The NFL is often a zero-sum game where one player’s gain must mean another player’s loss.
The starkest example of this dynamic is in roster spots. There are 53 of them and each one that is claimed by one man means that the opportunity is lost to another.
But sometimes the zero-sum deal is subtler. There are only 22 starting spots and one player earning a job means that another one loses his. The number of passes that a team throws in a game is more flexible but, still, each one thrown to Player A can’t go to Player B.
Josh Morgan of the Redskins is not happy with his diminishing playing time and opportunities. He started the season opener but he has played about a third of the Redskins’ snaps this year. And the wide receiver has been mostly in a blocking role. He was targeted for passes a total of 10 times in the first two games. In the seven games since then he has been targeted a total of seven times.
What is frustrating to Morgan is that he doesn’t believe he has done anything wrong. And, according to Kyle Shanahan, he hasn’t. It’s a matter of Leonard Hankerson earning more chances to take snaps and catch passes.
“It’s more that Hankerson has been stepping it up so we’ve given Hank more reps,” said Shanahan when asked about Morgan’s reduced role. “It’s something we said back in training camp – those guys have been competing since the starting of OTAs this year through camp. They were always neck-and-neck. Right when one guy would take a step up the next day he would take a step back and they were always right here and that’s how it was kind of at the beginning of the year. We just felt on the practice field that Hank had been stepping it up so we’ve been giving him a few more opportunities, especially on third down and stuff – more passing situations – and that’s how it’s been.”
Hankerson, a third-round draft pick in 2011, has participated in 58 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Robert Griffin III feeds him a steady diet of opportunities. In seven of the team’s nine games, Hankerson has been targeted either five or six times. His 29 receptions and 370 receiving yards are both second on the team.
Even if Morgan and Hankerson perform equally well in practice there are practical reasons to give Hankerson more playing time. He is four years younger than Morgan and he is under contract next year. Morgan is a free agent and his future with the team is uncertain.
So it’s possible that Morgan will have to clearly outperform Hankerson in practice in order to change the status quo. A tie would likely go to Hankerson.