There's little question that the Texans would revamp the receiver position through both free agency and the draft this offseason. As it pertains to the draft, I've said for months that the receiver crop is deep and diverse. There's inherent value in getting a young player on his rookie deal.
But, finding free agency value is a different question and a different approach. No longer is a player on his rookie deal. No longer does a 31-year old receiver have the bounce and juice he had in his legs as a rookie or young player. But, there's value in a player's experience, savvy and leadership having been around the proverbial block.
That's what this team got in former Steeler/Titan receiver Nate Washington on Wednesday. Well, the experience, savvy and leadership part, I mean. Washington has never been a dominant pass catcher and his best year was in 2011 when he snatched 72 passes for 1,032 yards and seven touchdowns. However, he's had 40 or more catches each season since 2008. After the final game of the 2014 season, though, he sat at his locker and shed tears with the thought that he might've played his last game as he neared unrestricted free agency-land. I can only imagine that's a dark place for 30 year-old receivers in some sense.
However, the Texans don't need a number one wide receiver. I think that Nuk Hopkins character is pretty good. So, that doesn't need to be Washington's MO and it isn't. But, there are still a bunch of young and/or inexperienced receivers in the meeting room. Along with Cecil Shorts III's addition in March, Washington brings a wealth of knowledge to the room and a high football IQ to the organization.
Does he play inside? Does he play outside? Does he make the team? Which suits him best? Which suits the team best? All questions that have to be answered once OTAs begin, but let's take a look at how Washington's understanding of the game helps address those question marks.
Late in the season against the New York Jets, down in the red zone, the Titans started in empty but motioned Dexter McCluster into the backfield next to QB Jake Locker.
Washington was aligned tight to the formation.
On the snap, Washington needed clues to determine man or zone.
So, you'll see he took a quick glance at the CB on that side, saw him in off coverage with eyes not on him and knew it was zone. It was time to find a hole in said zone. That's a nuance veteran receivers know very well, one that takes young receivers that much longer to learn.
Let's move to the end zone view at this point. There's an OLB over Washington at the snap, but as soon as the ball is snapped and Washington knew it was zone, his eyes then went to the middle linebacker as he knew the OLB more than likely had flat to curl responsibility.
The middle linebacker was in a tough spot. He was going to "wall off" Washington, but never saw the crosser coming from the other side. No matter, Washington was going to take care of business by staying on that particular side.
Washington froze him and knew that the hole is right about…
McCluster ran the wheel up the sideline to hold the CB honest to his deep third and Washington's inside route pulled himself away from the OLB and ILB. Young receivers often make the mistake by turning and drifting to the sideline, allowing the OLB to get in on the coverage. Washington doesn't allow that to happen.
He pivoted immediately, knowing full well, that all three were drawing a bead on him and held on to a dart from his quarterback. It seemed easy for him to get to the open spot quickly and play pitch and catch with his quarterback. But, that's what veterans do.
The other reason I liked this particular play was that this route, although Washington ended up being the outside receiver after McCluster motioned into the backfield, was that it's a traditional slot receiver route. That's the life of a slot receiver.
Zone - find the open hole and circle up.
Man - beat your guy across the formation.
Washington still has some juice down the field and I remarked on the radio a few times that Shorts gets on DBs feet as fast as anyone I saw last year. They both played the majority of their careers on the outside. Living inside in the slot is a whole different ball game; however, I think both of them can do it if asked and this was a great example of how Washington can still impact the game from that key spot.
The more you can do, right?
Check out these snapshots of WR Nate Washington's career.