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Rookie Wide Receivers Can Make An Impact


For years, the prevailing wisdom was that rookie wide receivers needed a couple seasons to adjust to the NFL before becoming regular starters and contributors.

Not anymore, though.

Redskins rookie wide receivers Leonard Hankerson, Niles Paul and Aldrick Robinson are entering the NFL at a time when it is common for young wide receivers to make an impact right away.

Last year, Dallas Cowboys rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant, a first-round draft pick, quickly established himself as a top talent, catching 45 passes for 561 yards and six touchdowns.

Bryant was outdone by fourth-round wide receiver Mike Williams of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Williams caught 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns.

In 2009, a host of rookie wide receivers made an impact, starting with Minnesota's Percy Harvin, who caught 60 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns. Indianapolis's Austin Collie had 60 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns and Philadelphia's Jeremy Maclin had 56 catches for 773 yards and four TDs.

A year earlier, Eagles rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson made a splash, posting 62 catches for 912 yards and two touchdowns.

The trend of rookie wide receivers making an impact may have started in 2003, when Arizona's Anquan Boldin proved his worth by catching 101 passes for 1,377 yards and eight TDs.

Conversely, Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss, a 2001 first-round draft pick by the New York Jets, saw limited playing time his first two years. As a rookie, he was slowed by a knee injury and played in just five games, catching two passes.

In his first two seasons with the Jets, Moss started just three games and caught 32 passes.

Moss has played for the Redskins since 2005, starting 92 games in that span. It's uncertain if he is going to return to the club this year, however.

Head coach Mike Shanahan opted to grab Hankerson, Paul and Robinson with three of the Redskins' 12 draft picks.

Hankerson was the Redskins' third-round pick, Paul was a fifth-round pick and Robinson was a sixth-round pick in last April's NFL Draft.

Shanahan isn't wary of giving rookie wide receivers playing time. In 2008, he inserted rookie Eddie Royal, a third-round draft pick, into the starting lineup and he responded by starting 15 games and catching 91 passes for 980 yards and five touchdowns.

Each of the Redskins' new wide receivers has certain abilities that could give them an advantage heading into their first professional season. Hankerson has size, Paul has strength and Robinson has speed.  Their skill sets are similar to those who have recently excelled as rookies in recent years.

There is excitement surrounding Leonard Hankerson and what he can bring to the organization, but Shanahan likes what he has seen from Niles Paul as well.

"He's a tough guy," Shanahan said, describing Paul. "He has good size, in the 220-pound range. He's one of the [draft's] better blockers, he can return punts and kickoffs. He's very competitive.

"Now you get to throw him into the mix at wide receiver. He's a little bigger than the guys we have had. You know he'll be able to help right away on special teams and have a chance to grow as a receiver."

Robinson's speed could make him a deep threat in the Redskins' passing game.

"I like to stretch the field," Robinson said. "I can run any route, but stretching the field is what I like to do the most."

It's hoped that Hankerson, Paul and Robinson can bring some excitement to the Redskins' passing game in 2011.

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