No Redskins receiver ranked in the top 40 of the NFL in yards-per-reception last year, and frankly outside of a few long runs from veteran Adrian Peterson, the Washington offense drastically lacked big plays.
The single player that was supposed to provide that true deep threat for Jay Gruden's team was Paul Richardson, but injuries significantly limited his first season in Washington. Richardson, a six-year pro out of Colorado, signed with the Redskins in 2018 as a free agent after starting his career with the Seahawks. In Seattle, he emerged as a big play target for Russell Wilson, highlighted by more than 700 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, when he averaged 16 yards-per-catch.
The Redskins need a down field threat like they did when DeSean Jackson roamed the sidelines for the Burgundy and Gold. Richardson isn't DeSean, nobody is, but both play a similar game.
Last season, Richardson hurt his shoulder in training camp and never fully improved. A knee injury later ended his year after just seven games. His stats were paltry, 20 catches for 262 yards with two touchdowns.
Still, Gruden believes in Richardson's potential.
"He showed glimpses in training camp of ‘wow, this guy can run.’ He’s got great hands, but I think he was beat up a little bit," the coach said of Richardson back in March. "I know he’s got it in him, I know he wants that back and he’s going to ask for a lot more opportunities to make plays on the ball this year and he will get it if he’s healthy."
During the Redskins offseason work, Richardson did not work in team drill but was present at minicamp. He spoke with reporters and seemed to be in good spirits. That is hardly important though.
What's important is speed, top speed, and a trio of quarterbacks that seem more likely to take chances vertically than last year's starter Alex Smith.
If Richardson can stay healthy, which is no sure thing given his track record in the NFL and even in college, he could get more chances deep. Both Colt McCoy and Case Keenum have shown tendencies to look for big plays - with the turnovers that follow - and that could help Richardson. It's unclear yet what rookie Dwayne Haskins will look like on an NFL field, but he certainly has the arm strength for 9 routes.
Looking at the 2018 Redskins offense, veteran tight end Vernon Davis led the team with a 14.7 YPC average. Davis has elite speed for a tight end, and an ability to get past linebackers. Still, Gruden doesn't want a 35-year-old tight end leading his team in YPC. The coach wants Richardson in that role.
"Having that luxury of having a guy that can really run fast, put the pressure on the defense, get on the toes of the corner, or the safety, to make them get the heck out of there, is important," Gruden said.
The Redskins defense looks well built for the 2019 season while the offense has a number of question marks, at almost every position group.
If Richardson can stay on the field, that could be one answer.
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