ASHBURN, Va. -- The question hasn’t been answered, not in an affirmative way. There have been snippets in games and stories from practice. The Washington Redskins, though, at some point need to know: Can Josh Doctson, their first-round pick a year ago, be a No. 1 receiver going forward?
“He was brought here to be that guy,” Redskins receivers coach Ike Hilliard said. “That’s not a secret.”
But will he be?
“I’m biased,” Hilliard said. “I think the kid is good enough to be.”
As the Redskins evaluate this season -- and look to the future -- receiver will be a focal point. What do they need to add? How good can, and will, Doctson become? He’s drawing more attention from the opposition’s top corners; he was covered much of the game against the Los Angeles Chargers by corner Casey Hayward, reeling in three catches for 34 yards. Hilliard expects Arizona’s Patrick Peterson to cover him a lot on Sunday.
Doctson’s numbers aren’t gaudy, but some of that stems from opportunities. In his eight games as the starting X receiver, he’s gotten only 5.1 targets per game. Some of that is on him; some of that is on quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Four Redskins players have received more targets, and two others would had have more if they hadn’t been hurt (Chris Thompson and Jordan Reed). Teammates and coaches still marvel at what Doctson can do. One assistant coach recently dropped Doctson’s name, unprompted, and predicted how good he would become. They've needed patience, however, as Doctson missed almost all of last season -- practice included -- because of Achilles issues.
He has only 27 catches this season, but five of them were for touchdowns.
“Josh is a phenomenal talent; everybody can see that,” Hilliard said. “Josh will find a way to earn targets because that’s what we expect. That will come with him getting better on a snap-by-snap basis. Hopefully when the volume comes and he earns that, then he’ll be the guy everyone expects him to be."
Two plays against the Chargers show how Doctson has developed and where he must continue to grow. One resulted in him getting wide-open, with no pass thrown, and the other resulted in an incompletion because of his route.
The slant: On third-and-2 from the Washington 39-yard line in the second quarter, Doctson failed to win on a slant route, and the pass was broken up by Hayward. For Hilliard, the play had nothing to do with Doctson’s desire to win the route and everything to do with technique.
It showed the coach where Doctson can, and must, develop. Hilliard always points out his role in helping Doctson improve; plays like this emphasize the role of coaching in that development.
Doctson faced press coverage by Hayward, which should trigger an automatic adjustment.
“The catch point needs to change,” Hilliard said.
Instead, Doctson at the snap took three steps in place and Hayward didn’t move. That enabled Hayward to shade him toward the inside. But Doctson knows he must run the route at a certain depth.
“The clock goes off -- now he’s trying to rush it and he comes out higher,” Hilliard said. “He can take it deeper, but he needs to change the angle out of the break. ... If we’re in that situation again, hopefully we’ll see it fixed.
“It had nothing to do with desire. He has the mentality where he wants the ball and he wants to be involved.”
The release: On a third-and-2 from the San Diego 37 in the first quarter, Doctson broke wide-open. Cousins opted to throw to the other side for tight end Vernon Davis, who had a half-step on his man. The pass was incomplete. But Doctson broke free and had no safety help on his side. Sometimes a player isn’t part of the progression; other times an opportunity is just missed. Regardless, Doctson did his job well.
He was the top man in a bunch formation and faced press coverage again by Hayward. Doctson won, beating the jam by challenging Hayward and releasing to the outside.
“He used his length and used better technique at the line,” Hilliard said. “When he’s the aggressor at the line of scrimmage as opposed to trying to measure the DB, he has a better chance of winning. He was the aggressor with his release. He used his left hand and that kind of negated the jam.”
Against Peterson, Doctson will again find himself needing to adjust at the line or be aggressive at other times. If nothing else, it provides the Redskins the sort of evaluation -- and teaching points -- they’ll need for Doctson going forward. He's made some acrobatic catches; to become the main guy he'll have to keep winning on other routes and adjust when needed.
“He has to play the chess match within the chess match,” Hilliard said. “It won’t be easy when you’re on the best corner, which is what he should expect, and that’s a beautiful thing.”