How the Redskins Can Spread the Football This Year:
One issue facing the Redskins this season, is how to spread the ball around effectively given their sheer number of weapons. Now this is without a doubt a good “problem” to have, because it signals the fact that there isn’t a drop off behind the starters or the top guys. Gone are the days where guys like Roydell Williams, Anthony Armstrong, Todd Yoder and others represented the 3rd and 4th receivers or 2nd TE. While in many ways it is very much a positive it can also lead to problems with ensuring everyone is getting the ball enough and getting enough playing time. It’s just from an ego perspective of the particular player, but from the perspective of the team’s allotment of resources. The Redskins spent a certain amount of cap dollars or draft picks on these positions and they can only return value to the Redskins if they are actually utilized.
The Redskins have spent somewhat significant money ($2 million or more average), or draft picks (4th round or higher) on four receivers (Pierre Garcon, Joshua Morgan, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson) and three tight ends (Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen, and Jordan Reed). And that doesn’t include getting targets to their running backs (which includes former 4th rounder and likely 3rd down back Roy Helu Jr. and FB Darrel Young) or deep threat receiver Aldrick Robinson, who saw four of his 11 catches go for 20 plus yards, or conversion TE project Niles Paul who saw five of his eight catches go for 20 plus yards.
Here’s how the Redskins broke down their targets last season (numbers from ESPN) :
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Now with any luck the Redskins will scrap any ideas of throwing the ball to Griffin this year, so hopefully that won’t be a category going forward. There will always be a percentage of throws (throw aways, batted passes etc.) that aren’t targeted 2.2% seems on the lower end, but it will probably never be more than 4-5%. The real shock is of course how big the percentage is for wide receivers and consequently how small the percentage is for the tight ends and running backs. Tight ends you would probably expect to be more like in the 22-27%. Running backs and fullbacks typically have a wider range (that is really somewhat dependent on whether or not a team uses a fullback) 12.4% is still very low and typically you see teams more in the 15-21% range. There are definitely some other outliers around the league, but typically those are teams who utilize a TE or WR in that fullback role, something the Redskins do not.
Now it was somewhat understandable why the Redskins targets among tight ends and running backs suffered last year, given the injuries to Fred Davis and Roy Helu Jr. guys who combined for 147 targets in 2011. Now that was out of 591 targets that season, but Davis missed the final four games with a suspension, and Helu missed some time with injury and wasn’t given as much playing time early since he was a rookie. Had they both been healthy last year, their numbers and those for their respective positions would have surely gone up. How much they would have improved is very much up for debate, especially considering that Fred Davis’s highest target games were those without top wide receiver Pierre Garcon.
Now on some other teams the percentage isn’t as important, given that the actual number of targets are what are important. On a team like the Patriots, Broncos, Saints etc. that are throwing the ball 575-700 times the percentage may be small, but the number of targets is actually much bigger. For instance the Broncos running backs and fullbacks combined for 86 targets out of 588 total. That is just 14.6% of the total passes, yet 31 more targets than what Washington did. The Dallas Cowboys backs had double the targets at 110, but it was just 16.7% of the total targets. The Redskins were 30th in the league in pass attempts last year, and while they might improve some, they aren’t going to start throwing the ball 35-40 times a game. While some may want to see the Redskins throwing that often, that just isn’t their game or Mike Shanahan’s. In fact the Redskins were just 2-3 when they had to throw the ball even 30 times last year. We may see the attempts rise to the 480-500 range, but if it goes higher it will likely mean the Redskins aren’t winning many games.
Assuming the Redskins increase their targets to 500, here is how I see them being broken down by position. I will show a slight increase in non-targeted throws to 3% up from 2.2%. That will leave 485 throws to be distributed among the Redskins various weapons.
-I see the Receivers percentage dropping. They will still be the favorite target by far, but I think the Redskins want to exploit some more potential mismatches with tight ends and backs.
-Garcon will see his targets go up some as he’s healthier, but I don’t think they will sky rocket. The Redskins just spread the ball around too much, and Garcon may see his snaps limited slightly, especially if the foot injury is still nagging. Now there is a chance that he could be more featured and get over 100 targets, but it will depend on how the other receivers are doing.
-Morgan may end up starting and being the possession receiver, but his targets will probably be the lowest of the top four. I also think he ends up splitting time with Hankerson.
