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Why did the Broncos draft Samford wide receiver/kick returner Montrell Washington?

George Paton saw a need for a returner and made a point to draft the best from the FCS.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 29 Collegiate Bowl
Washington led the FCS in all-purpose yards in 2021.
Photo by John McCoy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 162 selection in the 2022 NFL Draft the Denver Broncos selected Samford receiver and returner Montrell Washington. A zero-star recruit out of the 2017 class, Washington chose to sign with the Samford Bulldogs and didn’t really blow up until his junior season, when he was named an All-American return specialist as he averaged over 20 yards per return. Washington’s 2020 season was impacted by Covid-19, but in Samford’s seven spring games he did enough to make the All-SoCon team as a return specialist and receiver. Last fall he led the FCS in all-purpose yards with 1,967 total yards and tallied 18 total touchdowns.

Standing 5’9” and 181 lbs., Washington joins the Broncos as a return specialist and competitor for snaps as a depth receiver. While undersized, he’s a good, shifty athlete who ran a 4.48 40-yard dash with a 1.6 10-yard split and has the elusiveness to make tacklers look foolish in the open field. He should be able to compete for the Broncos’ punt return job out of the gate.

The Washington pick makes sense because the Broncos had one of the worst special teams in the league last year despite the advantage of playing half their games at elevation. According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric that measures efficiency, the Broncos ranked among the three worst teams in the league at special teams last year, including the fifth worst punt return unit and 11th worst kick return unit.

During his pre-draft press conference George Paton placed the blame for the Broncos’ lackluster special teams in 2021 on the personnel department, so it isn’t surprising he sought to rectify the issue in the draft. The Broncos’ pick at 152 gives them a safety prospect who can compete for playing time on the coverage units, and Washington gives them an intriguing returner. The Washington selection also makes it clear Paton does not intend to re-sign Diontae Spencer, who moonlighted as a receiver as he stuck around the Broncos’ roster as a return specialist the last three years. It also raises doubt that K.J. Hamler will be a factor in the returner competition.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the Washington selection because I believe there were more impactful prospects on the board, such as Penn State tackle Rasheed Walker. Washington did not make it on the Athletic’s top 300 consensus board and was expected to go undrafted. It seems Paton did not want to risk losing him and elected to draft him. Ultimately it only cost the Broncos a fifth round pick, but time will tell if that was the right choice.

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