I’m not a believer that it is necessary for an evaluator to have live exposure to every player he evaluates. There are plenty of evaluators in the NFL Draft community that consistently ‘get it right’ grinding tape from their desks at home without the help of the favorable angles from All-22 tape. There are instances, however, when an evaluator needs to see the player in person to help explain why things aren’t adding up for them.
For me, Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington was one of those instances.
For those that haven’t yet read my 2018 Senior Bowl WR Preview and Recap pieces – I didn’t go down to Mobile with a positive impression of Washington. I wasn’t sure what to make of him originally because Washington was a really productive receiver in college. He won the Biletnikoff Award this past season and I suppose you can chalk a part of that up to horrendous Big 12 defenses, but still, something was missing in my evaluation.
Some of my initial notes on Washington in preparation for the Senior Bowl stated that the Oklahoma State receiver was tight hipped, which cautioned me about his ability to separate at the next level in and out of his breaks. Washington’s game is also centered around the vertical pass and didn’t seem to have the top end speed to routinely get on top of and stack NFL CBs like he did college CBs. I also noted that he was built like a running back, with broad shoulders and a thick frame. I stand by most of my initial evaluations of Washington, but he eased my cautions about his separation quickness against tougher competition during the week of practice in Mobile, which boosts my opinion of him a significant amount. After a week in Mobile I returned with a clearer picture and higher appreciation of Washington’s game.
With that in mind I decided to go back to the film to reevaluate Washington and blend my Senior Bowl takeaways with the tape.
Senior Bowl Note – Possesses very good acceleration, suddenness and explosiveness.
The broadcast replay angle shows a good close up of Washington on this play against Oklahoma. The CB is in a press man alignment shading to Washington’s inside shoulder. This likely means the CB wants to force Washington to go outside on his release. Washington, who excels at gaining inside leverage, takes a quick step to the outside and plants off his outside leg with a slight head fake to go along with it. The hard plant in combination with the fake creates sudden movement that the CB is not expecting, and he false steps as a result.
The CB attempts to bar Washington with his arm, but the Oklahoma State receiver is able to fight through contact and get into his route. He’s able to get inside the CB and get on top of him slightly. Oklahoma’s safety bites on the dig route, which allows Washington to accelerate with open grass ahead. At about the 23 yard line Washington has a minimal amount of separation with the CB tugging on the back of his jersey. Near the 20 yard line the CB lets go as Washington breaks on the post route. He displays nice build up speed here accelerating to further give himself cushion between himself and the CB. Notice how he begins to stack the CB as the ball is arriving in case he needs to work back and create favorable positioning. That’s not necessary on this play, as Washington looks the ball in for six.
Senior Bowl Note – Strong hands at the catch point on contested catches.
During Oklahoma State’s Bowl game against Virginia Tech, Washington was able to display his contested catch ability. Like the last example, the CB across from Washington is in a press man alignment. Washington is once again able to sell an outside release before executing a hard plant to explode to the inside of the CB.
Washington looks to be getting on top of the CB as he accelerates into his route. Only, his QB Mason Rudolph is facing pressure as he releases to throw causing the ball to have too much air underneath it. This forces Washington to slow down as he tracks the ball in the air. Having gotten on top of the CB, combined with his inside leverage, Washington is able to successfully position himself and shield off the CB from having a chance at the ball.
Washington times his jump and extends his arms out in front making a hands catch. The Virginia Tech CB gets his hands inside of Washington’s arms in an attempt to break the play up, but Washington is too strong at the catch point, corralling the pass into his frame for a completion. Displaying strong hands at the catch point while extending away from his frame is a consistent part of Washington’s game.
Washington’s ability to specialize in certain areas gives him the opportunity to be a productive NFL receiver. Like I’ve said all week – he can accelerate deep on vertical routes and stack CBs, use explosiveness out of his breaks and make strong catches with defenders on top of him. He has the potential to be one of the most productive receivers in this class from the Z position because he performs those three things really well.