For game review, I chose Ridley's highest two touch totals of his rookie season. Ridley received 13 carries in Week 16 versus Miami (tough matchup) and 15 in Week 17 against the Bills (easy).
After taking a few hours to digest the performances, the first thing I'd say about Ridley is that he is a natural between the tackles. Ridley runs very hard; violently at times. He falls forward at the end of runs without fail. Ridley doesn't have a whole lot of lateral shake and bake, but he does show quick feet for a 225-pound power back. I'd call his vision to spot openings very encouraging, and Ridley follows his blocks like a polished vet.
Ridley doesn't run 4.4 in the forty, but he also possesses plenty of speed to get the corner. He's dangerous on the perimeter and a load to bring down.
In the Dolphins game, one bone-rattling red-zone run really stood out. Ridley powered his way directly through a head-on confrontation with Karlos Dansby and put cornerback Vontae Davis on his rear end all in one motion. Ridley busted several of Dansby's tackle attempts over the course of the game, and Dansby is one of the best linebackers in the NFL today. Ridley had his number.
The Patriots inserted Ridley for a number of specific short-yardage situations and used him in tandem with Green-Ellis to kill the clock toward the end of the Bills game. If I was going to project a 2012 replacement for Green-Ellis' goal-line and keep-the-lead role, I'd say Ridley is the favorite.
As for passing-game work, Ridley did run routes out of the backfield, but was rarely thrown to. If Ridley ever pass blocked in the two games, it wasn't by design. He didn't seem to be trusted in blitz pickup yet.
Ridley's biggest problem as a rookie was fumbling. It's what eventually got him benched during the Patriots' playoff run. Ridley had the ball popped loose from behind early in the third quarter of the Bills game. Luckily for New England, the pigskin torpedoed out of bounds.
Other quick takeaways from New England game reviews:
** This isn't breaking news, but the Patriots' offense was decidedly horizontal in both contests. Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker were featured in the short passing attack, but they got nothing going deep. (Brandon Lloyd should change that.)
** I kept a close eye on C.J. Spiller during the Bills possessions. Spiller finished with 100 total yards and a touchdown, but he still looks uncomfortable between the tackles. That isn't to suggest Spiller doesn't finish his runs hard, but there was lots of waiting around, stops and starts. He was also pulled for Tashard Choice deep in the red zone. Spiller can give defenses fits when he reaches the perimeter and is a playmaker in the passing game, but I think it's fair to wonder if he'll settle in simply as a change-of-pace back in the pros. He's very much a Reggie Bush-type player.
** Ryan Fitzpatrick consistently looked sharp in the short pass game in the first half against New England, but he struggles mightily to throw downfield. Fitzpatrick finished with four interceptions, and in the second half it seemed as if Patriots defensive backs were fielding flyballs in the outfield.
** Brian Hartline is entering a contract year and has a chance to be Miami's No. 1 receiver in 2012. He was pretty unimpressive in the Fins-Pats Week 16 game. Hartline may have buildup speed, but he's slow out of the blocks and doesn't appear to get in and out of breaks quickly.
Redskins receiver Leonard Hankerson
Hankerson only played extensively in two 2011 games, so choosing two to re-watch was easy. I checked out Week 9 versus San Francisco (68-of-69 snaps played) and Week 10 at Miami (46-of-56 snaps).
I charted every down, and the first thing that stuck out was Hankerson's comfort going over the middle, often amid heavy traffic. Some receivers run tentatively through "trash." It's Hankerson's home away from home. He caught 13 passes in the two starts -- including a successful two-point conversion on a fade route -- and nine of them came across the middle. Hankerson made two big-time leaping grabs deep down the middle late in the Miami game, with Washington trying to rally back from a deficit.
Hankerson played Z receiver in the 49ers game. He moved to X against the Dolphins and took off. It was clear that X is the featured, go-to position in the Shanahans' offense. And unlike in some schemes, the "X" isn't an isolation route runner sticking to the sideline and going deep. Hankerson ran comebacks, fades, drags, and digs. He did not drop a single pass in either of the two starts.
Against Miami, Hankerson did most of his damage against Vontae Davis, who is one of the top young cornerbacks in the league. Davis played off coverage most of the game -- giving some cushion -- but Hankerson exploited it successfully for 106 yards on eight catches in just 46 snaps.
Hankerson suffered a torn labrum in his hip late against Miami, and that injury is a concern for 2012. So is his role. The Redskins want high-priced Pierre Garcon to be the X receiver, with Josh Morgan, Hankerson, and Santana Moss competing at Z.
Perhaps Hankerson is a year away, but I liked what I saw. Hankerson has a big body (6'2/205) and knows how to use it. You could even say he plays bigger than he is. He moves very well for his size and is long, lean, and athletic. He explodes into routes. And his hands are noticeably massive in gold gloves. At 10 5/8 inches, Hankerson's paws are bigger than Hakeem Nicks'.
Other quick takeaways from Washington game reviews:
** In the 49ers game, I continued to be underwhelmed by Michael Crabtree. He has never shown the ability to run by coverage, and that remained the case against Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall. Crabtree is a volume/possession wide receiver who does little after the catch. He's best on slants.
** In the Miami game, Daniel Thomas stuck out as one of the poorer players on the field. It's been suggested that Thomas was playing hurt. The coaches didn't seem worried, seeing as he took a game-high 17 carries. They do need to worry about Thomas' development. He showed no power, running soft with awful pad level. Thomas looked slow and was often stopped dead in his tracks. He also appeared clueless in pass protection, noticeably whiffing on some blitz-pickup attempts.
** Roy Helu received 33 touches in these two contests -- a decent sample size even if he played behind Ryan Torain for most of the Dolphins matchup. While Helu lacks special lateral quicks, he displayed terrific acceleration, soaked up everything blocked, and flashed power to move the pile. His feet never stop moving. I loved watching Helu on outside zone and stretch runs because of his burst. He also consistently finished off his runs, which was a bit of an issue for Helu at Nebraska.