This series asks a few more detailed questions about the newest Redskins. This year I had the pleasure of asking the writers at Corn Nation about a Redskin UDFA. Jon Johnston, Nate McHugh, Mike Jaixen, and Evan Wiebe gave us some great information regarding new Redskin WR De’Mornay Pierson-El.
Cadillactica: Having watched a couple of Husker games last season it was clear to me that Stanley Morgan Jr was the star of the receiving core for Nebraska. Where / How did Pierson-El fit into the offense at WR and what was he generally asked to do as far as scheme and responsibility?
Nate M: When Riley and his staff showed up in Lincoln several years ago there one of the thoughts among the media and the fans was that he would be perfect for their offense. Mike Riley in the prior seven seasons at Oregon State among all carries, the wide receivers accounted for almost 12% of total team carries. This happened generally on the jet sweep. For multiple reasons (OL play), Pierson-El never really got a chance to take advantage of his carries. There were always defensive linemen in the backfield.
Mike: Pierson-El’s injury-plagued sophomore season seemed to derail his progress. As a senior, it seemed he was passed up by J.D. Spielman on the depth chart. I wouldn’t read too much into it though; if you had watched Nebraska the last three seasons, you’d understand that you shouldn’t read much of anything from what players did. The entire offense was a huge mess.
Evan W: I personally feel the Pierson-El was underutilized in Mike Riley’s offense. This could be for a couple of reasons: the offensive line didn’t perform well last year and our offense was pass first and Tanner Lee seemed to lock onto his receivers before the play developed. Also, a lot of passes thrown Pierson-El’s way were screen passes, which usually got picked off and went for six. I would argue that Pierson-El actually has better hands than Morgan Jr.
Skip to 1:11 here if you want to see an example
Cadillactica: Would I be correct in saying he is a slot receiver? The Redskins have their starters set at WR including at Slot with Jamison Crowder but Pierson-El could come in and compete for that reserve slot role with a late round draft pick and other UDFA’s do you think he has a real shot at making an NFL roster?
Nate M: I would agree that the slot receiver is probably where he would start. If the Redskins OC is creative enough, he should try and get Pierson-El the fall in space. That is really where he can be dangerous. But his real shot at making an NFL roster would be as a punt returner who can play a little bit of wide receiver. He was one of the top punt returners in the country his freshman year. For many reasons including injuries, scheme and his mindset he never got back to his old self. There were flashes at times, but it never became consistent again.
Jon: Agreed with Nate. DPE was something to watch his freshman year but never recovered that greatness. On the other hand, Nebraska’s entire team seemed to wander around aimlessly, particularly the past year, so it’s a real possibility that new coaches and a new environment will get him back on track.
Evan W: Pierson-El is only 5 feet 9 inches tall, and because of that I believe he’s more of a slot guy. I disagree with both Jon and Nate because I think he will surprise people in the NFL. Kenny Bell, another former Husker, was drafted in the fifth round by the Bucs in the 2015 draft. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to do much in the league. I have a gut feeling Pierson-El is going to be different. As I said before, I don’t think Pierson-El was utilized as much as he should’ve been in Riley’s scheme. Even though I disagree with my fellow writers, I will echo their concern about his vision. I think his best bet to stick on an NFL roster is special teams, and if he can’t seem to find the vision he had in 2014 it’s going to be hard for him to make a roster.
Cadillactica: Could you tell us about his strengths and weaknesses (get specific if you can: route running, hands, football IQ, toughness etc)? Were there any key moments where he showed up in a big way for Nebraska over his career? Where there any moments where he really let the team down?
Nate M: Like I said above, he was huge early in his career. He might have single-handedly beat Iowa and gave us life against Michigan State among others. Check this out.
He was special.
In terms of letting the team down, it would be that he seemed to of lost his “fearlessness” in returning punts. Since I’m not there I don’t know if that had something to do with coaching or if he was still nervous after getting injured but there were multiple examples of him fair catching punts when there weren’t defenders within 10 yards of him. That was not the case in 2014.
Evan W: Like Nate said he was great on special teams in 2014. I was at the game in Iowa City when Pierson-El broke the punt return for a touchdown to take the lead. It was amazing to see the look on Iowa fans when he scored. Nate talked about how after he got injured during his sophomore year he never looked the same. I’ll stick to my opinion about the scheme being the reason for this. While he did miss opportunities on special teams in his junior and senior year I think he wasn’t really expecting any blocking on punt returns. Usually, opponents were bearing down on him when he caught the punt. I would say the phrase “letting his team down” is a little harsh, but there is one instance I remember that still haunts me to this day.
This play was weird, that’s all I can say. If you want to see it start the video at 2:13:45.
Cadillactica: How would you project his success in the NFL? From the outside looking in, I could guess his production may have been held back because of QB play is that fair? If he got his shot to play with Alex Smith how do you think he would fare?
Nate M: If he cannot become the punt returner he was in 2014, then I don’t think he’ll make an NFL roster. I hope I’m wrong. He was probably the #2 receiver until the emergence of J.D. Spielman last year who ended up being a freshman All-American.
Evan W: Well, you guys got lucky here, I am also a Kansas City Chiefs fan. Hate me if you guys want, but I can bring some insight from both players and how they might mesh together. Alex Smith seemed to open up in 2017 because he knew his time in KC was shortened by the arrival of Patrick Mahomes. One of his favorite targets was the fastest player in the NFL, Tyreek Hill. Pierson-El isn’t nearly as fast as Hill, but they share a lot of the same traits. One of my favorite things about both players is how well they go up and locate the ball, especially because of how short they are. As you might’ve seen in that clip from this past year’s Oregon game, Pierson-El can locate the football when it’s in the air. I wish the best to Alex Smith and hope he continues to play the way he did in 2017, and if he does I could see Pierson-El becoming a key target for him after a few years in the league.
Cadillactica: One area that may get Pierson-El on the field is special teams. (if you haven’t already - Can you tell us about his ability as a returner). As a returner, he has some competition from options added in the draft and as UDFAs. How is his ability in space does he have good athleticism for that role?
Nate M: Repeating a little bit, but if he can return to his 2014 form, then he will beat out all those options added in the draft as well as the other UDFAs. I hope he does.
Evan W: If he can get some blocking to set up returns, he will make an NFL roster.
Mike: I think you pretty much have to forget 2015-17 in terms of Pierson-El’s special teams potential. He was injured in 2015 and in 2016, wasn’t 100% recovered. And while he was physically recovered in 2017, Nebraska’s defense was so awful that there weren’t many punts forced. Opponents were usually kicking off after scoring, not punting.
Cadillactica: If you had to choose one word or short phrase to describe him what would it be?
Nate M: Lost cost - potentially high reward.
Evan W: Missed potential in college, bright future ahead.
First thanks to all the writers at Corn Nation for chipping in for this one this roundtable style was fun. Pierson-El may not make the final roster this year unless he can blow the staff away with his return ability but he seems like a great candidate to try and stash on the practice squad. A few have already speculated about Jamison Crowder’s future on the team with the selection of Trey Quinn but Pierson-El adds depth to the slot position as well. As the Corn Nation guys said if he can get some of his vision and fearlessness back he could develop into a nice rotational WR/ST player.