The release of Jabar Gaffney leaves the Redskins with seven wide receivers on the roster; Pierre Garon, Leonard Hankerson, Santana Moss, Joshua Morgan, Anthony Armstrong, Terrence Austin, and Aldrick Robinson plus WRKR Brandon Banks. Who will be there when the season starts in September?For most of last season, the Redskins carried six wide receivers plus Banks on the 53-man roster. As I pointed out the other day, the Redskins may opt to go with three quarterbacks on the roster instead of two, with both Rex Grossman and Kirk Cousins backing up Robert Griffin III. That could mean that there will be room for just five receivers plus a returner or six receivers with one of them doubling as the returner.The field is a little less crowded than it was a week ago with Gaffney gone and Niles Paul apparently moving to tight end (we will see if he remains there when training camp rolls around). Still, there will be some fierce competition among players who have been around a little while.Garon, Morgan, and Hankerson, appear to be locks for jobs. The former two were just given nice free agent contracts and Hankerson will get at least a year to see if he can reach the potential he briefly flashed last year.The conventional wisdom has been that either Gaffney or Moss would make it to give Robert Griffin III a veteran target. But the release of Gaffney does not guarantee Moss a roster spot. Gaffney told ESPN that Mike Shanahan told him that he would not be a starter and that if he is interesting in coming back he might be able to do so at the veteran minimum salary.Moss is scheduled to make the same amount of money as Moss and he is unlikely to start either. Add on the fact that Moss is a year and a half older than Gaffney and you have one of the longest-tenured players very much on the bubble.Armstrong had a bad year in 2011 after a nice season as a 27-year-old rookie. If he can stay healthy, he is the receiver on the roster best suited to taking advantage of RG3s ability to throw an accurate deep pass.Austin has been around for two season and never has truly established a role in the offense. Robinson has speed but displayed little else in training camp before spending almost all of last year on the practice squad. The offseason program could benefit him almost as much as anyoneAnd then there is Banks, who at 5-7 isnt likely to be much of a threat as a receiver. Although he didnt break any long returns like he did as a rookie, he did consistently field punts and provide decent field position after kickoffs.It would not be surprising to see another receiver brought in between now and training camp either via trade or free agency. It likely would be someone who could compete for a job, not someone in the lock category.Unless and until that happens there will be five players competing for two or three roster spots.
The Redskins will host Tim Hightower for a visit on Wednesday, ESPN's Mike Triplett reported. Bringing Hightower in at this point represents an impressive story far beyond a mundane free agent visit.
If his career ended today, Tim Hightower's story would already be remarkable. Hightower - a DMV native that played his college ball at the University of Richmond - played for the Redskins in the 2011 season. That season, he tore his ACL, and was limited to five games.
While torn ACL's happen frequently in the NFL, what happened next for Hightower was anything but ordinary. He missed the next three seasons with an undiagnosed infection, before incredibly returning to the NFL in 2015 with the Saints.
His last two years in New Orleans, Hightower has been a solid contributor behind starting RB Mark Ingram. He's rushed for more than 900 yards, gained another 330 yards through the air and hit the end zone nine times in 24 games for the Saints.
In Washington, Hightower would join a backfield of Robert Kelley, Chris Thompson, Mack Brown and Matt Jones. It will be interesting to see if Washington adds any other backs through the draft in April as well.
Born in Waldorf, Hightower went to high school in Alexandria before playing college ball at Richmond. Playing with the 'Skins in 2011, Hightower quickly became a fan favorite, especially with his local ties.
The Redskins run game has not been particularly strong for a few seasons, and questions remain if the current stable of runners will be enough to improve. Hightower doesn't necesarily equal a significant talent boost, but perhaps coaches and front office staff are looking at the group.
Be aware, however, this could be nothing more than a visit. Triplett reported it remains possible Hightower returns to the Saints. He also visited the 49ers last week, and new San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan was running the 'Skins offense in 2011 when the team originally acquired Hightower.
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Redskins draft countdown
The NFL draft is 36 days away and there is plenty of speculation as to what players the Redskins will select to wear the burgundy and gold. Between now and the draft we’ll look at some of the players who might be of interest to the Redskins and discuss how they might fit in Washington.
40-yard dash: 4.61
Projected draft round: 3-4
What they’re saying
Ford looks the part of a speed merchant with a tight-skinned, athletic frame, including long limbs. He glides off the line of scrimmage, accelerating fluidly to force defenders to respect his ability to go deep and shows very good balance to sink his hips, as well as burst out of his breaks to create separation. Ford shows the initial quickness and lateral agility to avoid defenders in press coverage, occasionally mixing in a hesitation move to get opponents off-balance. He is willing to run across the middle and cut back inside on quick screens, showing the toughness to absorb big hits and still hang on to the ball. Ford was asked to play outside as well as in the slot
How he fits the Redskins: The top of the Redskins’ depth chart at wide receiver looks good with Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder and Terrelle Pryor. But depth is a concern, especially with Doctson’s durability a question mark. On top of that, Pryor is there on a one-year contract so there must be some succession planning at the position.
Ford was a very productive receiver at Virginia Tech, the first player in school history to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in a season. He has the knack for making the sensational catch and he isn’t afraid to go across the middle.
At 6-1 he has the height that seems to be the trend on the Redskins’ wide receiver corps lately. Ford could be a good mid-round pick for the team to develop in 2017 and be ready to be a full contributor in 2018.
Ford is not afraid to run slants over the middle and is willing to cut back to the center of the field after catching bubble screens.
His run blocking ranged from unimpressive to bad with the caveat that it’s hard to evaluate on the TV camera angles. This is an area that can be improved with NFL coaching. Adding a few pounds to his 194-lb. frame could help, too. It also sometimes appears that he could use more bulk to help him use his height when fighting for a ball.
The good and the bad of Ford was on display in the span of a few minutes during the Pitt game. He made a spectacular catch on a tipped ball that bounced off of both him and the defensive back (view here) while they were on the ground. Ford had the awareness to scoop the ball off the chest of the defender and secure it to make the catch. A little while later he was in a great position to made a catch for a first down but he bobbled the ball as he was falling out of bounds (view here) and the pass was incomplete.
In the games I reviewed Ford showed a good knack to make back shoulder catches, something the Redskins don’t seem to like to try. But the ability is there if they draft him and want to try it.
Potential issues: Ford looks skinny, almost fragile, at 194 pounds. If he does add weight he needs to do so without losing much speed. He ran a 4.61 in the 40 at the combine. Against college defensive backs he looks fast enough but that will be a different story in the NFL.
Bottom line: The Redskins can’t go into the season with a very green Maurice Harris and a very pedestrian Ryan Grant as their backup wide receivers. They need a player who can provide depth in 2017 and be able to step up to have a legitimate shot at starting in 2018.
There will be several prospects in the third- and fourth- round range who could be the guy. If the Redskins think that Ford can add a few pounds without sacrificing speed and brush up on his run blocking a bit, they could take a serious look at him.
In his own words:
On how the coaching change from Frank Beamer to Justin Fuente helped him:
I think it simplified everything for us. It limited the amount of routes that I ran - slants, outs, fades and posts; my first two years, I was running digs, post curls, comebacks, things like that - that was fine. I'm comfortable doing both. The route-running was never a problem for me because I feel that's what I do best. Being able to play primarily 'X' last year, winning those 50-50 balls and running those routes, it helped me.
Previously in Redskins draft countdown:
- Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
- Washington S Budda Baker
- Michigan State LB Malik McDowell
- Miami QB Brad Kaaya