Jan 6, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins wide receiver Leonard Hankerson (85) runs out on the field to warm up before the NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Make Or Break Season For Hankerson

December 9, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins wide receiver Leonard Hankerson (85) attempts to catch the ball over Baltimore Ravens cornerback Cary Williams (29) at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Since being drafted by the Washington Redskins in 2011, many Redskins fans feel wide receiver Leonard Hankerson hasn’t lived up to the reputation he had held at the University of Miami where he broke school records once held by Michael Irvin.

While fans might believe Hankerson has struggled or even been a waste of a draft pick, the truth is much different, in fact, Hankerson has been one of the Redskins more reliable receivers.

During his first season in 2011, Hankerson had the unfortunate task of being an NFL rookie during a lockout which left him unable to prepare as he normally would. In an interview during 2011, Hankerson admitted to that, “it is a lot harder because you have to just come in and learn so much in such a short time and be expected to go out and produce.”

To top it off, Hankerson suffered a torn labrum and subluxation of his right hip, ending his season during his first career start against the Miami Dolphins. While Hankerson only appeared in three games during 2011, he still managed to haul in 163 yards off of 13 receptions.

His sophomore year wouldn’t be any easier as he would have to learn an entirely new offense with the emergence of the option read; a system in which the wide receivers have multiple roles. When speaking to receiver Joshua Morgan, he [Morgan] insisted this offense takes time to master for the receivers (noting that they have up to 6 responsibilities per play depending on Roberts cadence at the line).

Nov 13, 2011; Miami, FL, USA; Washington Redskins wide receiver Leonard Hankerson (85) catches a pass against the Miami Dolphins in the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

That however didn’t seem to set Hankerson back. For the first season in which he was healthy, Hankerson recorded 543 yards and three touchdowns, numbers better than those of current elite level wide receiver Brandon Marshall (309 yards, two touchdowns) and Roddy White (446 yards, three touchdowns) during their first full seasons in the NFL.

What might be even more impressive for the second year pro is during a season in which players usually have a decrease in production, he had the least amount of dropped passes on the football team with three, according to Pro Football Focus (Garcon led the team with 9). Additionally he was third best in catch percentage at 69.1% (PFF), only behind Joshua Morgan (69.6%) and Pierre Garcon (69.8%).

Heading into 2013 there are a lot of expectations on the plate for Leonard Hankerson. This will be his third season in the NFL, a season which usually is considered to be the time for a player to “breakout” which fans are expecting.

Dec 16, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Washington Redskins wide receiver Leonard Hankerson (85) against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Redskins won 38-21. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

If Hankerson truly wants to have a breakout season, he’s going to need to work on two very important flaws in his game.

One of those happens to be his fear of going across the middle and making bigger catches. Thankfully because of the read option Hankerson was able to have more room allowing the footsteps to not bother him so much, but heading into year two, teams should somewhat be able to hold their ground across the middle, meaning his fear could come back.

Another is his ability to catch the ball smoothly. Though Hankerson finished the season with the least amount of drops on the team, he still has shown he cannot smoothly catch balls as one would think, especially with the size of his hands. In St. Louis, Hankerson had his defender beat by roughly five or so yards, but because he bobbled the ball, the defender managed to catch up and nearly tackle him short of the end zone.

The positive for Hankerson is that he is coming back to an offense that will stay the same minus some tweaks, a first for the first time in his NFL career. Ideally this should make a “break out” more capable for him in 2013, but if his fear of going across the middle, and his bobbles continue, that could not only slow down his pace, but also limit his time on the field.

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