With the Detroit Lions' last pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the team turned some heads with their selection of running back Dwayne Washington out of the University of Washington. Aside from quarterback Jake Rudock, this was the only skill position pick for the Lions out of their ten selections on draft day.
On the surface, it's hard to imagine Washington finding a spot on the roster this season, but if you dig a littler deeper you can at least make an argument for the running back.
Washington was a big star in his hometown at Gahr High School in Lakewood, California. In addition to being one of the top receivers in the area (1,338 yards, 15 touchdowns his senior year), Washington also ran for the track team in high school.
After a redshirted freshman year with the Huskies, Washington immediately made an impact on the team both through special teams and through his new position, running back. His freshman year, he averaged 7.1 yards per carry and reached the endzone four times, despite only touching the ball 47 times as a rusher.
But it was his sophomore season that really had him turning heads. Washington scored nine touchdown in 2014, eventually earning the team's Most Outstanding Offensive Player award during postseason honors. That year, he led the team in rushing yards (697) and rushing touchdowns (9).
His final season would end up being his junior year, as he decided to declare for the draft a year early. Washington's role changed with the Huskies in 2015, as he became more of a threat as a receiving back, outgaining his production on the ground (282 yards) with receiving yards (315) for the first time. His collegiate career came to an end early after an ankle injury sidelined him for the final four games of the 2015 season.
During his time in college, Washington became known for his ability to break out the explosive run. During his three-year stay, he had ten rushes of over 30 yards.
Washington's athleticism is what likely caused him to get drafted at all.
Washington is not built like a running back at all, standing 6-foot-2, 228 pounds, but his speed and agility numbers are even more impressive when considering his stature. It's worth noting, however, that because Washington was not invited to the NFL Combine, these numbers are from his Pro Day.
Game film watched was provided by Draft Breakdown. Games included: vs. Arizona (2014, 2015), vs. USC (2015) and vs. Oregon State (2014).
Washington's straight-line speed was easy to see. If he got an opening and could make one, easy cut, he was gone:
As previously mentioned, Washington transitioned into more of a receiver role his junior year, which highlighted his talent as a mismatch against linebackers and nickel cornerbacks in coverage. Though Washington doesn't have the in-game agility to juke a convincing slant route, he expertly beats his competition with speed using wheel routes:
Where Washington struggles is creating space where there is none. Most of his successful runs are the direct result of him utilizing his speed up the middle or, more often, around the edges on stretch and toss plays. Washington is often hesitant with his first cut and doesn't possess the agility to make defenders miss in the backfield.
Beyond that, Washington also has a significant fumbling problem. In his three years at Washington, he put the ball on the ground ten times. That carelessness with the ball extends to receiving, too. For a converted wide receiver, Washington dropped too many passes coming out of the backfield for the Huskies.
Where he fits with the Lions
At his best, Washington could theoretically land a spot on the roster as a backup to Theo Riddick. I don't think Washington has the instincts of a true running back, but he could potentially develop into a receiving threat. Unfortunately for him, Ameer Abdullah brings more speed and agility to the running game and Riddick brings better route running and surer hands when it comes to receiving. In the end, Washington is likely headed for the practice squad unless an injury forces Detroit's hands.
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