Information: Niles Paul
6'1", 233 lbs.
3rd Season with the Redskins
Key Career Stats:
5th Round Pick in 2011(155th overall)
2012 Stats: 8 Receptions, 152 Yards Receiving, 1 Touchdown, 1 Att, -1 Rush Yards
Twitter handle: @Niles_Paul84
2012 Highlight: Niles Paul was drafted in 2011 out of Nebraska in the 5th round as a tall wide receiver with 4.51 speed. He spent the year learning to play the position in the NFL and contributed mostly on special teams. Going into the 2012 season, Mike Shanahan had a different plan for him. First, he phoned Paul and told him he would be switching positions from wide receiver to tight end. Then, Shanahan told the media that Paul reminded him of another tight end he once coached: Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe who retired in 2004. Paul does have comparable size and speed. Unfortunately for him, he only caught one more touchdown than Sharpe did last year and hardly made a splash at his new position. That particular touchdown happened to come on Thanksgiving Day against the Cowboys and, outside of a few exciting tackles on special teams, was by far his best highlight of the season.
2012 Lowlight: When Brandon Banks got benched for being an ineffective returner, Paul got the call on kickoffs and we got to see a rare scenario in which a tight end was his team's primary kick returner. Paul did not necessarily shine, averaging a pedestrian 21.8 yards per return on 13 attempts. His worst moment however, was his mishap at the end of the crucial Week 14 game against Baltimore. After the Ravens had scored a touchdown to go up by eight points with just under five minutes left in the game, Paul fumbled on the following return. He lucked out on the play and the officials gave the ball back to Washington, believing the ball had gone out of bounds before the Ravens could recover. The rest is history, as Kirk Cousins came in and led the team to an overtime win. Paul's mistake, however, almost prevented that comeback from ever happening.
What is coming in 2013: Paul will need to improve in several ways if he wants to see the field regularly:
-Learn his blocking assignments: Making the switch from flanker to tight end is no easy task. One of the biggest challenges is learning to play on the line and knowing which defender is your responsibility. Having one full year under his belt should help and his size is a plus.
-Develop a rapport with RG3: This could be a challenge as Griffin's offseason availability is still up in the air. However, knowing the playbook inside and out and being where you're supposed to be and when you're supposed to be there will help. Santana Moss is proof of that. If Paul can earn the trust of his quarterback early on, Griffin will no doubt reward him with more looks.
-Turn heads as a kick returner: Paul has shown he is fearless as a gunner on punt and kickoff coverage and is willing to change positions to make the roster. With the Redskins having Fred Davis, Logan Paulson and now Jordan Reed, their 3rd round pick out of Florida, there is a lot of competition at tight end. Paul can ensure his spot on the team by showing he can be more than just average as a kick returner. His aforementioned fearlessness, bulk and speed could be a real asset in that area.
In the end, Paul is going to have to show he is valuable as an all purpose player. He has a reputation for being solid on special teams and a hard worker in general. As I mentioned above, the tight end spot is crowded for the Redskins, but with Fred Davis being far from certain to stay on the field for all sixteen games and Reed being a rookie who is also fairly new to the position, Paul should have a leg up on his competition and a chance to earn not just a spot, but also more playing time.