-Moss was so effective on a per snap and per target basis for the Redskins last year, that I think they will look to further expand his role some this year. He may not play as much as some of the other receivers, but when he is on the field, I’d expect him to be the primary or secondary option on most passing plays. Moss also benefits from the fact that he really is the only slot receiver on the roster.
-Hankerson is a guy who really was on par in terms of per target production with Moss and Garcon last year, and could be in line for a bit of a “breakout” season. Unfortunately he’s going to have to share targets which will keep the raw numbers down, but he should at least make his presence more readily felt this year.
-Robinson draws the short straw, but the Redskins will likely try to utilize him a little throughout the season. He has big time speed and could get a few targets on deep routes, and in other occasions be used as a decoy to hopefully draw safety help to one side. His targets though will be very dependent on Garcon and Hankerson. If Garcon takes his game to the next level, it will be tough for Robinson to get on the field enough.
-With a healthier Fred Davis, rookie Jordan Reed added to the mix and Logan Paulsen showing himself as a respectable pass catcher the tight end targets should definitely go up this year. It will be tough splitting them up though because you can make a case for all of them to have fairly significant totals. The other interesting thing is that under Mike Shanahan we’ve seen a pretty big distinction between the starting tight end and the back-ups. The starting TE gets the vast majority of all TE targets, with the back-ups only getting even moderate targets if there is an injury (or suspension) to the starter. Can the Redskins though justify to keep doing that given the resources in the TE position is the big question.
-Davis is coming back from a mid-season Achilles injury, so his snap count could be limited this year. He’s looked good so far this preseason, but it is tough to know just how much he can give you. Davis should still see his fair share, and likely the majority of targets, but it won’t be the monopoly it was in the past.
-Paulsen might not have the speed, agility or quickness of Fred Davis, but last year he proved he could be a solid fill in for him and handle himself as a receiver. He averaged 12.3 yards per catch, and 4.6 yards after the catch average, fairly comparable numbers to Davis’s 13.5 and 5.7 numbers. Paulsen is also going to earn some playing time due to his blocking ability, so he will be on the field a fair amount. I think between Davis’s injury and how raw rookie Jordan Reed is, Paulsen will carve out a nice niche for himself.
-Reed definitely has a lot of promise, but he’s a one dimensional TE that will likely keep his snap count and targets down somewhat. The Redskins aren’t going to ask him to do too much inline blocking, which will limit his opportunities. Injuries have slowed his progress this preseason and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him inactive for much of the early season.
-I know many would probably like to see these targets distributed to the other tight ends, but the reality is the team shouldn’t forget about Niles Paul. His blocking and ability to line-up at a number of positions can help him get on the field, also I doubt the team will ignore some of the big plays that he made. Paul had 5 catches last year of 20 or more yards, and of his eight catches averaged 19 yards per catch. He averaged eight yards after the catch, which is the highest of any receiver or tight end. While it is all very much a small sample size, they were very promising numbers for a young developmental player. He will likely get some looks this year to see what he can be going forward.
-I’d love to think that with a healthier Helu, a year of Morris learning how to be more of a receiver, wanting to utilize Darrel Young more and the potential for rookie Chris Thompson this number would be much higher, but realistically it probably won’t jump too high this year. There are enough question marks with these guys, the team also simply has too many other weapons. Running backs are also likely to be utilized more for fakes and blocking roles with the Redskins than some other teams.
-Helu’s health is a big question mark and part of the reason why his targets aren’t higher. His playing time may take a big hit because Morris is the unquestionable primary back and both rookies should eat into his back-up and third down duties. Helu will probably be the best pass protector of the running backs which could keep him from going out on as many routes. He should still be targeted a fair number of times though, especially based on his total snaps.
-Morris will be on the field the vast majority of the time which will help him get some targets (though he’s likely to be part of the play fake quite a bit), but unless he shows more as a receiver his targets shouldn’t be too high. Subbing him out more this year though is likely to occur, not just in an effort to get a better blocker/receiver on the field, but to help keep him fresh as well.
-It’s tough to know what to make of Thompson. Sure he’s a late round pick, but you can’t ignore that speed and game breaking ability. The Redskins might try to create a package of plays to utilize those talents. While some of that will of course involve him running the football, Thompson should get some receiving looks as well.
-Young I think could be the big beneficiary here among the backs. He has been so impressive catching the football these past two years that the Redskins would be crazy to not try to utilize him more often. Linebackers have had a really tough time covering him out of the backfield and it has led to a number of first downs and big plays.