He’s not DeSean Jackson, but Redskins hope Paul Richardson is similar threat

ASHBURN, Virginia — He’s heard the talk for a while, starting in college when DeSean Jackson was already starring in the NFL. There’s a reason receiver Paul Richardson wore the same number as him at Colorado, wanting to emulate Jackson’s game-breaking abilities. His speed nearly matched Jackson’s as well.

The Washington Redskins hope Richardson provides some of what Jackson once did: big plays. That is, after all, why Washington made him their big free agent signing this offseason. The Redskins wanted to re-create some of what they had with Jackson, before he left to Tampa Bay in free agency last season.

"I wouldn’t say it was a missing element last year," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "But we have a guy with his special skill set and he’s very, very fast. There are certain things you can possibly do down the field. We saw some of that with DeSean. Last year when we didn’t have DeSean we didn’t take as many shots down the field — not because we didn’t have guys who could run; balls weren’t attempted. But to have that ability to take the top off … it will help other guys around him, too."

Comparing Richardson to Jackson is difficult; the latter has been an elite playmaker for a long time in the NFL. The speed is close: Jackson ran a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash at the combine; Richardson ran a 4.4. But since 2008, nobody in the NFL has more receiving yards on pass plays for 20 or more yards than Jackson (5,941). And his 160 catches on such plays rank second during that time (to Calvin Johnson). Richardson has more to prove, but he is coming off his best season with 44 catches for 703 yards and six touchdowns. He did have 13 catches of 20-plus yards — that’s more than anyone had for Washington last season. The Redskins are banking 2017 was the start of something for Richardson as he begins life with quarterback Alex Smith.

"I’m just going to come in and fill my role, beat guys downfield, take the top off of coverages, challenge people downfield," Richardson said.

And he’s not worried about his slight frame; he weighs 183 pounds.

"They’ve got to catch me," he said. "I’m not big on trash talk and all that stuff, but you’ve got to catch me."

"I just want to compete for balls downfield, make plays going across the middle, catch and run, man. I haven’t been able to do that, so I will finally be able to do that."

For the Redskins, they hope that speed creates lanes for others. In a game against the New York Giants last season, Richardson’s presence on a route down the middle against a two-deep safety look, with a linebacker dropping as well, occupied the safety to his side. A cornerback covering another wideout starting from the same side as Richardson did not drop as deep as he should, thinking there was safety help behind him. The ball was not thrown to the receiver on that play, but he was open in part because of Richardson’s speed.

Other times there’s a subtle difference. It could be having a linebacker slightly get out of his lane when Richardson runs a crosser. He was not a big red zone threat in Seattle, though he was effective on crossers in this area.

"It’s not just about running fast," Gruden said. "Sometimes he can catch a ball at five yards and take it 80 and we don’t have to throw it 80 yards. Taking a shallow cross, where a quarterback doesn’t have to wait for you and throw it 65 yards down the field and hope a safety doesn’t get there … is appealing to me. The deep balls are great and we’ll take as many shots as we can. But coverage usually dictates where the ball goes on a deep ball."

Gruden said they’ll move Richardson around, using him both inside and outside. With his slight frame, he’s someone defensive backs will try to be physical with at the line.

Richardson doesn’t need to be Jackson; he just needs to help and make a difference with his speed. But one reason Richardson was hoping Washington would sign him: Jackson’s input. Both he and former Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon told him he’d be a good fit in this offense, knowing how Gruden liked to use Jackson.

"I look up to him a lot, especially how he sets guys up in his routes," Richardson said. "I have a lot of the same qualities. I think that I do add the ‘going up and get it’ aspect. I like going up against defenders and turning 50/50 balls into 100 percent mine. So, you know, that’s the other element that I will bring."

That’s why he topped the list of receivers Gruden wanted.

"I remember coming out of Colorado, he was a blur on the screen," Gruden said. "He’s not just a little guy that runs fast. When the ball is up in the air, he attacks it. … We’re excited to see him get a lot of opportunities at different positions on the field. But I’m excited because he has a great skill set: speed."

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