Nebraska is where Niles Paul began his nose-to-the-grindstone approach to football, performing many tasks for the team while remaining durable in the process. As a wide receiver he led the team in receiving yardage during both his junior and senior seasons. Afterward he was the third of three straight Cornhuskers to be drafted by the Redskins in 2011. His fourth and fifth round predecessors from the same draft were college teammates Roy Helu and Dejon Gomes.
After a rookie campaign of only two starts he would be converted from wide receiver to tight-end the following season, thus his blocking assignments would increase while his opportunities to get open downfield would dwindle. All the while he remained steadfast in fulfilling his special teams duties and has grown into an asset who finished among the top tacklers for the Skins on return coverage this past season.
Before his third season Paul was again groomed for a new position, this time the position was fullback, and he stepped with ease into the role of Darrell Young’s protege. As is his nature, he treated it like an opportunity, while around him other tight-ends emerged and accrued playing time. While those players game-planned for offensive snaps, Niles suited up to do the teams dirty work.
During the early days of his pro career his coaches had sought to find a wide receiver with exactly Niles Paul’s build, just not Niles Paul’s number. The projects of Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan were rotated in periodically to give the passing game larger targets, as options intended to compliment smaller, shiftier receivers like Santana Moss and Aldrick Robinson. As hard as Paul would work to secure a spot on the roster, he seemed to know and accept his place in the back of the line.
Game by game a carousel of receivers and tight-ends would audition to run routes on Sundays, and week after week another player would step up, only to go down. It’s possible that not one player in that entire amalgam ever made a special teams tackle. That is unless you include Niles Paul.
Many players, even some great ones, have had to wait quietly in the wings for their opportunity to finally arise. What those players learn along the way is what builds their character, so long as they carry themselves with a little humility. For Paul this process has helped him mature slowly as a student of the entire offensive system. Though the Redskins offense may continue to keep Paul in the position of role player, he is primed to become one who can shine in the most critical situations.
Strangely enough, Jay Gruden happened to make an in-house promotion of relatively unknown tight-ends coach, 27 year old Sean McVay. McVay already has a close relationship with the ancillary layers of the Redskins roster (or to be a bit more specific, those players who weren’t cast major roles in the Redsknins many distracting dramas). He is touted to be a guy who is mindful of every player, and who can take on the coordinator role with the agenda of the entire team in mind.
We will see if Niles Paul enters next season with an expanded role, or if he makes a move back to wide receiver, but it’s a good guess that with all of the other in-house moves taking place, the Redskins won’t have to reach too far for what they need in trying to solidify their passing game.