NFL Draft analysis: wide receivers — James Washington

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DENTON, Texas (KNTU) Continuing my analysis of NFL 2018 Draft candidates, here is: James Washington, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State University — 5’10” / 205 lbs — Senior #28

  • Who is He?

Washington was one of three wide receivers to be consensus choices for the 2017 NCAA College Football All-American team. He was also the 2017 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner, given annually the country’s most outstanding college wide receiver. He finished his OSU career with the most receiving yards in school history (4,472), third in career receiving touchdowns (39), and third in career receptions (226).

Washington has three seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards in his four-year career. In his senior season (2017), he had 1,549 yards and 14 touchdowns, while averaging an impressive 20.9 yards per catch.

There are several players in the upcoming draft being touted as capable of stretching the field vertically, but Washington is the premier deep threat in this receiver class. At 5’10”, he doesn’t have the typical build of a boundary receiver, but he does his damage with strength, speed, and intelligent route running.

  • Positives

Washington is at his best in the downfield passing game. He stacks his man better than any wide receiver in the class, meaning he’s able to track the ball while dictating pace and position with a corner draped over his shoulders.

He has great technique against press coverage, shows quick, crisp footwork upon release, overdramatizing his steps to sell his route while breaking out of his release with strength and active hands, refusing to get jammed.

Route running is Washington’s greatest strength. He consistently does a good job accelerating into the top of his route with his shoulders over his knees before sinking his weight into his cuts. He sells fakes with his entire body, getting his shoulders, hips, and head in one direction before exploding out of the break.

He also has the best hands in this draft class. He’s able to win without much separation at any route depth and extend to the ball while fighting through contact.

He can create plays after the catch as well, making him a threat in the short and intermediate game.

  • Negatives

Washington’s draft stock has already taken a hit. After spending his entire career listed as 6’1″, he measured at less than 5″11″ during the Senior Bowl in January.

There have been some concerns about his speed. Not so much his top-end speed, which he showed at the Senior Bowl, but his acceleration and the amount of time it takes for him to get to full speed. If he tests well at the NFL combine in late February, he can put those worries to rest. But if he does poorly in the 40-yard dash, he could fall in the draft.

Some scouts have also questioned his style of play and how it translates to the NFL. More often than not, Washington wins with strength, and scouts have their doubts about whether he’ll be able to separate against NFL cornerbacks.

One of his issues is how he executes at the catch point. Washington needs to work on extending to the ball more consistently on deep routes. At OSU, he often preferred to look the ball in underhanded, but NFL cornerbacks are much better at tracking the ball than the competition he played against in college. NFL corners won’t get lost in coverage the way NCAA corners do. They’ll be on his hip, working through him as the ball arrives. If he doesn’t tighten up his technique and become more active at the catch point, he’ll struggle.

The final issue I have with Washington is that I don’t see a complete route tree. He mainly ran go routes, fades, slants, digs, posts, and curls at OSU. I’m not trying to imply that these are the only routes he can run, but it’s clear his role in college was to stretch defenses vertically. At his height, he won’t be able to get away with having a limited route tree in the NFL.

  • Summary

Washington isn’t just a home run hitting outside receiver. He has value at every depth of the field and his diverse skill set will allow him to fit into many different schemes. There’s a chance he may never be a first option wide receiver, but players like him typically thrive in a complementary role.

Most mock drafts have him being taken somewhere between the middle of the first and end of the second round. After the combine, his draft value will become clearer.

  • Relevance to the Cowboys

Washington is actually on record saying he wants to play for Dallas, but I think the first-round is a little too early to draft him. If he falls to the second-round and the Cowboys have the chance to get him, I think he would complement Dez Bryant very well, and give the Cowboys a much-needed deep threat.

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