Continuing the countdown of the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, let’s break down the 28th best player in wide receiver Leonard Hankerson.
To read about the methodology in how these rankings came about, you can click here.
Total Score: 44.5/100
Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 49/100
Teams he is starter: 2 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 26 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +3
Picking up Hankerson in free agency was one of the first moves the team made in the offseason, adding a potential replacement for Harry Douglas within two weeks of releasing the latter.
When initially signed, Hankerson came to Atlanta with relatively low expectations given that he really hasn’t had much of an impact in the NFL since the 2012 season. Yet that’s a stark change from the expectations that Hankerson entered in the NFL with.
As a third-round pick of the Washington Redskins in 2011, there were expectations that the 6’2″ receiver from the University of Miami could become a pro similar to Marques Colston. Given his good size and his propensity to work the seams as a slot receiver in college, one could understand those comparisons.
But Hankerson didn’t see initial success like Colston did in the pros, with a rookie campaign cut very short by a hip injury. He rebounded with a solid campaign in 2012 working mostly as the Redskins’ fourth option. Expectations were raised the following year as Hankerson quickly took over opposite Pierre Garcon as the Redskins’ No. 2 receiver. But once again, Hankerson found himself battling injuries with a torn ACL sidelining him for the final six weeks of the year. Hankerson failed to recover in 2014, playing just two dozen snaps the entire season.
So Hankerson and the Falcons hope that he can find a fresh start in Atlanta and pick up where he left off in 2013. Through the summer, Hankerson has not disappointed in the slightest. Not only is he expected to step in as the team’s No. 3 receiver this year, but there is some buzz that he might eat into starter Roddy White’s role.
Hankerson adds much-needed size to the Falcons’ wide receiver corps given the team has steadily invested in smaller, slot types in recent years. Hankerson has the ability to line up inside or outside, but probably will see a lot more reps towards the latter in Atlanta. Inconsistent hands were a problem during his Redskins days, but he has the capacity to become a reliable option that can reel in many highlight-reel grabs due to his superior catch radius.
While working off a one-year contract, it be a big year for the fifth-year receiver. It’s unlikely that circumstances will be any better for Hankerson to shine with any other team in any other year than they are with the Falcons in 2015 right now. He’s working in the same scheme under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan that he spent three years in with the Redskins. He’s also should have a firm grasp on the third receiver spot given that Justin Hardy is a green rookie and Devin Hester is an aging return specialist. Basically, if Hankerson doesn’t have a career year in 2015, then there’s really no reason to believe he ever will get back to his 2013 levels.
Thus there’s every reason to believe that Hankerson will be highly motivated this year and the Falcons should reap the benefits.