Who the Heck are the Wide Receivers on this Team?

Aug. 13, 2010 - Landover, Maryland, United States of America - 13 August, 2010: Washington Redskins Wide Receiver ROYDELL WILLIAMS.

Mike Shanahan’s mantra in his first offseason with the Redskins could be summed up in a single word: competition.  At some junctures (Albert Haynesworth), this mantra has seemed rather hallow.  Competition with the 48 million dollar man?  Where do you find such players?  Still, in many facets of the roster, competition is more than just empty coach-speak, it’s how the Redskins are going to rebuild their offense.

This is most true at the wide receiver position.  Shanahan, and Offspring Coordinator, Kyle, put their X’s and O’s — as well as their Y’s and Z’s — where their mouths were, putting Joey Galloway along with Santana Moss atop the depth chart at receiver.  Behind them are 2008 second rounders Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas Roydell Williams and AFL star Anthony Armstrong.  This development left most Redskins fans with one question: are they serious?

If a 38 year old receiver who was last relevant in 2007, and a 29-year old receiver who hasn’t played a snap since 2007 can be fighting with each other to make it as a starting receiver of the Washington Redskins, how safe would it be to assume that the Redskins aren’t planning to keep both of these guys?  Furthermore, the Redskins are giving Bobby Wade, a guy who didn’t make the top eight on the depth chart at receiver, a look with the first team offense against the Ravens.  Should we as fans read into that move?

I’m not convinced Wade actually has a legitimate chance to make this team.  Along with Mike Furrey (who might get a similar look in the fourth preseason game), Wade is a potential option for the slot.  He ran some good routes against second teamers with Grossman distributing the ball, so lets see if he makes meaningful plays against a first team defense with McNabb tossing the rock.  Of course, unlike the largely successful careers of Galloway and Williams between 2005 and 2007, Wade has largely struggled to consistently contribute in the NFL, and will probably not make a significant impact on Sunday, confirming coach’s suspicions evidenced by the depth chart.

This makes Anthony Armstrong the wild card that could spring major change for the Redskins.  As of today, I’d say that Armstrong is not likely to make the roster.  But I do think that one of the reasons that Armstrong is listed as number two on the depth chart is because Malcolm Kelly’s health record is quickly becoming an easy one-liner.  If Kelly is healthy and productive by Week 3 of the preseason, we will likely forget all about Anthony Armstrong as an offensive contributor: Kelly is bigger and smoother in his routes, and neither is an explosive downfield player.  But these next two weeks might be do-or-die for Malcolm Kelly.

If Kelly is deemed to be injured goods for the season, and either goes on IR or is released, Armstrong becomes a serious contender to be the team’s no. 3 WR.  He seems to play with a good field presence, and does strike me as a better option than Bobby Wade in the same role.  He can get open, and I think we’ve seen McNabb’s trust for him to be where he’s expected to be on a critical “hot” throw.  I can’t overstress that.  Armstrong could get exposed in the third preseason game, when the Redskins will throw everything they have at the defense for three quarters, but I think he greatly improved his chances to make a difference this season vs. the Bills.

I also think the loser of the Galloway/Williams camp battle for starting ‘X’ receiver becomes a bit of a luxury for a team that needs to employ special teamers.  If the top three receivers in the rotation are Moss, Galloway, and Armstrong/Kelly, and there are just two spots left for Roydell Williams, Devin Thomas, and Terence Austin.  Austin is/was drafted as a special teams gunner, and, I think, Devin Thomas has shown to be a much more willing special teamer than most on the roster, even those with no chance of playing offense this season.  I think the team is plenty deep enough to keep an inactive 4th receiver (in this scenario, Roydell Williams), and then choose between the 2008 2nd rounder and the 2010 7th rounder to be the game day fourth receiver (5th on the depth chart, but 4th active receiver), and to be utilized heavily on special teams.

But that wouldn’t be a very efficient use of a roster spot.  Which is why it does feel like Roydell Williams is fighting a losing battle, even though he’s just a step out of the starting lineup right now.  If he badly out plays Anthony Armstrong, and Malcolm Kelly’s knee proves unable to heal, and Bobby Wade doesn’t impress, then I think both Galloway and Williams could make the team.  But that’s a lot of ifs that need to occur, and none of them would be a welcome development for the Redskins.

There’s also a doomsday scenario (from Vinny Cerrato’s perspective, at least), where Kelly doesn’t prove healthy and Devin Thomas proves to be expendable.  This would occur if Terence Austin were to obviously outplay Thomas on the second team offense the rest of the preseason, and take the 4th receiver job by stranglehold.  In this scenario, Armstrong beats out an ineffective Malcolm Kelly for the third receiver job, and both Kelly and Thomas are released.  Joey Galloway makes enough plays to prove he can still start in this league.  And then, Roydell Williams, Bobby Wade, and Mike Furrey are all in play for the 5th receiver job with some special teams duty (this might be the only outcome where Furrey could make the roster).

Brandon Banks is perhaps one punt return TD in three final preseason games away from forcing the team to keep a 6th receiver for a punt returning specialist.  He’s not an offensive player, although the Redskins have been trying him as a direct snap man in a trick-play package.  If you’re planning on having him, you might as well find something he can do.  But if Banks wins return duties, he can help the team win much more than any of the bottom three receivers will.

It’s very likely that even though Kelly and Thomas have both been disappointments to date, most probable scenarios at wide receiver suggest that at least one almost has to see it through to the season, and it’s really difficult to envision a scenario where Thomas is in trouble unless Kelly suddenly gets healthy.  A healthy Kelly might halve the chances of Devin Thomas making the roster, but that would take him from “nearly certain” to “about 50-50.”  I think the Redskins willingness to use Joey Galloway on a deep route in the first game (and he was open) suggests he’s almost as safe as Santana Moss on this roster (even without the contractual security).  That’s tough news for Roydell Williams, who really must hope that no one steps into that 3rd WR job, leaving it wide open for his taking (if he can hold off Thomas).  Still, my gut says that until I see #12 on the field making a difference, Galloway, Williams, and Armstrong will all find roles on this team.  And that means Devin Thomas and Terence Austin are nos. 5 & 6.  But Banks can set this race up so there is no WR no 6.  Which is probably good for Thomas’ chances as a receiver this year.  Or bad for his chances of making the roster.

In conclusion, there was light shined on the situation by the first preseason game, but the position is still very much a mess of “if/then” scenarios, and special teamers, and return specialists, and receivers who just were not expected to play NFL football this year, but could be major contributors to the Redskins and fantasy football teams alike.  Regarding these receivers: we can be certain that we don’t have the answers.  But at least I’m hopeful that we finally might be asking the right questions.

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