If you had to formulate one phrase to describe the career of Redskins wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, in my humble opinion, it would be “consistently inconsistent.”
That Hankerson made the Redskins final 53 man roster is of no surprise to anyone. I’ve said this before, and i’ll say it again: physically, you couldn’t ask for more in a receiver than what Hankerson brings to the table. He’s tall (at little over 6’2), well built (over 210 lbs), with very good speed for someone his size. Using just the eyeball test, he has first round pick talent written all over him. Sure, he’s a little stiff when getting in and out of his routes, and he’s not going to challenge Usain Bolt in the 40 yard dash, but those are to be expected (to a certain extent) with a bigger receiver.
But coming into this third season, Hankerson still has the up-and-down, here today and gone tomorrow-type performances. He’s very capable of putting up a dominant performance in a game, but more prone to pulling a Harry Houdini and vanishing from a game outright. He’s the Redskins most imposing red zone threat, but he doesn’t play like it. Simply put: right now, he’s just too damn inconsistent to really trust. He’s the type of player that’ll make a spectacularly difficult play on one drive, then botch a completely routine play on a critical 3rd down during another drive. Since the day he’s arrived at Redskins park, he’s been plagued by a case of “the dropsies,” and nobody on the coach staff can seem to find a cure for this.
Case-in-point? The second preseason game against the Steelers. In the span of one half, he confirmed what we all have seen from him in his short tenure here: he’s just as apt to drop a pass that he gets two hands on as he is to make an acrobatic one-handed catch for a touchdown on an overthrown pass.
The Redskins organization has invested a 3rd round pick and him, and you simply can’t find or teach his measurables such that he becomes easily replaceable. The things he brings to the table from a physical perspective certainly tantalizes this team and this coaching staff enough to where they’ll keep working with him to develop as a receiver, and I still think there’s time for him to do that.
A lot of fans are touting the fact that Hankerson is entering his third season, and that this is the year we’ll figure out whether he has a legitimate NFL future or not. I don’t necessarily agree with that premise. A lot of receivers don’t usually come into their own until either sometime into their third season, or really heading into their fourth season in the league.
We have to remember that while it may seem like Hankerson has been here forever, he only has 20 NFL games under his belt. He’s missed more than half as many games (12) as he’s played in, mostly from an injury during his rookie season (which sadly came after his best game of his career, an 8 catch, 106 yard performance against the Miami Dolphins). So we may have to look at it from the perspective of Hankerson really only having a season-and-a-quarter of true NFL experience.
Here’s a good name to keep in the back of your mind, when it comes to Leonard Hankerson: Vincent Jackson, originally drafted by the San Diego Chargers but currently (a Pro Bowler) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coming out of Northern Colorado, Jackson was also a huge (6’5 and 230lbs), freakishly athletic receiver. After playing only 8 games in his rookie season, he didn’t break 45 receptions or 625 yards in his second or third year (although he did have six touchdown receptions his third year). But in his fourth year, he had almost 1100 yards receiving and seven touchdowns, and has had more than 1100 yards and eight or more touchdowns in three of the four seasons since his “breakout” year.
I’m not saying that Hankerson has the same physical talent as Jackson (though you could make an argument that it’s close), and subsequently that he’s definitely going to follow the same career trajectory. But if there’s a comp to make for Hankerson, I think Jackson is as good as anyone.
If he does ever develop into a reliable weapon at receiver, he’ll bring to the Redskins what guys like Dez Bryant in Dallas and Hakeem Nicks in New York bring to their teams: the big bodied receiver constituting huge targets for their quarterbacks, allowing the QB to simply throw the ball up in the air and let the receiver to use their height and size advantage against most cornerbacks.
Time will tell if Hankerson is ever able to become that guy, but here’s to sure as hell hoping so. As good as the rest of the receiving corps may be, Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, or Aldrick Robinson are not guys you want to be throwing fade passes to in the endzone.
There is little doubt that 2013 year will be a huge year for Hankerson’s development, but I don’t think that necessarily equates to him having to have a huge year (so for anyone looking to him as a fantasy football sleeper: look elsewhere for now). I think it’s far more important that he absorbs as much as he can from crafty veterans like Moss and Morgan, especially while he currently sits behind them on the depth chart. Moss is on the last year of a recently restructured contract, and given that he’s 34 years old, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be back on this team in 2014. That gives Hankerson a huge opportunity to step into this offense on a full-time basis.
The final chapter has certainly yet to be written, when it comes to Leonard Hankerson, so hopefully we’re getting close to the “climax” of this story. His development, both during the 16 games of the 2013 season, and during practices leading up to each of these games, will be very interesting to watch.