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The 5 O'Clock Club: Redskins passing game production

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Tight end production

Vernon Davis ranked 8th in the league among TEs in receiving yards with 648, despite starting out the year as the backup to Jordan Reed.

If you look at tight ends with at least 20 receptions in 2017, Vernon Davis’s 15.1 yards per reception average is 4th in the league.

Running back production

My ability to automatically sort stats is limited, but among running backs, as far as I can tell, Chris Thompson ranked 5th or 6th in receiving yards with 510, despite playing in just a shade over 9 games in the season. The pace at which he was accumulating yardage likely would have put him at more than 850 yards if he had played a full 16 games, which would have probably put him at the top of the league.

If you look at running backs with at least 10 receptions on the year, it appears to me that Chris Thompson led the league with his 13.1 yard-per-reception average.

Quarterback production

We’ve had a lot of discussion about lack of wide receiver production both during the season, and since the season ended, but Kirk Cousins was 7th in the league in passing yards in 2017 (4,093). He ranked 8th in touchdown passes with 27 (Russell Wilson led the league with 34). Cousins was 8th in completions, and 8th in completion percentage among quarterback with at least 300 attempts.

What’s the point?

We’ve had a lot of discussion about the wide receiver position on the Redskins on Hogs Haven. There is no doubt that the wide receiver position under-performed this season, but a lot of that had to do with Terrelle Pryor, who was a one-year experiment. Barring a surprise from Bruce & Jay, Pryor is unlikely to bring his dropped-ball act back to DC in 2018.

The fact is, the Redskins had a very productive passing game despite the fact that no wide receiver reached 800 yards for the season.

The reason is that — while Jay Gruden’s offense can use wide receivers effectively — it doesn’t have to. Jay’s offense, at least the way it runs with Kirk under center, sends the ball to the open man based on reading matchups, and depends on the receiver’s ability to run after catch. The offensive scheme is designed to create a matchup advantage somewhere, and the quarterback is expected to figure out where it is. Especially with the focus on quick-developing routes and getting the ball out of the QB’s hand quickly, running backs and tight ends are just as likely as wide receivers to thrive in Jay’s offensive passing attack.

Team production counts

Let’s look at the production of the key receiving targets on the team, who together accounted for 92% of the receiving yards and caught 25 of Kirk’s 27 TDs.

There are several things that I notice; first is that there is no dominant receiver. Samajae Perine, who isn’t known as a receiving back, hauled in 22 passes for 182 yards (a very respectable 8.3 yards per reception), meaning that he was a legitimate receiving weapon when Kirk chose to throw to him.

Jamison Crowder, who had an uneven year where he struggled early, was the leader in receptions and yards, but his overall production would be considered simply competent for most ‘starting’ slot receivers in the league.

One notable stat is that Josh Doctson is turning about 17% of his receptions into 6 points. His overall production and his TD numbers could have both been much better if he had not lost control of a couple of balls in the end zone. It’s easy to see that if Josh and his quarterback can just figure out a couple of things, his production could dramatically increase in the future.

But more than anything else, I note that — though Kirk Cousins was one of the most productive passers in the NFL this season — his wide receiver group accounted for only 56% of that production.

Could the WRs have produced more? Absolutely.

Josh Doctson had the worst receptions/targets percentage in the league at 44.9% (78 targets, 35 receptions), but then the offensive play calling relied on giving him a lot of “opportunity” balls or “50/50” balls. Pryor looked to have hands made of wood early in the season. Doctson failed to hold onto the TD catch in Kansas City, and had a TD pass bounce off his chest in the end zone at the end of the season, but then, all teams have drops and plays that should have been better.

We can play the coulda-shoulda-woulda game with TE & RBs as well. If Reed and Thompson had been healthy all season, the TEs & RBs might have been responsible for more than half the total receiving production in 2017.

But really, all we can do is look at what actually did happen over the 16-game season, and what happened is reflected in the numbers.

The Redskins offense can be productive with an average WR group

Matt Stafford has looked better since Megatron retired. Tom Brady seems to produce as a passer no matter who lines up alongside him in the offense. The Redskins offense is designed to put stress on the defense by forcing them to cover 5 potential receiving targets on every play. Gruden’s passing concepts are designed to give the quarterback options based on the defensive alignment and the play’s development.

The Redskins are not built to feature one receiver who gets fed the ball at every opportunity. The offense relies, not on one or two highly skilled receivers who will stack up tons of yardage per game, but on a group of competent route runners and pass catchers who will catch balls thrown by one very smart passer with a pretty good arm, and a scheme designed to get somebody open on every play -- without worrying in advance about who that somebody will be.

The need for speed

Both Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins have — this month — said that the team needs to add a speedy receiver. They seem clear on what they believe is missing. I think we’ll see the Redskins looking at a very specific type of receiver in free agency, or — failing that — in the early rounds of the draft. Whoever they add to the mix, needs to be ‘speedy’ (according to the HC & QB), with good route running skills, good hands, and a good understanding of his role in Jay’s offense.

Jay Gruden needs one intelligent and well-trained quarterback, and a bunch of guys with decent hands who understand their roles as route runners and pass catchers. That’s why Jay loves Ryan Grant so much, and why Jamison Crowder has been successful since arriving as a rookie.

The Redskins don’t need a dominant WR to win; they need 4 or 5 guys who are competent to do their jobs, and the chances are pretty good that they already have those guys on the roster, or can fill any holes with a middle-round draft pick or a moderately priced free agent.

Poll

What should be the plan at WR for the upcoming 2018 season?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    Sign a true #1 receiver in free agency
    (50 votes)
  • 17%
    Use a draft pick in the first 3 rounds to find a strong receiver to add to the group
    (43 votes)
  • 6%
    Bring back either Pryor or Quick (or both) since they know the offense already. Build on the year of training they’ve had
    (15 votes)
  • 47%
    Stick with the current plan — re-sign Ryan Grant and add a receiver or two using mid-to-late round draft picks, mid-to-low price free agents, or UDFAs
    (115 votes)
  • 7%
    Do something completely different
    (18 votes)
241 votes total Vote Now