For me, the 2011 season never really got to me the way I thought it would’ve. By the end of John Beck’s hellacious tenure as the starting quarterback at the Redskins, I was just glad to have Rex Grossman back in the line up to give us half a chance. But the point at which I officially “gave up” on the season was when then rookie wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, in the midst of having a career day and sending hopes of fans soaring, suffered a torn hip labrum that would keep him out for the remainder of the 2011 season.
Hankerson had been a player I’d been hoping the Redskins would draft since he lit it up in the 2011 Senior Bowl. Hankerson had 5 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown in that game, and looked every bit the part of a potential star. The Redskins wound up taking Hankerson in the third round in 2011, and remained on the bench for the first quarter of the season. He was activated versus the Carolina Panthers, and was named a starter when the Redskins took on the 49ers. After a 4 catch, 34 yard game, he remained the starter in week 10.
As I said before, this would be the first game back for Rex Grossman, and Grossman looked for Hankerson early and often. Grossman targeted Hankerson 9 times, and Hankerson had 8 catches for 106 yards.
For the game versus Miami, Hankerson played the “X” receiver position on most of his snaps. Let’s look at Hankerson’ second reception of the day; on this play, Miami is playing a zone coverage. The Dolphins are going to blitz the safety off the right side of the Redskins formation; since we are sending all our eligible receivers out on routes, that means once the offensive line blockers the four defensive lineman on this play, there will be one free rusher.
That means Rex has to get the ball out of his hands in a hurry. Here we see a really good bit of chemistry between Rex and Hankerson, as well as how Kyle Shanahan designs pass routes to get guys open.
The quick throw and “hot” throw is Hankerson, who is running an “Under” route. The corner, Vontae Davis, is playing zone. Hankerson fires off the ball as if he’s going to take off vertically. Hank seems to recognize the blitz on the other side and cuts quickly on the ‘Under’. Vontae Davis actually sees Hankerson break off and wants to jump the route, but then realizes he can’t abandon his zone when Fred Davis runs through it. This springs Hankerson wide open underneath for the 9 yard gain.
That’s not to say their weren’t growing pains, though. On the next play Hankerson was targeted, he’s running a Square Out route against man coverage. The play is designed to be thrown to a spot, before Hankerson gets out of his break. Unfortunately, as Hankerson is coming out of his break, he slips. The ball is thrown to the right spot, but Hankerson can’t recover, and it’s picked off.
Hankerson wouldn’t miss another opportunity to catch a pass.
One of the best things about Hankerson that I love; he doesn’t dance once he catches the ball. With so many young receivers, they catch the ball, and then desperately look to try to make a big play after making the catch. Unfortunately, this often leads to a loss of yardage. Hankerson is great at catching the ball, and then immediately trying to get vertical. That’s as important as breaking tackles when it comes to yards after the catch. Take the next play; a simple slant route. Grossman delivers the ball a little bit high (a testament to Hankerson’s catch radius), which means Hank has to go up to get it. Hankerson lands, then jumps forward for the first down between two defenders. He has very good field awareness, always aiming for the sticks, always trying to get vertical.
This was a key trait of another great receiver Mike Shanahan coached; Rod Smith. Rod Smith wasn’t a “dance and try to make you miss” kind of guy. Instead, he got so much of his Yards-After-Catch by turning upfield faster than anyone. It was less about breaking tackles and breaking ankles then simply being quicker to turn up field than anyone else, and that’s what I think we see with Hankerson.
On the next play, we see the Redskins go back to the ‘Out’ route. This time Hankerson is a lot smoother on his cut; when the ball is thrown to the spot this time, Hankerson comes back to it before getting gently shoved out of bounds.
The next route is a basically a short cross. Hankerson comes out of his route and sits in the zone. Then Grossman throws a pass that leads him away from the defenders. Once again, after Hankerson makes his catch, he turns straight up field to gain positive yardage.
On the next pass, Hankerson is lined up in the ‘Z’ receiving position. Hankerson runs (what looks like, it’s hard to tell because there’s no replay) a curl route versus man coverage. The other thing Hankerson is great at is knowing how when to catch with his body, and when to catch with his hands. Hank uses his big body to shield from other defenders. And yet again, there’s no dancing; Hank makes the catch, then turns and tries to get straight up field.
At 2:43, we see what I think was Hank’s best route on the day. It’s Deep Dig route. Hank stems up to 18 yards, fakes like he’s going to break to the corner which makes the safety open his hips to the Hank’s left. Hank them flattens his route across the field, goes up and plucks the ball out of the air to set us up on the goal line.
The last pass was, unfortunately, Hankerson’s last catch on the season. Hankerson runs an in route. As he caught the ball, one of his legs got caught underneath him as he was tackled.
Hankerson has said is 100% and ready to go as training camp opens Monday. Hankerson’s continued development as a receiver will be key to RG3′s development, and while much will be made of whether or not Pierre Garçon will be a number one receiver, I have a sneaky suspicion that Hankerson will blossom into that true number one receiver; or at least a 1-2 punch that will be comparable with what the New York Giants found with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.
BOLD PREDICTION: If Leonard Hankerson remains healthy, he’ll be the Redskins leading receiver, with over 1,000 and 5 touchdowns.