I haven't had the opportunity to get this segment really going this season, but on a random Thursday, I felt the need to hit up our revered friend John Keim of The Washington Examiner (named DC Sportswriter of the Year in January 2012) to trade some instant messages about Leonard Hankerson specifically, as well as third-year players in general in 2013. I know I have beaten the drum for Hank the Tank for almost two years, so it was time to get level-headed and get some insight from John. Shoot me straight, Mr. Keim!
Ken: Do you believe Leonard Hankerson will be one of those "Year Three" breakout wide receivers?
John: I'll be honest, questions like this are difficult because we don't see players in practice or know how they're progressing in certain areas (and I haven't talked to anyone about Hankerson's progress in a little while). But my sense is that while he should improve, I don't know that I see a breakout season. That also depends on what you mean by breakout: 70 catches? 80? 60? I see him as a 50-catch guy. For this offense, the way they spread it around, that would be good. There's parts of Hankerson's game that I like: he's as fast as Garcon and Robinson in the 40, believe it or not, but does not have the same acceleration. But I don't see him getting the same separation of a Garcon. Will that improve? Probably, but by how much?
Ken: I suppose by breakout, I mean not only a substantial improvement over the production in his first two years, but also the kind of numbers that put him in the upper third of the league's wide receiver class. He has flashed the ability to get open, but also flashed the inconsistency of his hands. To me, I see the emergence of Aldrick Robinson as potentially the biggest hindrance to him becoming a top-flight wide out. You figure Garcon and Morgan will likely hold onto their spots, and it looks like Shanahan is going to find ways to get Robinson on the field. If Hankerson catches 80 balls, it will likely mean one or more of those other guys are injured. I would be ecstatic to see Hank contribute fifty catches to our offense-especially if we are winning. Let's assume for a moment that he makes that leap and develops into the go-to receiver alongside Garcon. My question to you would be: Do you think Hankerson would be easy for opposing defensive coordinators to take away? Man...it has been a while since we had a guy on the outside that opposing coaches could only contain, but not stop. Part of me thinks his size would help him avoid what defenses did to Santana Moss in years past. And yes, I know we have departed from reality-embrace it John!
John: My problem with Hankerson is that he doesn't create enough separation at the line to become a high level receiver. Saw this again vs. Dallas on the play that was incomplete to him at the line; never made the corner move off the line and it's why the pass was broken up. Watch Garcon get off the line and compare it to Hankerson; big difference. It's one reason he fell to the third round despite running a good 40-yard dash time. So that, not the emergence of others, is what will hinder him. I think Hankerson can be fine and part of a good offense. The good thing is, with Garcon on the same team, Hankerson doesn't have to be The Guy.
Ken: That is good news...we (the fans) have a tendency to force that title on players that have either not earned it or aren't equipped to live up to it. Setting Hank the Tank aside then, is there a third-year player (or players) in 2013 that you see as breaking out in a way that causes the fanbase to forget about the salary cap penalties and lack of first round picks?
John: I've seen some improvement in Jarvis Jenkins, but I wish he'd get more pressure. Pass rushing should be his strength. However, he's starting to make more plays on occasion and that's a positive. He still tends to play a little too upright, especially on stunts. If anyone from this group breaks out, you'd have to say him. I don't see Niles Paul breaking out, considering he's behind Fred Davis (assuming he's back) and Logan Paulsen. Paul should be better, but how much? He'll still be a No. 3 tight end. If Roy Helu is healthy -- and can also stay healthy -- he could help as a third-down back. The Redskins don't really have one now, which is why Alfred Morris is starting to play more on third downs. But I don't see Helu breaking out more than contributing. I don't see DeJon Gomes breaking out, either. He looks like a backup/special teamer. They're going to have to find secondary help in free agency somehow or the draft.
Ken: I honestly can't wait to see Alfred Morris and Roy Helu together in the backfield. I sometimes forget that Helu is here and that-when healthy-he would be the perfect complement to Morris for us. John, you diabolical genius...you just found yet another reason for me to get even more excited about 2013!