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If you follow me on twitter, you'll know how much I'd be in favor of a move for a guy like Percy Harvin. That kind of Swiss army knife, do-it-all type of player would be huge in the Redskins Pistol Offense. A guy that can line up in the backfield and take a hand-off one play and line up at receiver the next causes nightmares for defenses. Percy Harvin can do all of that and more, but he appears to be out of the Redskins price range, at least for the time being. However, looking ahead to April's NFL draft, there are a couple of candidates that could play a similar role to what Harvin would in the Redskins offense.
I'll start with the low-hanging fruit. Anyone who watched West Virginia this year will know who Tavon Austin is. He is probably the most similar to Harvin in that he's lined up all over the field and been a factor in the return game. Austin blew everyone away at the NFL Combine recently when he ran a 4.34 second 40 yard dash, which if you didn't know is extremely fast. Austin isn't just another track guy though, he plays at that speed when he wants to, but also shows good patience waiting for blocks to develop. Once he finds a hole though, he can explode through it. His short area quickness is elite meaning he can make cuts at speed and give defenders very little time to react.
Austin's downside is that he measures in at 5'8", 174 pounds which is pretty small by NFL standards. You'd have to worry about his durability taking constant hits from safeties and linebackers in the NFL, but he displayed above average toughness in college to his credit. But he's a player that you want to get the ball in his hands. Against Oklahoma, he took 21 carries for 344 yards and two touchdowns while catching four passes for 82 yards. Add in his 146 return yards and he had a total of 572 yards in the game. Talk about explosive! Ultimately, I think Austin probably ends up in the first round, but he'd be hard to leave on the board if he lasted to the Redskins pick.
Swope is a real intriguing prospect. On the face of things, he looks like an average slot receiver who could have a solid NFL career, but far from spectacular. He measured in as a 6'0", 208 pound receiver at the combine, but blew everyone away with a 40 time of 4.34, same as Austin. Now Swope doesn't exactly play at that speed, when you watch him at Texas A&M he looks more of a 4.5 guy that can occasionally turn on the jets and get to that top speed on a vertical route. But Swope doesn't need that speed when he plays in the slot. He's not afraid to get physical at the line of scrimmage against a press corner and a very willing and capable blocker in the run game.
But perhaps the best part of Swope's game is his route running. He is an excellent route runner, probably one of the more accomplished route runners in this entire draft class. He is smart enough to recognize when to slow or sit down in a hole in zone coverage; while also knowing how to sell fakes and not tip off his routes. He runs effective double moves and is a good catcher along the sidelines. The intriguing part of Swope's game is how versatile he can be. He doesn't project all that well as an 'X' or 'Z' receiver on the outside, so if he's limited to just the slot position, his value will drop. However, Swope played running back in high school and took some carries at A&M. He shows similar traits to what you look for in a running back when he takes screen passes in the slot. I believe he could run the ball effectively enough to be a threat in the 'Harvin' role. However, I think teams will worry about how he projects as mainly a slot receiver and he'll drop to the third or fourth round.
Oregon's Kenjon Barner is an explosive running back that can leave defenders trailing in the dust. He may have only run a 4.52 40 at the combine, but he plays much faster than that when you watch him in game. A major benefit to drafting a guy like Barner is that he has experience in an option offense which would help his transition to the NFL in an offense like the one the Redskins run. Barner has shown that he is plenty capable catching passes out of the backfield, which leads me to believe he could take some snaps in the slot. He also offers upside as a return man, filling another hole for the Redskins.
Despite having a thick enough body to take the punishment, Barner rarely runs between the tackles. He usually opts to bounce it outside regardless of any potential running lane inside. I'd question how disciplined of a runner he can be, which is a requirement in a Mike Shanahan zone scheme. His pass protection is improving but its not to an NFL standard just yet. Barner could be an excellent change of pace back in this offense and if he could add slot receiving to his resume, then he could be another candidate to fill that Harvin role. Look for him to be taken between the fourth and fifth round.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on Robinson. You'll see plenty of people who think he can transition from his college position of quarterback to a running back/slot receiver in the NFL but it certainly won't be easy for him. He really struggled at the Senior Bowl in receiving drills which his backers will put down to him still recovering from an injury. He looked to have significantly improved at the combine, but it remains to be seen if that's the result of hard work or just because he was back to full health.
What's puzzling for me is that he appears to be more interested in playing receiver than running back, despite running back being a more natural position for him. He worked with the receivers, not the running backs at both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine. During his time at Michigan, Robinson put his running skills on display and was extremely impressive with natural instincts waiting for blocks to develop and vision to find holes. He had the speed to burst through those holes and could break any play for a big gain. When you add in his throwing ability, it would make for a fun option on a couple trick plays in the Redskins offense. If Kyle Shanahan calls for Brandon Banks to throw a pass, you better believe he'd call for Denard Robinson to do so on occasion. But when you look at the whole picture, the transition will be tough for Robinson and he's had mixed results so far. I think he's probably a fifth round prospect.
Gray is an under-the-radar prospect that is a bit of a project. Gray is a 6'3", 240 pound athlete that has seen time as a duel-threat quarterback and receiver for Minnesota. He started as a quarterback in high school before taking one for the team and playing some receiver to help provide some depth out wide. Since then, he's split time at both positions, but hasn't really settled fully at either. He offers incredibly athletic size and power to go along with his elusiveness as a runner. Gray's size is something nobody else on this list offers. At that size he could be used not only as a slot receiver, but also an X or Z receiver. You could maybe get away with playing him as a joker tight end on occasion.
Gray is very raw in terms of route running and the more advanced side of receiving, but he has good hands and is tough to bring down after the catch. He could conceivably become a red zone threat once he learns the nuances of how to use his body to shield defenders from the ball. His history as a dual-threat quarterback in an option system makes him a candidate to take hand-offs in the backfield as well. Just like Denard Robinson, it's easy to see Kyle drawing up the rare pass play for him as well. Gray is very much a project that might take a few years of investment to get the most out of him, but his upside could potentially be just as high as any other guy on this list. At this point he looks like he'll be available in the sixth or seventh round.
Clearly then, there are alternative options to trading for Percy Harvin. Let me know your thoughts on these guys and anyone I may have missed in the comments below.