Leonard Hankerson is still a key player for the Redskins season

Leonard Hankerson is having an inconsistent training camp.

This according to eyewitness reports out of training camp, by John Keim and others.  Keim deemed Hankerson's concentration issues a "turn-the-head-upfield-before-you-catch" issue.  Keim went as far as to say that the Redskins once considered Hankerson a long term no. 2 receiver, but now looks like a no. 3.

Hankerson's practice habits and concentration lapses have come under fire, but he's still a key player in the Redskins offensive depth chart.  And if you are of the opinion that game performance and production should dictate playing time, then I think you can conclude, and should conclude, that not only is Hankerson is already the Redskins no. 2 reciever, and the numbers think he's a pretty good one.

To be clear, I do think practice has to count for something, and it's clear from talking to people who have been to training camp this year that Pierre Garcon and Joshua Morgan have separated themselves atop the depth chart, and should get first crack in the starting lineup as that is what they were signed for.

On the other hand, has anything really changed from the end of last season, when the Redskins were in the middle of a fierce playoff chase, and needed to go to it's most dependable targets over and over again to move the chains and keep the defense off the field.  During those crucial plays, the Redskins went time and time again to Pierre Garcon and Leonard Hankerson, and away from Joshua Morgan in such situations.  Even compared to Garcon, Hankerson converted the catches and the first downs a higher percentage of the time than even Garcon.

The cause of such short memory could be attributable to how often the Redskins change their WR coach (every year, seemingly). Hankerson was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft by the Redskins, and was the fourth receiver in 2011, starting one game before his season ended with a hip injury.  A hip injury can threaten career effectiveness, but Hankerson came back even stronger from the injury in 2012.  Among all players with 20+ targets on the Redskins over the last two years, Hankerson's 8.6 yards per target (YPT) in 2011 ranked second on the team to Fred Davis (9.0).  In 2012, he actually improved that figure to 9.2 YPT, although that ranked third behind Davis (10.5) and Pierre Garcon (9.4).

YPT is a good measure of the kind of impact an individual receiver has on the game, but there are better measures of dependability.  We can look at a players catch rate to see how often a player makes a catch when the ball is thrown in his direction;  Hankerson's 2012 catch rate of 64.5% ranked fourth on the team last year after Davis (77.4%, team leader), Garcon (66.2%), and Moss (65.7%).  A year ago in 2011, Hankerson's 68.4% catch rate was tops on the team, albiet in many fewer attempts.

Leonard Hankerson's propensity for the dropped pass isn't any more damaging to the offense than Morgan's inability to separate from defenders, or Garcon's inconsistency in route running that makes getting the ball onto his chest difficult for the quarterback.  The numbers bear that out.  The main difference is our perception of these events.

Ranking in the top 15 to 25 of qualified receivers in the league's most relevant value statistics, such as catch rate and yards per target, it's clear that over the last two seasons, Leonard Hankerson is actually one of the surest things among NFC East receivers.  He's not on the fringes of a nomination for the pro bowl, but it's not like a 12 TD season someday is out of the question for him either.  The criticism of Hankerson's practice habits and performance is just another example of the kind of overreatction that happens in the offseason and preseason, before the games come around and you need to get your most dependable players on the field, in crunch time.  When it comes down to it, Hankerson is a key player who will get the ball on third and 8, because he'll be open.

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