Charting the 2018 Wide Receiver Class: James Washington

Bruce Matson

James Washington has always been a household name, but he never really received the national attention he deserved until he dominated the competition at the Senior Bowl practices. Now he appears to be one of the most popular wide receiver prospects in this year’s draft class.

There are plenty of draft analysts who have him at the top of their rankings and there are some draft aficionados who don’t entirely believe in his skills. Let’s take an objective look at what Washington can do to see if he can possibly make an impact for your dynasty team.

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There were 503 pass attempts between Oklahoma State’s three quarterbacks, and Washington was targeted on 23.26 percent of those pass attempts. After being targeted 117 times this season, he managed to reel in 63.25 percent of the passes thrown his way.

There are two things to consider while analyzing his catch rate. The first thing to think about is that he makes the most of his opportunities by managing to be in the best position possible to catch the football. The fact that he consistently received high-quality targets from Mason Rudolph who is considered one of the better quarterbacks in the nation, is one of the reasons why he was able to post such a high catch rate. I believe Washington’s success derived from a mixture of both of those factors. He’s a tremendous wide receiver who happened to be apart of an excellent QB-WR tandem, and that led to him being one of the most productive wide receivers in the country.

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If you’ve seen any of his highlights, you will know he’s one of the best deep threats in this draft class. His 13.2 yards per targets speaks loudly to how magnificent he is at blowing by the coverage, making the catch downfield and outrunning the opposition. This is not a surprise considering his 20.9 yards per reception.

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He didn’t exactly breakout during his freshman season, but he did flash enough talent to let us know that he has the potential to develop into one of the top wide receivers in the country. After his freshman season, he produced three straight 1,000 yards seasons, leading Oklahoma State in receiving in each one of those years. Washington took on a much larger role in the offense when he took ownership of 23.68 percent of the team’s passing production during his sophomore season. He was in the 30 percent range during both his junior and senior seasons, making him one of the top wide receivers in the nation. In his last three seasons combined, he accumulated a 32.67 percent market share of Oklahoma State’s passing touchdowns.

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With 3,980 receiving yards against power five schools during his four-year collegiate career, it’s safe to say that he produced against top-flight competition. Outside of the Big 12, he had six games against ACC and Pac-12 schools, accumulating to 755 total yards with an average of 125.83 yards per game. Washington has 21 games with over 100 yards receiving and three games with 200 or more yards. It’s a good thing when a prospect excels when they play teams outside of their conference. Washington managed to not only play well against his inner conference rivals but also maintained his dominance during out of conference play.

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The chart above is derived from a six-game sample, equating to 74 routes ran.

Fade, post and curl routes are his main weapons of choice. To switch things up, he will also run out and comeback routes. When a wide receiver prospect averages 20.9 yards per reception and 13.2 yards per target, more than likely he’s going to run a lot of deep routes. Washington has a knack for tracking the ball while it’s in the air which makes it easier for him to beat defensive backs on fade and post routes. After getting burned on a few deep balls, the opposing cornerbacks would lineup few extra yards off the line of scrimmage, creating the extra cushion for Washington to run curls, comebacks, and outs. Defenses respected his speed which allowed him to excel at running routes in the short to intermediate sectors of the field.

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The chart above is derived from a six-game sample, equating to 74 routes ran.

He was targeted on just 42.86 percent of his fade routes and 56 percent of his post routes, which makes sense considering he was utilized to stretch the field on the majority of his routes. Also, deeper routes are lower probability throws for the quarterback, making it hard for Washington to be a consistent target while running deeper routes. Slant and out routes received a higher target ratio because he didn’t run near as many of those routes.

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The chart above is derived from a six-game sample, equating to 74 routes ran.

FADE

His speed and ability to track the ball while it’s in the air make him tremendous at running the fade route. Defensive backs have to be aware at all times because he can take the top off the defense at a moment’s notice. Not to mention, he’s also very aggressive at the catch point, making him very tough to cover while the ball is in the air.

POST

The post route is his best route. He has the speed to quickly eat up the cushion between him and the defensive back and the short area quickness to create separation when he breaks off the route. Once he creates his initial separation off of his break, Washington will either blow right by the defender or he will get targeted directly after his break. From there, he will use his body to box-out the defender to keep the defender from crashing down to disrupt the pass. His “my ball” mentality allows him to be very assertive while the ball is in the air, making him almost impossible to cover once he establishes position.

CURL/COMEBACK

Curl and comeback routes come easy for him due to his ferociousness at the catch point. After he bursts off the line of scrimmage, he easily flips his hips and makes his break back toward the football. From there, he uses his body to prevent the defender from breaking up the pass. The opposing defensive backs tend to respect his speed, therefore they lineup a few extra yards off the ball, providing extra space for Washington to break off his curl and comeback routes. I highly doubt he will receive as much cushion from cornerbacks in the NFL, but I’m confident that he’ll be able to adapt his route running once he gets to the next level.

SLANT

Considering he’s a big physical receiver, the slant route is straight money for him. Again, once he makes his break on the route, his assertiveness at the catch point allows him to easily make plays on the football. While running his slant routes, you can definitely see how eager he is to get after the football while the ball is in the air. This is a route where receivers have to be aggressive because the defenders are usually in close proximity, creating little room for error for the wide receiver to make the play. This is where Washington excels because he doesn’t let the defensive back get inside of his body to disrupt the pass – and he does whatever possible to make sure he catches the ball in stride to maximize his yardage after the catch.

OUT

Honestly, most wide receiver prospects are not perfect route runners and I wouldn’t expect Washington to run everything to perfection. He does round out some his out routes, but it’s not a deal breaker, considering this is something he could easily fix in the next few years. He did, however, catch 83 percent of the passes thrown his way while running out routes and I only expect him to get better at angling off his breaks going forward. His aggressiveness will come into play along the sidelines at the NFL level.

CORNER/DIG

He’s more than capable of running these routes. It’s not that he can’t, my sample might have been too small to register them. Just by judging how well he ran the rest of the routes on his route tree, I can definitely see him acclimating these routes into his repertoire at the NFL level. During the Senior Bowl practices, the broadcast team for NFL Network kept mentioning how he could only effectively run just a few routes. I don’t know how much stock I would put into their statements because he definitely has the potential to efficiently run a full route tree after a few more years of development.

Again, most wide receiver prospects can’t run a full route tree and the best thing to do with some of these prospects is to determine if they have the potential to eventually expand their skill sets. Scouting players isn’t always about the now. I’ll take the receiver who has mastered three or four routes over the receiver who is mediocre at running the full route tree any day because the coaching staff can order up plays that favor the wide receiver’s strengths.

SUMMARY

Washington is one of my favorite wide receivers in this draft class. I have him ranked second right behind Courtland Sutton. He has a lot of potential and could develop into a very productive receiver at the NFL level. If he goes to the right team, I think he could become a solid WR2 in fantasy for years to come.

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bruce matson
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