The post-game press conference following the loss to the Bengals on Thursday night started predictably. A reporter asked Jay Gruden about two offensive pass interference penalties called on rookie 6th round draft pick, wide receiver, Kelvin Harmon. Jay’s immense frustration with the two plays — both subject to review after coach’s red flags were thrown to initiate challenges under the new one-year rule — was evident.
“I don’t know. All is know is I want Kelvin Harmon to do that every time the ball is in the air. That’s why we drafted him because he is aggressive when the ball is in the air. If he can’t do what he did in this game, then I don’t know what he can do. I am going to continue to coach Kelvin Harmon to go up and go get the ball like he did tonight and good things will happen for him. We’ll get the explanation hopefully tomorrow or the next day, but I applaud Kelvin for his effort going out and attacking the ball.”
That’s pretty damned strong support for a player from his coach, who is limited by the league in his ability to criticize officiating, but is not constrained from supporting his players.
Just in case you didn’t catch the game, or the post-game reporting, here’s a look at the plays in question.
In the first, Dwayne Haskins underthrew the ball, forcing Harmon, who had gained separation on the defender, to slow down and come back for the ball. He leaped high into the air, and, as the defender plowed into him, sending Harmon flying 5 yards backwards through the air, everyone in the stadium and watching on TV knew to a certainty that it was defensive interference, and the Redskins would have a 1st down and good field position.
Dwayne Haskins underthrows Kelvin Harmon. Harmon tries to make play on underthrown ball over defender who isn't looking. Ref throws flag... For OPI. Gruden challenges & loses the challenge.— Paul Conner (@P_ConnerJr) August 16, 2019
Thank God the NFL committee got together in offseason & fixed the #Rams #Saints issue SMH pic.twitter.com/vXyGBZLwCy
Well, everybody knew that except the officials on the field, who called offensive pass interference.
On the sideline, Jay was livid. Hopefully there were no under-age lip readers in the audience, because Jay’s vocabulary was blistering as he laid into the refs for the call. He didn’t need to ask anyone in the booth for an opinion — Jay threw the red flag.
The strangest thing happened. The replay officials let the play stand.
Minutes later, the newest Redskins quarterback, Jalan McClendon, was in the game and, like Haskins had done, underthrew Harmon, who had a step or two on the defender. Once again, Harmon came back for the ball. Once again he went overtop of the defender, this time making what appeared to be an absurd catch that would result in a huge gain, a first down, and good field position for his team.
Kelvin Harmon just made an ABSURD catch. pic.twitter.com/lU4tYcYsZ8— Jordan Dajani (@JordanDajani) August 16, 2019
Another red flag — this time, thrown by the Bengals. The replay official decided to call offensive pass interference again on Harmon. In the broadcast booth, Joe Theismann, who had nearly had a coronary attack from the first OPI decision grudgingly admitted that Harmon had had a handful of jersey on this second play, and that he could “sort of” understand this call.
I’m not here to argue the merits or otherwise of the penalties assessed against Harmon. What I wanted to say was: “Holy shit! Did you see the way he went up for those balls and out hustled and overpowered those defenders?!?!”
I don’t watch college football, so this was my first exposure to Harmon on the field. If I’d seen one of those plays from Thursday night, I’d’ve thought it was pretty impressive, but having seen both of them I’m hungry for more.
This is not a 6th round maybe-he’s-good-enough-maybe-he’s-not player. This kid has skills. He needs to be on the 53-man roster; he needs to be active; he needs to get targets.
Harmon showed in these two plays what Redskins fans were promised we were getting when Josh Doctson was drafted — a receiver who will fight for a 50/50 ball and win.
Harmon had two receptions for 17 yards on three targets in the Cleveland game. Criminally, the stat line reflects no catches and no yards against Cincinnati, as he did not have a reception on his other 2 targets in the game.
In three years at NC State, Harmon scored 16 TDs, catching 177 passes for 2,665 yards. That’s an average of 15.1 yards per reception. His worst season average was 14.6 yards per reception as a senior when he caught 81 balls for 1,186 yards.
After seeing Harmon fight for those two underthrown passes on Thursday night, I’m excited to see what will happen when the Redskins quarterbacks eventually figure out how to throw the ball to where Harmon’s route is actually taking him.
How good is this kid gonna be?!
The Redskins wide receivers and my thoughts on the projected final roster
I’m looking at the Redskins receiving depth chart and I’m starting to think about the regular season:
Paul Richardson - He simply has to be on the roster because of his contract. There is no discussion here.
Trey Quinn - Jay Gruden has done everything short of getting a tattoo on his forehead proclaiming that Quinn is the starting slot receiver. Absent any superior options, he is the presumptive punt returner as well.
