One Step To Take: WR James Washington

Bringing back a series I had a lot of fun exploring the last several offseasons. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.

James Washington – Stack The Cornerback

Washington was drafted to be a vertical threat. That need is only heightened working under the assumption Antonio Brown won’t be a Pittsburgh Steeler roughly a month from now. Washington’s rookie season was a difficult but one that showed glimpses of promise by the end of his year. Taking a leap, not a step, is critical for him and the health of this offense in a post-AB world.

How does Washington become a better deep threat? The way to beat corners is to stack them. Beat them at the line, get on top of them, and force them to trail without allowing them to get back in-phase. Force them to go through you and they’ll either fail or draw a penalty in the process. Let them run sidecar and they’ll more likely to catch up or bump and slow you down.

It’s an areas Washington did incrementally improve near the end of the season but I’m looking for more out of him in 2019. Let me show you what I mean.

Early in the year against Baltimore. Washington’s lined up to the bottom of the screen. Bit of a slow release off the line and he isn’t able to clear cornerback Brandon Carr. Pass falls incomplete. If you remember, there was some uncalled pass interference on the play, Carr pulled down Washington’s inside arm, but if you clear and stack the corner, he can’t do that. He’s trailing all the way and you – the receiver – are in control.

Same issue here versus Kansas City, Week 2. Press man against the cornerback. Washington gets ridden to the sideline and can’t burst upfield past the corner. He uses the leverage on the sideline he has to squeeze Washington and basically force Ben Roethlisberger to throw it into the bench.

Have to plant and explode vertically to get past the corner. Once you run by and stack him, you’ve won the route. Until then, either the corner has the advantage or at worst, it’s 50/50, both jockeying for position.

Issues didn’t just happen early in the year, too. They came late. Week 16 against New Orleans. Again, top of the screen. Probably needs to be running the route a little harder, I don’t think he expected the ball versus off coverage, but again, he’s trailing the corner. Ends up getting tangled up and falling.

Here, I would’ve adjusted the stem of the route. Instead of taking an outside release with the corner squeezing the sideline (bail technique, opening hips to the field), cross his face inside and get stem vertical. Washington should’ve won this route. Instead, it ends in an ugly result.

What’s an example of a receiver properly stacking a corner? Antonio Brown’s long touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5 is about as good as it gets.

Lined at the top, the corner attempts to reroute Brown off the line. He has the speed, strength, and hand use to fight through it and comes away on top of the corner but the time he hits the 30. Brown was won the route. Safety can’t close in time and with a well-thrown ball from Roethlisberger, it’s an easy six.

That’s elite route running.

Because Washington isn’t a super speedster, he ran a 4.55 at the 2018 Combine, he’s going to have to win vertically with technique. A fluid release without wasted steps, good hand fighting to work through the first five yards, and the burst to get on top of the corner and basically box him out at the eventual catch point. Otherwise, he’ll be an inconsistent vertical threat. It’s hard enough to complete those types of passes as it is. Poor technique does you no favors.

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