Through the first four games of the 2014 season, before being knocked out with a concussion in Week 4, Niles Paul was on pace for 84 receptions and 1,252 receiving yards.
The Washington Redskins are in the process of overhauling their roster under new general manager Scot McCloughan. It’s going to take time, and one offseason is just the start, but McCloughan intends to overhaul the roster in his vision.
McCloughan focused on rebuilding through the trenches on both sides of the ball, but he also found the salary cap space to improve the Redskins greatest weakness–their secondary. The defense should be a much stronger unit in 2015, but in order for the Redskins to take a step forward in the win column, they will need to find a spark on the offensive end.
If an offensive player does emerge, here is the player I would bet on:
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Before leaving the game with a concussion in Week 4, Paul was off to a blazing start during the 2014 season. The fourth-year tight end’s opportunity came a lot sooner than expected after Jordan Reed left the game with an injury early during the season opener. Through four games, including the one he exited in the second quarter, Paul racked up 313 yards and a touchdown on 21 receptions.
Paul worked hard this offseason and showed up to the Redskins’ spring practices bigger, having added nearly 10 pounds of muscle. According to beat writer John Keim, despite his new size, Paul hasn’t lost any of his speed. Paul is hoping that his size and strength can help him become a more complete football player, by becoming a better blocker. He was a liability as a run blocker in 2014, and according to Pro Football Focus, he was one of the worst run-blocking tight ends in the NFL.
Once incumbent starter Jordan Reed returned to action in Week 6, Paul’s production was never the same. Betting on Reed to stay healthy is an unwise wager. Reed has missed 12 games in two seasons since entering the NFL, and his checkered injury history dates back to his collegiate days.
Reed has suffered injuries of the worst kind–concusions and lower body injuries. These tend to creep back up at any given moment. Reed missed the entirety of the Redskins’ spring practices following a minor knee procedure. Jake Davidow of Sports Injury Predictor has found that players who deal with injuries during the preseason have a much higher chance of dealing with injuries during the regular season.
Head coach Jay Gruden has had success utilizing multiple tight end formations in the past with the Bengals, and he could look to leave both Paul and Reed on the field at the same time. Paul can stretch the seams of the field and he offers the Redskins a big target for a team that has a few smaller ones in DeSean Jackson and slot wide receivers Andre Roberts, Jamison Crowder and Ryan Grant.
If Paul can build on his success from the first quarter of the 2014 season, the Redskins offense will have another legitimate weapon to add to Robert Griffin III’s arsenal.
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