Terry McLaurin - Simply being drafted in the 3rd round would likely be enough to secure a roster spot for his rookie season, but Gruden has praised McLaurin repeatedly for his work during OTAs, minicamp and training camp. He was drafted as much for his special teams prowess and leadership as for his speed and pass-catching abilities. I see him as a roster lock.
With these three players “locked in”, I believe that the remaining receivers on the roster will be fighting for three spots on the Week 1 roster.
Kelvin Harmon - In my mind, the two OPI plays against the Bengals show the kind of toughness and will to win an individual battle that can’t be taught. As I said above - Harmon is what we always hoped Doctson would be. Harmon played 35% of the Special Teams snaps against the Browns and 30% vs the Bengals,
Robert Davis - Davis has 2 receptions on 3 targets in the pre-season. Incredibly, both receptions were big plays — 46 yards and 55 yards — and both were touchdowns. The first one against the Browns was the result of a blown coverage by the defense, but the TD reception against Cincinnati was a very good route and a skilled catch on a somewhat difficult ball by a receiver who beat the coverage. Davis plays on special teams as well - 35% of ST snaps in the Cleveland game and 27% versus Cincinnati. Davis was expected to till be re-habbing when training camp started, and was considered unlikely to be healthy to start the season following his very serious leg injury last year. I don’t imagine the coaches or front office were expecting him to fill a roster spot in the regular season because of those health concerns, but it’s now starting to feel inevitable that he will be on the Redskins roster for Week 1.
Last season, Doug Williams said Cam Sims "threw a hand grenade" into the team's wide receiver competition. Robert Davis is doing the same thing this year.— Matthew Paras (@Matthew_Paras) August 16, 2019
Cam Sims - Cam Sims, despite his impressive physical traits (6’5”, 220) has only hauled in 1 pass for 6 yards on three targets this pre-season. Sims has played ST on 15% and 13% of the ST snaps against the Browns and Bengals respectively. He may not be doing enough to secure a roster spot.
Darvin Kidsy - After hauling in 5 receptions for 86 yards on 7 targets against the Browns, Kidsy caught both of his targets this week, but was limited to just 5 yards. It appears as though Kidsy has not taken any special teams snaps in either game this pre-season, though Paul Conner reported on at least one occasion that Kidsy was fielding punts in training camp. Kidsy’s showing in the first game was a matter of taking full advantage of an opportunity, but he’s likely buried too deep on the WR depth chart to make the roster unless he can win the return man job outright.
Steven Sims - Steven Sims has two pre-season catches for 25 yards, but that’s on 4 targets. At 5’10”, 190 pounds, he is a smaller receiver who has gotten just 3 special teams snaps in two games. While he might be able to secure a practice squad spot, Sims seems a long shot to make the regular season roster.
Jehu Chesson - Chesson has 2 receptions on 2 targets for 18 yards this pre-season, catching one pass per game. If Chesson is going to make the roster, it will be as a special teams player. Chesson had the second-most ST snaps in the first preseason game (13 snaps/50%), but his share dropped to just 27% this week against the Bengals.
Brian Quick - Quick has been targeted 3 times this preseason but has yet to record a reception. He also does not appear to have played a down on special teams. I think the end of August may mark the end of the Brian Quick era in D.C. Of course, I’ve had similar thoughts before.
Josh Doctson - Doctson did not play against the Browns; he played 15 offensive snaps against the Bengals. He was targeted once but did not record a reception. Doctson does not play special teams.
Probably not on the roster
Of these eight players, I believe that Quick, Kidsy and Steven Sims are too far down the list to have a legitimate shot at making the final roster. As I mentioned above, if Chesson makes the team, it will be as a special teams player, so I don’t think we can reasonably factor him into the discussion of wide receiver depth in this article.
That leaves four players fighting for what I expect to be three spots.
Probably on the roster
- Harmon has played with passion and appears to be a member of the special teams unit.
- Davis has come up big, with two huge touchdowns from two different QBs in two different games. He was drafted a year ago and appeared to be having a very good camp before his injury in 2018. Davis also plays special teams.
I’m ready to predict that — absent an injury or totally unexpected meltdown in a preseason game — these two guys make the final 53-man roster.
Probably on the bubble
In my mind, that leaves Cam Sims and Josh Doctson fighting for the “last” wide receiver position. Sims is physically imposing and he does play some special teams, but Doctson has the advantage of having been a first round draft pick.
A week ago I was ready to say that Doctson would be the odd man out, but after the Bengals game, based on Sims failure to pull away, I’m gonna say this race is almost neck-and-neck, but that Doctson is ahead by a nose.
I think the game against the Falcons this coming Thursday will be instrumental in deciding which of these players gets the nod when the final roster is decided in three weeks. At this point, I think the contest between Sims and Doctson is too close to call, but I believe that Kelvin Harmon cemented his spot on the 53 with his incredible effort on the two plays where he was flagged for offensive pass interference.