Redskins Leonard Hankerson: Pressure Is On

12:46 PM, May 30, 2013   |    comments
Hankerson embracing some fans before a 2012 game via USA TODAY SPORTS IMAGES
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ASHBURN, Va. (WUSA) -- Do we label Leonard Hankerson yet? So many of Mike Shanahan's draft picks have panned out in Washington, it's become a puzzling matter if a homegrown player starts to lag behind.

When the University of Miami product was drafted in the third round of the 2011 draft, Redskins fans and the organization rejoiced, visualizing a solution to the ever problematic wide receiver position. I was one of those believers. 

Hankerson stood tall at 6-foot-2. He broke Michael Irvin's receiving records at a college oozing with remarkable NFL talent for two decades. What was thought to be a minor hands problem dropped Hankerson in the draft. In round number three, he seemed like an absolute steal. 

Here we stand, two full seasons later, with an army of receivers taken in the same draft who are already blossoming stars. A.J. Green and Julio Jones are the obvious studs, both perennial all-pro players. But second round picks Torrey Smith (Ravens) and Randall Cobb (Packers) have also each arguably become their franchise's biggest playmaker -- in crowded depth charts nonetheless. Shoot, even the Raiders Denarius Moore (a fifth round pick in 2011) posted 51 catches and seven touchdowns last season with Carson Palmer as his quarterback. Carson Palmer. 

So there isn't doubting the Redskins receiver is lagging behind several of his peers. Pesky little Aldrick Robinson was arguably more important to the offense last season than "Hank Time," -- see his full stats here. Sure you can argue the hip injury derailed most of Hankerson's rookie season -- one which he didn't suit up during the first five games because he wasn't ready. Sure you can argue 2012 was his first season with a dependable quarterback -- but Hankerson often went missing, recording only nine receptions in five December games.

The clock is ticking on whether Hankerson will reach his potential.

"Last season could've been a whole lot better. There's some plays last year I could've made," said Hankerson following Thursday's OTA session. "I'd grade myself a C. I had 500 or something yards. But we all can do better."

Most avid NFL film watchers will concur that Hankerson does indeed possess key attributes to become an above average pro. He's not scared of the middle of the field, he's shown ability to get deep separation from cornerbacks and his size alone distances himself from the rest of the Redskins receiving corps -- some have raved about his increased muscles in OTA's.

Here's the thing that Shanahan and Hankerson both brought up: this is his first real offseason. In 2011 the lockout slowed down his mental speed of the NFL, and last season most of training camp was spent not going at 100 percent because of hip surgery.

So now Leonard Hankerson, 24, has zero excuses to finally show the skills that made him a legendary Miami Hurricane. Some Redskins sources speculate that fellow receiver Josh Morgan will have the upper hand to begin the season as the starter alongside Pierre Garcon. Morgan was bogged down by several injuries and still managed to be semi-productive. Hankerson seems to welcome the challenge. 

"There is eight, nine, ten receivers on the depth chart. We all compete with each other. Of course it's all friendly. The coaches look for the guy who makes the play. That's what I'm trying to do," said Hankerson.

Hankerson's answer to this final question is what should concern most Redskins fans. He may lack the killer instinct that Alfred Morris and many other young players on this team carry inside themselves. Hankerson shouldn't be shy about wanting to become a dominant receiver.

Q: If you put up the same exact numbers this year as you did last year, would you be heavily disappointed?

A: "I just look forward to going out there helping my team doing every little bit I can do -- helping us win games you know. The numbers don't really matter. I'm just going out there and putting the team first, doing whatever I can to help us win."

Some will view that as a selfless answer. Some will agree with me. And I won't judge an athlete on one answer alone. But like mentioned earlier, Hankerson's leash is shortening by the season. He needs to start treating every down like it's his last. He has shown the skills and has the quarterback to join Randall Cobb and Torrey Smith as a game changing receiver. If he does duplicate those average 2012 numbers, the Redskins biggest need in the 2014 draft will indeed be wide receiver.

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