The Washington Redskins added veteran tight end and former University of Maryland star Vernon Davis to an already crowded position group this past week. The addition of Davis should keep opposing teams from ganging up on up-and-coming star Jordan Reed.
With this move, the team has created an area of strength in the tight end unit.
With the return back from injuries of fellow tight ends Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen and Derek Carrier; the position could be even more explosive.
Forgotten in this move however are four players that, if given the ball more could add value to the Redskins’ potentially dangerous offense (even though touches will be at a premium in 2016).
Who are these four players and what is it that they bring to the Redskins 2016 offense that could make it excel?
4. Running Back Chris Thompson
The fourth-year player out of Florida State has proven his usefulness as one of the team’s best all-around running backs. Known out of college for his speed and elusiveness, Thompson has molded himself into one of the Redskins best pass catchers and pass blockers.
For a player of his size and stature, the soft-spoken Thompson has developed into a physical presence that could have a real breakout season for the Burgundy and Gold this upcoming season.
The Florida native has quietly become the senior back in Head Coach Jay Gruden’s offense and will be counted on to help incumbent starter and fellow Floridian Matt Jones excel. Thompson likened the situation to his junior year playing for the Seminoles.
“As a junior at FSU, my running backs coach gave me the responsibility of making sure our room was together and I got the young guys: Devonta Freeman [now Atlanta Falcons running back] and James Wilder right,” Thompson said. “It made me more mature… made me a smarter football player. Leading by example, being the first to start every drill at every practice [and] making sure I knew every detail of our jobs in this offense. So if [Redskins fellow running backs] Matt, Silas [Redd], Mack Brown and whoever else comes in has a question, they can ask me. And [Redskins running backs] Coach [Randy] Jordan is confident enough for me to answer them.”
Look for Thompson to build off the success he had last season as the team’s primary third-down back.
He posted respectable numbers in Gruden’s tight-end-oriented system, playing in 13 games. He recorded 216 yards on 35 carries but showed flashes of his big-play capabilities. He had three runs of 20 yards or more and one of 40 yards or more. Thompson hauled in 35 receptions for two touchdowns as well proving his unique skill set.
3. Wide Receiver Pierre Garçon
For a record breaking receiver who holds the single-season franchise receptions mark (113) Garçon, at times, has disappeared in Gruden’s offense. Some of that can be attributed to the dynamic playmaking skills opposite him in DeSean Jackson and the emergence of Reed underneath.
Still, despite those players, Garçon had his second-best season as a Redskin in receptions posting 72.
He showed his value when Jackson was sidelined last year with a hamstring injury and help make some game winning plays in the process.
The offense was at its best down the stretch when Garçon was targeted at least seven times and that production opened up the offense even more for Jackson and Reed.
Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay will have to find ways to get the former Mount Union College star going early and often in games so he can remain a factor in the offense. He is the team’s primary possession receiver on the outside so his activity will help predicate the calls that are made to help quarterback Kirk Cousins continue his ascension as the team’s signal caller.
2. Wider Receiver Jamison Crowder
Last year’s draft class was a big success for General Manager Scot McCloughan and, although less heralded than some of the team’s other rookies, Crowder had a fabulous first year.
The former Duke Blue Devil and Atlantic Coast Conference all-time receptions leader caught an impressive 59 balls for 604 yards and two touchdowns. His production stabilized a position that had been in flux for several seasons in Washington.
Crowder did not become the teams main slot receiver until Oct. 4 of last year when the team demoted veteran wide out Andre Roberts.
With Crowder in that position, the team’s offense had another weapon to add to Jackson and Garçon on the outside and Reed underneath. Defenses were kept honest and coordinators had a tough time figuring out who was going to be the go-to player.
Crowder had several big-time performances in 2015. Once his playing time increased, he had a three-game span where he hauled in 21 receptions for over 200 yards.
Keeping him involved in the weekly game plan will continue to put pressure on defenses.
1. Running Back Matt Jones
All eyes will be on Jones in 2016 since the team’s featured back over the past four seasons, Alfred Morris, has since departed for Dallas.
What Morris brought to the table was professionalism and a hard-nose approach that the Redskins coaching staff believe Jones can duplicate and/or exceed. His running style is one that is tough and no-nonsense but what separates Jones from Morris is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield well.
In Gruen’s offense, the former 3rd round draft pick out of the University of Florida – Jones, could be the missing link that thrusts the unit over the top.
It’s no secret that the two-time Pro Bowler (Morris) was a non-factor in the passing game during his time in Washington. Over his four-year career as a Redskin, he accumulated 47 receptions in 64 games. That is an average of 11 receptions out of the backfield per season. It also shows he averaged less than one catch per game (0.73).
Morris’ yards-per-rush averages dropped every season he played for the Burgundy and Gold as well. Some of this could be attributed to Gruden’s pass-first offense over the past two seasons. But the writing has been on the wall for a while for Morris who excelled in former head coach Shanahan’s zone read offense.
Last season Jones rushed for 490 yards in 13 games. He showed flashes of becoming a true featured back in the league but he also was plagued by his knack for fumbling. Add in the fact that he played down the stretch with a hip injury he has since had surgery to address, the team feels Jones can be a big-time contributor to its offense.
Combining his hard rushing style and ability to pass catch — last year he caught 19 passes for 304 yards — will be key for Washington to have a balanced attack.
Gruden recently alluded to the fact that he understands that he has taken a huge gamble going with the former Gator and letting the fan-favorite Morris leave… and to a division rival at that.
“Matt played obviously well we’re very excited about him,” Gruden said. “We let a heck of a running back (and a very productive running back) go because we have Matt. We need him to protect the ball a little bit more. He’s a big, strong, powerful back that I think can handle the work load. Time will tell on that. We’re taking a bit of a gamble here but, based on our professional opinions, we believe he can handle it and be very, very effective at it.”
“He’s got the measurables that’s for sure,” Gruden continued. “That doesn’t always translate but we’ll see. We like Matt. [He’s a] smart football player and runs very, very hard obviously. Now we just have to make sure the ball security is there. He can catch the ball out the backfield. Very good solid football player we have high hopes for.”
A healthy running game led by Jones will have to be a factor going forward… the offense has gotten away from the run at times.
Over two seasons Gruden has won 13 games. In those 13 games his teams have won nine when they have rushed for over 100 yards. In one other contest they rushed for 99 yards and won. A healthy run game is the Redskins clear pattern for success.
Driving that point home even more is the requirement for balance in the offense. Under Gruden, when the Redskins have passed for over 300 yards or more in a game, they were 0-4 in 2014. Last year they were 5-1 with this formula. However, in six of their seven 2015 regular-season losses, the team rushed for less than 100 yards. Add in the Wildcard playoff loss to the Green bay Packers when the team rushed for less than 100 yards again and one can see the need for a balanced attack.
In games where Cousins is throwing the ball for 300 yards, the team has shown the ability to win. But they must show that they can run the ball in fourth quarters and salt games away with time management.
For Washington to continue its upward trajectory, it will have to find a way to share a lot of footballs offensively to keep key players from going through lulls where they could become uninterested.
If all of the intangibles and vision of the coaching staff and front office come together, the Redskins may have an offense that could rival any of the teams in their division and even many around the National Football Conference.
To defend their 2015 NFC East title, they will need all of their weapons and new toys to be on full display and working together in unison.