Buffalo Bills General Manager Doug Whaley was on The John Murphy Show last night and explained that the team was very close to re-signing wide receiver Leonard Hankerson. The Bills brought in Hankerson at the end of the season, but didn’t sign him to a reserve/futures contract when the year concluded.
Hankerson was selected by the Washington Redskins with the No. 79 overall pick in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of the University of Miami. During his career with the Hurricanes, Leonard Hankerson caught 134 passes for 2,160 yards and 22 touchdowns—numbers that place him among some of the all-time Miami greats such as Michael Irvin and Andre Johnson.
Leonard Hankerson is a physical specimen, standing 6’2” and weighing 210 pounds. He ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash with a ridiculous 1.51 10-yard split, while posting impressive times in the agility drills, a 4.21 short shuttle and a 6.94 second three-cone. Additionally, Hankerson posted a 36” vertical leap and a 9’9” broad jump.
Based on his measurements and testing at the combine, Leonard Hankerson compares favorably to premier wide receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald, Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon, among others.
It’s highly doubtful that Hankerson’s career will ever mirror those of the players he’s athletically similar to, but when you watch him on tape you can see special traits that make him such an intriguing player with a high ceiling. He’s dealt with nagging injuries since entering the league and saw limited action in his first four years, sitting behind players like Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon, Julio Jones and Roddy White.
In those four seasons, Hankerson caught 109 passes for 1,435 yards (13.2 yards-per-catch) and nine touchdowns. 459 of his yards came after the catch.
Leonard Hankerson Size/Athleticism
Leonard Hankerson has got good size with a muscular frame that he’ll use to position himself in front of defenders and play physical in contested situations. He’s also got impressive speed and quickness for a player of his stature. He can cover a lot of ground and will eat up the cushion between himself and a defender on vertical routes in a hurry.
In the following play from his second season, Hankerson is lined up against Janoris Jenkins. He’s running a go route, but as he closes ground on Jenkins, Hankerson gives a stutter step before accelerating down the field. The fake causes Jenkins to take a false step, but a split second is all Hankerson needs to find himself wide open for a 70-yard touchdown.
On go routes, Leonard Hankerson shows off a second gear in his straight-line running, getting on top of defenders with ease.
Leonard Hankerson Route Running
Leonard Hankerson is a long strider, but his speed, agility and fantastic footwork allow him to run a variety of routes. With the Redskins, when Hankerson would align as the “X” receiver on the boundary, he’d typically run a lot of posts, corners and slants.
Here against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he runs a quick slant against Ronde Barber. Hankerson gets a quick release off the line of scrimmage and eats up the ground between himself and Barber, before slanting across his face. After securing the catch, Hankerson quickly spins back and looks to pick up additional yardage.
This short area quickness is put on display again against the New York Giants. Lined up at the bottom of the screen, Hankerson gets an inside release when the ball is snapped and sells the vertical route before quickly breaking inside to make a catch away from his body, moving the chains for a first down.
Leonard Hankerson is explosive in and out of his breaks and routinely creates separation with ease, particularly against zone coverage. Here against the Baltimore Ravens, Hankerson motions to the bottom of the formation and runs about eight yards downfield before planting his foot in the ground and cutting inside. He’s wide open and manages to pick up nearly 30 yards.
This quick footwork and explosiveness makes Hankerson effective on quick, out-breaking routes as well. He does such a good job of selling his routes that when he finally does make a sharp cut, opposing cornerbacks don’t have the momentum to recover and break on the ball.
In this play from last season with the Atlanta Falcons, Leonard Hankerson is aligned in the slot to the right of the offensive formation. He runs hard down-field before breaking to the sideline, leaving the cornerback several yards behind him.
Hankerson shows good spatial awareness when navigating through zone coverages and always seems to find the open void where he can make a play.
Leonard Hankerson has a downhill mentality once he gets the ball in his hands. He’ll always fight for the extra yards and he’s got the speed and agility to make defenders miss while picking up chunks of yardage.
Leonard Hankerson Hands/ Body Control
The most frustrating aspect of Leonard Hankerson’s game has to be his inconsistent hands. It’s been an issue since his college days, as he’ll often look to turn and run before fully securing the pass. In his four seasons during which he’s been targeted 169 times, Hankerson has dropped 15 passes.
Most wideouts that suffer from drops see that it’s a result of letting the ball get into their body, rather than extending their arms and plucking it out of the air. Hankerson isn’t scared to go after a high pass over the middle of the field as the clip below shows.
Here, he’s doubled in the end zone and manages to elevate high enough to snatch the ball for a score.
Hankerson is a true hands catcher and will fight to high-point the ball at its highest point. What’s maddening is the fact that he’ll make a ridiculous catch like the one below:
But, he’ll have mental lapses and drop balls where there’s no excuse to not bring it in.
Here, Hankerson can’t bring in a simple screen pass.
As a Miami Hurricanes fan, I have to admit that I’m a bit biased with Leonard Hankerson. Now, I don’t see him as the type of player who will come in and dominate the league and emerge as a No. 1 receiving option. However, he’s got the size, athleticism and playmaking ability to provide value as a complementary piece. While Hankerson’s drops are concerning, they aren’t as big of a deal as people would like to make them to be.
Last year, Amari Cooper dropped 18 passes, or 20% of his targets—the highest drop rate in the NFL. Demaryius Thomas dropped 12, or roughly 12% of his targets. Brandon Marshall dropped 11, or about 9.5% of his targets. It’s part of the game and Hankerson has enough talent and should do well enough in a limited role to make the drops a non-issue, because at the end of the day he’ll make plays like this.