was a bit of a surprise cut from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the start of training camp. Briscoe actually led the Buccaneers in receiving touchdowns last season, and finished third among receivers in catches with 35. Though not a burner, Briscoe is a sure route runner, with nice size and could be an interesting red zone target going forward. At 23 years old, and under control cheaply through next season Briscoe has extra advantages to warrant keeping him. On the flip side, Briscoe was cut from the Buccaneers in part due to questions about his work ethic and conditioning. He also may never be fast enough to be a first rate starter. And with coming late to the party he has a severe learning curve to overcome.
My take: I’d keep Briscoe, given his size, youth, potential and contract. If his work ethic is a question then the Redskins can release him down the road with no real loss. Also the lack of knowledge of the playbook is of little concern since he really wouldn’t be called upon unless there is an injury or two ahead of him.
Brandon Banks– Banks is one of the more divisive Redskins on the bubble (at any position) as some fans highlight his special team’s ability (or at least what is perceived), while others question whether he has the size and frame to succeed at this level. Banks from a pure speed/quickness stand point is tough to match, but it is unclear just how much of that ability is functional. Banks had a poor preseason game against Buffalo, where his lack of bulk was a noticeable issue. He also slipped a couple of times (once nearly costing an interception), showing that though he is quick, he couldn’t translate it into a positive when it mattered most. While Brandon Banks may hope that his special teams ability saves him, he’s coming off a poor year returning the ball, and a season that proved just how much the new kick-off rule has affected the value of returners.
My Take: I don’t see how Banks can make this squad given his lack of utility. Not only would he struggle to be anything more than a gimmick player on offense, but he doesn’t even play on the kick and punt coverage units. Also, after taking a closer look at Banks’ returns last year it is easy to argue that he may have even cost the Redskins in the return game last year. I really don’t see any justification to keeping Banks on the 53 man roster.
Anthony Armstrong– Armstrong who bounced around training camps and the Arena leagues, before settling in with the Redskins in 2010. He eventually surpassed more veteran receivers to emerge as the Redskins number 2 receiver that year and a bit of a deep threat. In 2011 though the Redskins added veterans Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth, while drafting Leonard Hankerson, Niles Paul and Aldrick Robinson. Ineffectiveness combined with injury forced Armstrong down the depth chart last year and he was pretty much forgotten. Though he possesses great deep speed, he’s not a great route runner and doesn’t have good body control to keep his feet or maintain the sideline on jump balls. He is a good all-around special teamer, though not really a return man. He’ll be a restricted free agent next year and going on 30 making him an unlikely long term option.
My take: Armstrong does offer experience which most of these guys lack, but if Briscoe makes the team then the Redskins will already have experience covered on their checklist for the final two spots. I don’t think he’s an easy guy to cut, but there is little chance of improvement which is why the Redskins should turn to a younger option.
Terrence Austin– Austin is entering his third year after being drafted in the 7th round out of UCLA in 2010. He’s a guy who has seemingly gotten a little better each year, but has yet to really distinguish himself. He does have 15 career catches so he has a little bit of experience, but overall he is still pretty limited. While Austin has nice speed and quickness, I would put it below that of Banks, Armstrong and Aldrick Robinson. His route running has improved though which is a nice benefit. He was a returner in college, but is really only an emergency option at the NFL level.
My Take: I think it could be close, but I don’t think he makes it. Though I feel Austin can be a fine 5th or 6th wide receiver, I don’t know if he’d ever be capable of more. That combined with his limited special teams ability, makes me think he’ll be on the outside looking in on cut down day.
Aldrick Robinson– Robinson was the Redskins 6th round pick last season, and though he didn’t make the active roster he was kept on the practice squad. He has exceptional speed (perhaps the best on this list), and has improved as a route runner. He’s also working his way up the special teams ladder, and is considered the number two returner behind Banks. Drops have been an issue both last preseason and at the beginning of camp this year, but might not be as bad as originally believed. He flashed well in the first preseason game, showcasing his deep speed, ability to gain separation and nice body control. He’s also under control through 2014, making him the longest controlled receiver on this list.
My Take: For me Robinson is a bit of a sleeper, and I guy that I’d look to keep. Given how low of a bar that Banks has set in the return game it is hard to imagine Robinson would be much worse. I also think that given Robinson’s cheap contract he makes sense to keep. Finally I feel that while it isn’t perhaps likely, Robinson has probably the best potential (sans Briscoe) of this group for developing into a top 3 receiver.