- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

They possess big-play ability, a knack for finding the first-down marker and can help on special teams. But Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El and James Thrash — currently the top three receivers on the Washington Redskins depth chart — aren’t very big.

Thrash is 6-foot, Moss and Randle El are 5-10 — a problem when going against big, physical cornerbacks or inside the 10-yard line, when the perfect play call would be a jump ball-type pass to the corner of the end zone.

After Moss, Randle El and Thrash, the Redskins have 5-11 Jerome Mathis, 6-1 Maurice Mann, 6-2 Burl Toler, 6-4 Billy McMullen and 6-5 Anthony Mix. Only Mix was on the roster last year.

The Redskins have a second-round pick and two third-round selections to address the position.

If most mock drafts are correct and the Redskins address defensive end with Calais Campbell, Phillip Merling or Lawrence Jackson, taking a receiver late Saturday night or early Sunday should be a priority.

And the Redskins know it.

“We have two very good receivers that aren’t as big,” vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato said earlier in the offseason. “In the West Coast offense, you need a little bit bigger receiver. … The draft has some big receivers.”

The Redskins seem intent on giving Mix — signed from the New York Giants practice squad last season but did not have a catch — a chance to be their “big” receiver. McMullen has 45 career catches but didn’t play last year.

“You’d love to have the biggest, fastest guy you can get that can dominate,” coach Jim Zorn said at the combine in February. “To slot a spot and say, ‘We need a big guy on that side,’ I don’t know if I would put that as a necessity. … What’s great about this system is that there is balance when it comes to the patterns.”

To achieve balance and give play-caller Zorn and quarterback Jason Campbell a chance to spread the football around, the Redskins need receivers with varied skill sets. In Brandon Lloyd, they had a player who wasn’t as good as Moss but ran the exact same patterns. Mercifully, he has been released after catching no touchdowns in two seasons.

Tight end Chris Cooley often would line up in the slot position after Lloyd was placed on injured reserve, leaving Moss and Randle El as the outside receivers. Cooley could take advantage of the alignment if defended by a linebacker, but not so much if matched up against a physical defensive back.

Zorn envisions Randle El playing the slot receiver, leaving Moss outside, allowing Cooley to exclusively go against a linebacker and leaving the spot opposite Moss up for grabs in certain formations.

“I don’t like to compare guys, but I see Antwaan Randle El as Bobby Engram — an inside slot receiver who can move, run option routes and can come across the field on underneath patterns,” Zorn said. “I see Santana — speed across the field, speed deep down the field. He’s a versatile receiver and he’ll fit very well in this system.”

This year’s crop of receivers isn’t dynamic, but there are a few players that could be available when the Redskins draft 51st overall who fit the team’s needs.

A receiver may not be selected in the top 15, as each of the top candidates have at least one or two negatives on their resumes.

The receivers who could go in the first round are Devin Thomas of Michigan State, California’s DeSean Jackson and Texas’ Limas Sweed.

Among the names that are equal parts productive, tall and available in the second round are Indiana’s James Hardy and Kansas State’s Jordy Nelson. Hardy (6-6, 217) caught 36 touchdowns in three seasons but struggled against top-flight cornerbacks in the Big Ten. Nelson (6-2, 215) has performed well in pre-draft workouts but his 122 catches for 1,606 yards last year is impressive. Michigan’s Mario Manningham could also be available, but his marijuana issues are an obvious red flag.

TOP FIVE RECEIVERS, TIGHT ENDS

Devin Thomas, Michigan State

6-1½, 216

Junior college transfer had only one great college season (79 catches last year), but his willingness to catch the ball in traffic and make yards after the catch have moved him up draft boards.

Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma

6-3½, 224

Early entry has good size and — this is key for a tall receiver — consistently wins the jump ball. Caught 144 passes (21 touchdowns) for nearly 2,300 yards in three seasons for Oklahoma.

DeSean Jackson, California

5-9½, 169

Explosive receiver who will be good for a team that already has a big receiver to fill the slot position. Caught 22 touchdown passes and is also valuable in the return game.

James Hardy, Indiana

6-5, 217

It’s hard to ignore his size and numbers (191 catches, 36 touchdowns in three seasons) but there are questions about his speed and how he will fare against physical cornerbacks.

Dustin Keller (TE), Purdue

6-2, 242

No tight ends are expected to go in the first round, but Keller is the best of the bunch. Performed well as a senior (68 catches, 7 TDs). Projected as an H-back/slot receiver by most teams.

REDSKINS OUTLOOK

If the Redskins don’t select a receiver with size with their second pick, it means most of their candidates already have been selected or that they’re really sold on 6-foot-5 Anthony Mix and/or 6-4 newcomer Billy McMullen. A perfect fit for the slot position would be Kansas State’s Jordy Nelson (a little over 6-2). At tight end, the Redskins have three on the roster so drafting one in the later rounds is a possibility.

Ryan O’Halloran


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