Last year the Chicago Bears drafted a high ceiling type player when they plucked the ultra-athletic DE/OLB Cornelius Washington out of Georgia in the 6th round. Bears fans were intrigued by his measureables, however his lack of eye popping college statistics tempered expectations.
He seemed like a project at the time, and his lack of playing time seemed to bolster that thought. He was only active for six games, totaling 10 defensive snaps and one special teams snap in two games played. The Bears either had enough faith in his talent to keep him on the 53 man roster all season long or they had enough fear that he'd be stolen off their practice squad if left unprotected. Either way, he garnered valuable time with the team.
Could he be a breakout player for the Bears this season?
Stranger things have happened in professional sports, so you can't write him off.
If you think having an unspectacular rookie year equates to a ho-hum career, I'll peek in the Bears history book to find a few guys that did OK.
Third round draft pick Steve McMichael only played in six games as a Patriot rookie, yet went on to rack up 95 sacks as a pro.
Adewale Ogunleye was an undrafted free agent pick up by the Miami Dolphins in 2000 and as a rookie he had 1 tackle and a half a sack in seven games. He went on to appear in a Pro Bowl for them and also added 42 sacks in six seasons for the Bears.
Israel Idonije was an undrafted pick up of the Cleveland Browns in 2003 when the Bears signed him away from their practice squad. He made the Bears roster the following season and has had a very productive NFL career.
The league is full of players at every position that started their careers slowly, yet ended up finding their niche. Of course there are even more players that came in to the NFL with a whimper and went out even quieter. But if your're gonna gamble on a prospect, it may as well be a prospect with a high ceiling.
Washington has the kind of athleticism that made his selection in the sixth round a value pick according to many scouts. He could be a bona fide impact player in the NFL, he just needs to be coached up.
To put his combine performance in perspective I've charted out his performance next to this year's top defensive end prospect Jadeveon Clowney. I know I'm going to get some skimmers that think I'm trying to show that Washington is as good a prospect as Clowney, so please realize that isn't the case. I just want to point out his measurables when compared to a well known freakish athlete.
|Height||Weight||Arms||Hands||40 yd||10 yd||Bench||Vert||Broad|
|6' 4"||265||34"||9 1/2"||4.55||1.60||36||39"||128"|
|6' 5 1/4"||266||34 1/2"||10"||4.53||1.56||21||37 1/2"||124"|
It's safe to say that athletically speaking, Washington is right up there with Clowney. But while Washington was a 6th round draft pick, Clowney is being discussed as the possible top pick overall.
From a technical standpoint, Washington was obviously way behind, and part of that is just actual game experience. He was recruited to Georgia to play as a 4-3 defensive end, but the team had a scheme change to a 3-4 which prompted the coaches to try to make an outside linebacker out of him.
He went from a freshman 4-3 defensive lineman to a 3-4 OLB as a sophomore and junior, then to a 3-4 defensive end as a senior. I think it's safe to say the scheme and position changes stunted his growth as a player.
Scouts really liked his upside coming out of college, with most saying he had to work on his technique. He has the speed and strength necessary to be a productive pass rusher, but he lacked a counter move and he has to get better working with his hands.
Maybe Chicago's new d-line coach, the experienced Paul Pasqualoni, will be able to get through to Washington. The Bears also have hired martial arts expert Joe Kim to help with hand technique, something that Washington needs help with.
What are your expectations for Cornelius Washington in 2014? Do you think he can fight his way into the defensive rotation?