Coach Jay Gruden spoke confidently about the Redskins’ depth at wide receiver while answering questions from reporters at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis Wednesday.
Jamison Crowder, a fourth-round draft pick last summer, beat out veteran Andre Roberts for the No. 3 receiver spot behind Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. He provided plenty of reason for optimism during his rookie campaign, reeling in 59 catches for 604 yards and two touchdowns during the regular season.
“He progressed very nicely last year,” Gruden said. “We’re very happy with where he is. He’s going to come back in better shape with great confidence and better knowledge of the system going into Year 2.”
Thrown in the mix early when Jackson suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1 that would hold him out until after the team’s Week 8 bye, Crowder established a strong chemistry with quarterback Kirk Cousins. He caught 75.6 percent of his regular-season targets, which was the highest rate of any wide receiver on the team.
“When we go three wide receivers, he’s the third receiver,” Gruden said. “He can play outside, too, but he’s our slot receiver.”
Though Crowder appears locked in as the No. 3 wide receiver of the future, Gruden reserved some high praise for 2014 fifth-round draft pick Ryan Grant. In addition to the disciplined route running that Grant has become known for, Gruden praised Grant’s efforts in run blocking and on special teams. He then heaped on a heavy endorsement.
“I feel very strongly about Ryan Grant,” Gruden said. “I think he’s an excellent wide receiver just waiting for his opportunity to be a starter.”
Nobody has a better idea of Grant’s capabilities than the Redskins’ coaching staff. With that being said, his play on Sundays hasn’t exactly measured up to that kind of praise. Grant was targeted 42 times last season and caught just 23 of them. The low catch rate can’t be pinned on the passer, either. Cousins led the league in completion percentage. This is not to say there were no positives to take away from Grant’s 268-yard, two-touchdown season, but Grant still has a ways to go in proving himself. So does fellow wide receiver Rashad Ross.
“Ross did some good things,” Gruden said. “He provides a spark for us with a lot of great speed.”
There’s no doubting Ross’s speed—they don’t call him Rocket for nothing. He’s dangerous in the return game, as evidenced by his 101-yard kickoff return touchdown against the Giants in Week 3. The 26-year-old also provides the team with a deep threat other than Jackson. But aside from running go routes, Ross hasn’t shown much in his all-around receiving game. Though to his credit, he hasn’t been asked to do much else.
Whether intentional or not, Gruden didn’t mention Roberts at all. Though he’s technically under contract, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Redskins cut him before the June 1 deadline in order to avoid the $5 million cap hit.
The Redskins have much greater needs to fill at other positions this offseason, but they’ll likely bring in some competition to bolster their ranks. A bigger target, which the current group lacks, would be a good place to start.