Patriots: Can WR Leonard Hankerson Make a Difference?


How can new wide receiver Leonard Hankerson make an impact in the Patriots’ offense?

The New England Patriots’ roster shuffle continued on Wednesday, as they officially placed running back LeGarrette Blount on the injured reserve. Brandon Bolden and James White are clearly expected to pick up slack for the loss of Blount, as the Patriots have yet to bring another running back on the active roster.

They did make two additions to the roster on Wednesday, claiming Atlanta Falcons WR Leonard Hankerson and Detroit Lions OL LaAdrian Waddle. They also released WR Damaris Johnson to make room on the roster for both players. Waddle is still not at full strength after suffering a torn ACL in 2014. He brings nice depth to the offensive line, but I think acquiring him is more a move for next season.

Hankerson on the other hand could play a role for the team down the stretch. With all of the injuries to the receiving core, plus the struggles of Brandon LaFell, Tom Brady could certainly use another pass catcher to step up and make a difference. Coming in to the Patriots’ offense is not easy, so it is important to not expect too much right away, but Hankerson has some nice talent. He could play an important role in the passing game.

The 26-year-old Hankerson was well on his way to having the best season of his career earlier in the year. In his first season in Atlanta, Hankerson had totaled 17 receptions for 241 yards and two touchdowns through the first four games for the Falcons this season. After a six reception, 103-yard and a touchdown performance against the Houston Texans in Week 4, Hankerson’s production slipped.

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He suffered a hamstring injury in Week 7, and it has forced him out of the line-up before making a one week return in Week 11. Hankerson re-injured his hamstring, and the Falcons placed him on injured reserve before waiving him this week.

Now, health is the most important key to Hankerson’s success this season. If he is still struggling with this hamstring issue, he is not going to be of much use to New England. That being said, if the Patriots were not at least relatively optimistic about his health situation, they would not have brought him in. My guess is that Hankerson is healthy for this stretch run.

If healthy, Hankerson can make a difference on this team. Before joining the Falcons, Hankerson spent the first four years of his career with the Washington Redskins. He never put up huge numbers with the Redskins, but nobody can deny Hankerson’s natural speed on the football field.

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He has a nice combination of size, speed and athleticism that has been an issue for opposing defensive backs in the past. It has always been in a limited capacity, but Hankerson undoubtedly has the resources to break one at any time.

Instead of forcing the deep ball down the field to LaFell, I think Hankerson should start to see some of these deep balls. His speed has never been questioned, and I doubt he would receive too much attention against opposing defenses.

Sure, learning the offense and rapport with Brady is a huge question mark, but Hankerson can learn enough to play in a part-time role. I mean, how hard is it to run straight down the field on a fly route? Getting deep is Hankerson’s specialty, and a deep receiver is something the Patriots have lacked for years. I am not saying he is going to be Randy Moss, but he is better than what they currently have.

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With all of the underneath action the Patriots use in the short passing game, the deep ball should be there for a receiver talented enough to take advantage of it. Hankerson can make a difference on the football field, and his skill-set can easily be exactly what the doctor ordered.