Redskins Offensive Improvements: Leonard Hankerson

Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE

In 2012, Leonard Hankerson showed both flashes of promise and doubt. Entering his third year with the Redskins, Hankerson will have a lot to prove in order to be a breakout player in 2013.

2012 Stats:

38 Receptions, 543 Yards, 3 Touchdowns.
2 Rushes, 5 Yards.

Overview

When the Redskins drafted Leonard Hankerson with their 3rd Round selection in the 2011 Draft, the fanbase embraced the pick. And why not? He did break Michael Irivin's single season touchdown record at 'The U.' Hankerson was supposed to be what we had hoped Malcolm Kelly and his "snake-bitten" self would become. A big receiver that somehow ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine (same time as Aldrick Robinson); our very own Brandon Marshall (who Shanahan had drafted in Denver with a 4th Round selection).

Fast-forward two years later and many of us are still waiting for Hankerson to take that leap. After a first-year off-season that was limited due to the NFL lockout and a season that was cut short by a torn labrum and subluxation of his hip, Hankerson entered the 2012 season as the 4th wide receiver on the depth chart. Making the most of the Pierre Garcon injury, Hankerson played in every game last season, starting in 5 out of the 16. He finished the season with just 90 yards less than Garcon and 30 yards less than Santana Moss. He bested "starting" receiver Josh Morgan in yards and touchdowns, even though Morgan had more targets (69) than Hankerson (55).

Quietly, Hankerson became an integral part of Washington's offense in 2012. He finished 2nd behind Morgan in total snaps as a wide receiver with 589, which was 125 more snaps than Moss. According to Pro Football Focus, Hankerson ranked 15th in the NFL with 45% of his targets going for 1st Downs or Touchdowns. He also ranked 13th in the NFL in PFF's Wide Receiver Rating (119.0). The knock on Hankerson has been that he drops the ball far too often to be a consistent receiver. However, PFF attributed only 3 drops against Hankerson last year which is better than Garcon (5), Moss (6), and Morgan (7).

With all that said, Hankerson still has a lot of room for improvement and will need to show the coaching staff that he's ready to take on an expanded role entering his 3rd year.

Improvements for 2013:

YAC, YAC, YAC: Yards After Catch has been a point of emphasis for Mike Shanahan. It is why he was so enamored with Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan last off-season. It is why he spent a 3rd Round pick on Jordan Reed this off-season. With Hankerson's size and (concealed) speed, he has to be able to take the ball up-field more consistently. He ranked 4th in YAC among Redskins wide receivers in 2012. It starts with catching the ball cleanly and then maintaining balance after the catch. Far too often did we see him either bobble the ball initially, stumble into a tackle, or fall into a catch. If he gets back to these basics the yards will come in bunches.

Run Blocking: Hankerson provides no versatility when it comes to special teams. So, he will have to step up in run blocking to get an edge. Hankerson had a higher percentage of snaps go for rushing plays than Garcon, Morgan, and Moss. However, he ranked worst in PFF's run blocking ratings among them all. He just didn't display the tenacity of Garcon and Moss, and was no where close to Morgan's, almost elite, ability to block. Aggressiveness is the key. Maybe a small scuffle with a rookie in camp could go a long way for him.

Be confident down the middle: Hankerson needs to make the middle of the field his home. The read-option helps in opening up holes in the middle. However, two of Hankerson's three drops last year came in the middle of the field and I can remember at least one other instance where Hankerson did a drag across the middle and failed to locate the ball as it went past him. Becoming comfortable with quick hitting slants and drags to the middle will be key for his development.

Bottom Line:

Hankerson is a relative lock to make the team because of his upside. Hankerson will enter OTA's and training camp with the goal of winning the starting 'Z' receiver spot that Josh Morgan currently occupies. Last year the Redskins brought in similarly built Dezmon Briscoe and this year some are hoping Lance Lewis is more than a camp body. The fact remains that snaps and targets should be harder to come by this year with Fred Davis, Jordan Reed, and a 3rd down RB added to the offensive arsenal. It's a make or break off-season for Hankerson's Redskins career. Let's hope he rises to the occasion.

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