George Paton isn’t afraid to make an unpopular decision. He declined Kareem Jackson’s team option when many feared it would lead to the veteran’s departure and a pressing need on the third level of the defense. The decision proved to be a master stroke, as the Broncos were able to bring back the 33-year-old once the dust settled on his market.
Still, it does not eliminate safety as a need.
With Jackson’s contract set to expire after the 2021 season and little proven depth behind him, there’s a distinct possibility Paton looks to acquire a safety in the NFL Draft.
Could TCU’s Ar’Darius Washington fit the Fangio system?
At a glance
Standing 5’8” and weighing in at just 176 lbs., Washington isn’t for everyone. He probably isn’t getting bigger and size limitations will always be a part of his evaluation. If you can accept that fact, there’s a lot to love about his game. He’s an instinctive tape-over-traits prospect with coverage chops who plays a whole lot bigger than he measures.
Ar'Darius Washington is a FS prospect in the 2021 draft class. He scored a 5.1 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 379 out of 772 FS from 1987 to 2021. https://t.co/iZDMGNoGyT #RAS via @Mathbomb pic.twitter.com/yqgobHq7uC— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 16, 2021
Why he fits the Broncos
- Started 15 of 26 games for the Texas Christian defense that plays a majority of their snaps out of 2-high shells.
- Experience as a safety and slot corner.
- Described as “coachable” by former coaches.
- Tape over traits, he displays very good athletic ability with very good quickness, agility, and explosiveness. Twitchy.
- Very good mental processing. He’s a savvy player who sees the full field and anticipates the quarterback’s intentions. He’s a communicator who will help teammates.
- Very good competitive toughness with a never-say-die attitude. Plays like no one’s told him he’s too small to do something, or they did and he spit in their face.
- He’s got more pop to him than you’d anticipate. Plays big when he’s built up a little steam.
- Good in man coverage with the short area quickness and reactive athleticism to stick on most assignments.
- Very good ball skills with a lightning quick trigger, he’s got a knack for disrupting the catch point with a hand or shoulder pad.
- Doesn’t hesitate to run the alley against the run and shows no qualms with mixing it up to bring down a ball carrier.
- Very good range. When asked to cover the depths, he’s shown little issue and has the oily hips to turn and cover most assignments downfield out of the slot.
- His twitch could make him a sleeper blitzer capable of punishing a protection scheme for underestimating him.
It’s rare to see a safety who is 5’8/178. It’s even more rare for that player to make opponents flinch.— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) March 8, 2021
Ar’Darius Washington plays like he’s 6’2/220 sometimes. pic.twitter.com/DBCK8Bzm4w
Reasons for concern
- At 5’8” and 176 lbs. he only just reaches baseline measurables for a cornerback and it’s doubtful he adds much to his frame. Size limitations impact him in all phases.
- Stopwatch didn’t love him: 4.6 40 hints that make up speed could be a bigger issue in NFL.
- Trusts his instincts to a fault and can become overaggressive reading up in coverage and biting hard on run fakes.
- Marginal play strength overall with issues separating from blocks and consistently preventing leakage on tackle attempts.
- Will get outrebounded at the catch point by bigger assignments. The thought of him trying to stop LA’s Mike Williams is scary.
- If he’s at corner, he isn’t someone you’re going to want pressing a receiver with his lack of length and recovery speed.
- Adequate run defender whose size hurts him when he doesn’t have a head of steam.
- Adequate in the open field with a smaller tackle radius, he’ll try to make up for it with Madden-esque hit sticks that can backfire. Will need to tighten up pursuit angles and do a better job consistently leveraging ball to help.
- He probably isn’t going to be a true difference maker on blitzes because of size and strength limitations.
Ar’Darius Washington packs a punch on contact!— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) February 26, 2021
Tough, feisty, fearless SOB pic.twitter.com/XsUWiXTJMW
What I’ve seen / heard / read
“Washington projects as a starting free safety in any scheme. He can play 1-high, 2-high, or even slide into the slot. Though he has the skill set to interchangeably play SS as well, his size will likely limit him from consistently taking on linemen and ballcarriers around the box at the next level. His speed, toughness, and aggression allows him to contribute some on special teams, but his size is a concern.”
I had a chance to talk with Cooper about Washington on Cover2Broncos.
“Washington has the vision and read/react skills to trigger routes and challenge throws. While he plays with the toughness of a linebacker, his size concerns show on tape with too many “almost” plays both in coverage and versus the run. Overall, Washington has a very small margin for error due to his lack of length, but his cover awareness and play range help make up for his size limitations. He projects best in a nickel role at the next level.”
Very undersized college safety with low-end size and high-end play traits. Washington falls well below the desired measurables for a safety, but he plays with outstanding instincts and aggression in everything he does. He has good foot quickness and really reads play development and quarterback intentions with clear eyes. He’s quicker than fast and there is some concern about how he will match up down the field against NFL size. He’s a physical striker when he plays near the line, but can be pushed around by big bodies at times. Several teams will scratch him from their boards based on his size, but a move to nickel cornerback with man or zone talent could help him find NFL snaps regardless of stature.
Although a smaller safety prospect, Ar’Darius Washington is a very physical player in all departments of his game. Possessing a fluid backpedal in zone coverage, he has a great eye for passing concepts and the exact plan of attack from offenses. His change of direction/hips are clean when transitioning in and out of his breaks. Washington can turn and run when asked to, even though the Horned Frogs incorporate lots of two-high and three-safety looks on the back end. Physicality as a run supporter shows up often and he’s often been able to save the day as the last line of defense.
While not afforded opportunities to play it often except in the red zone, he’s shown to be adequate in man coverage, as he has the smoothness and athleticism to cover slot options. He’s got ball skills galore and he attacks the ball out of the air. He’s highly competitive at the catch point and many of his turnover opportunities have come from coverage awareness or following the eyes of throwers to take him to intended throwing locations.
Washington’s eyes can get caught in the backfield often and he remains glued to play-action fakes for too long. He waits too long to see and diagnose plays, particularly deeper passes. This has resulted in routes getting by him and has left him playing catch up on recovery attempts. His lack of length shows up when attempting to get off blocks and fighting through the trash in order to get to the ball. His lack of height may make some teams hesitant as his measurements are below many previous thresholds for players at the position.
When I was watching Trevon Moehrig, it was hard to focus because Washington constantly popped off the tape. There’s little doubt his size limitations will impact his draft stock, but at the end of the day I believe his instincts, competitive toughness, and twitch could make him a very good nickel corner in the Fangio defense with the potential to become so much more.