This was supposed to be the year Josh Doctson took a major leap forward for the Washington Redskins. Entering his third season, the 2016 first-round pick was supposed to blossom with new quarterback Alex Smith. However, through three games Doctson has five receptions for 48 yards on 13 targets. In the win over Green Bay in Week 3, Doctson had zero catches.
So, now is the perfect time to start asking the question is Doctson already a bust?
Look, this doesn’t mean the Redskins should cut Doctson. Absolutely not. It does mean that in this offense, he’s likely behind Chris Thompson, Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson in the pecking order. You can probably add backup tight end Vernon Davis to that list, too. Smith has a strong rapport with Davis from their time together with the 49ers.
Doctson essentially missed his entire rookie season with a mysterious Achilles injury. He played in two games, catching two passes for 66 yards. That was when Washington had Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson at receiver. The Redskins didn’t necessarily need Doctson. In 2017, the Redskins expected Doctson to take a leap forward with both Jackson and Garcon elsewhere. In some ways, Doctson did, but for the most part, he had more downs than ups.
There were big moments, such as his catch against the Oakland Raiders in Week 3 for his first career touchdown reception. Or, his huge catch against Seattle to give the beat-up Redskins an upset road win over the Seahawks. There was also his performance against the Saints, where Doctson caught four passes for a career-high 81 yards.
The problem was there wasn’t enough of those moments. In between those performances he would have one or two catches and make little impact. In the offseason, head coach Jay Gruden said Smith would give Doctson more opportunities, something former quarterback Kirk Cousins didn’t always do. Cousins didn’t trust Doctson at times and understandably so. Doctson didn’t run crisp routes and dropped easy receptions.
Smith was going to change that, though, according to Gruden, per Kimberley A. Martin of The Washington Post.
I think Josh will get more opportunities to make plays on 50-50 type balls, which is Josh’s strength. He’s not a guy that’s going to get that five or six yards of separation right away. He’s a guy that builds up his speed. He can run. He can adjust to the ball like no other. His 41-inch vertical is documented, so that’s where he gets his separation—by leaping and adjusting to the ball.
With all due respect to Gruden, Smith isn’t the type of quarterback to take advantage of a receiver who thrives on ’50-50′ balls. Smith, in general, is a risk-averse quarterback. Throwing balls into coverage goes against who Smith is as a quarterback. Smith can throw the deep ball, and throw it well, however, he’s not going to throw many into double coverage and hope for his receiver to go up and bail him out.
Doctson can still take a leap forward in 2018. He can give Washington a huge boost in the red zone, especially if Reed and Thompson stay healthy. Defenders are going to work to limit the effectiveness of those two, especially in the red zone, freeing up Doctson to take advantage of single coverage, using his size and leaping ability. After all, Doctson did score six touchdowns on just 35 catches a year ago.
If the Redskins are hoping—or expecting—Doctson to become an alpha-dog, No. 1 receiver-type, that’s probably not going to happen. That doesn’t mean he still can’t be a quality starting NFL wide receiver. And if the Redskins expect to challenge for the NFC East this season, they’ll need more from the receiver position, particularly Doctson.
So, no, Doctson isn’t a bust—yet. But the clock is ticking on the third-year receiver.