Rich Tandler breaks down the new Redskins coaching staff
Mike Shanahan selected 21 players in the 2011 and 2012 drafts, and the seventeen who remain on the roster are set to enter a critical stage in their development. In the coming weeks, Redskins Insiders Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler will take a look at what those players have accomplished thus far and what they still must do in order to solidify their status in the NFL.
Who: Niles Paul
Position: Tight end and special teams
Draft year/round/pick: 2011/5th/155th
Career to date: Paul was drafted out of Nebraska as a wide receiver, but after a quiet rookie season switched to tight end.
In his second season, he appeared in all 16 games, hauling in eight catches (on 15 targets) for 152 yards and a touchdown. Paul’s biggest impact, however, came on special teams, where he recorded 10 tackles, which ranked third behind aces Lorenzo Alexander and Reed Doughty. Paul also showed some promise as a kickoff returner after taking over from Brandon Banks late in the regular season.
In 2013, Paul’s contributions on offense declined as the team turned to Logan Paulsen and rookie Jordan Reed as the primary tight ends. In 15 games, Paul had only four catches (on eight targets) for 51 yards. On special teams, Paul made a career-best 11 tackles, but the unit’s historically bad showing under Keith Burns (fired after one season) overshadowed any personal achievements.
For the second straight year, Paul also stepped in as the kick returner after the team's first option faltered. On 20 attempts, he averaged 20.6 yards per – 23rd best in the league.
Outlook for 2014: Paul is fast, tough and has a penchant for making big hits on special teams. He’s also very intense.
Twice last season, he raised eyebrows with comments he made about the Redskins’ scuffling special teams units. In October, he said not everyone was buying into Burns’ philosophy. After a horrific showing against the Chiefs in December, he called the unit “terrible” and questioned whether some players felt they were too good to be on special teams. Although the coaching staff didn’t like Paul’s comments, his teammates quietly supported his sentiments.
With only 14 catches in three seasons, it’s certainly fair to wonder whether Paul is capable of earning a bigger role in the passing game. And after mixed results as a kick returner, it’s also probably fair to wonder whether the 6-1, 233-pounder possesses enough shiftiness to excel in that role.
But this much cannot be disputed: Paul has intangibles that aren’t measured by statistics. In addition to becoming a standout on the thankless punt and kick coverage units, it seems possible he’ll become the type of heart-and-soul leader every special teams unit needs.