+Good pass rusher
+Ideal size for 3-4 outside linebacker
+Solid in coverage
-Absolutely hopeless against the run
-Can’t make tackles in traffic
To be honest, Georgia outside linebacker Cornelius Washington is a one trick pony. But, hey, it’s a pretty good trick. I truly think he has a role on passing downs (and only passing downs) at the NFL level. Because he is pretty good at the one thing he isn’t terrible at.
Washington has excellent physical tools. He has ideal height for a 3-4 outside linebacker at 6’4, good bulk at 268lbs, but he’s fast enough to play linebacker at his weight in the NFL thanks to his impressive 4.68 40 yard dash. Washington has very good measurables.
Washington has terrible stats. In 2011, he got 17 tackles in 12 games. That being said, he got 5 sacks and 20 QB hits, and he didn’t gain a starting job until mid-season, so the pass rushing numbers are something to build upon.
Washington is a good pass rusher with a ton of potential. He has explosive first step, especially from the 5 technique, he has elite speed and quickness, he is extremely flexible and he can get good leverage. The guy has a ton of potential here, and he’s already made something of it. He has as much quickness off the ball as you will ever see from a 5 technique (only KeKe Mingo has him beat), he can get good leverage, and he has jaw dropping long speed. The only thing he needs to work on here is using his hands, and maybe trying to find ways to use his fluidity and change of direction skills to his advantage here. Right now, the only thing he knows how to do is use a speed rush. He’s pretty good at it, but his 6’4 frame and long arms mean he has a ton of potential to dominate with his hands. Again, he has amazing quickness and change of direction skills, and he also needs to try to fake out linemen by using technique such as selling the speed rush and cutting back inside. As a pass rusher, the guy has all the physical tools of a Bruce Irvin, nearly a Dwight Freeney. This is where most of his potential lies in the NFL.
Washington is decent in coverage and has a chance to be a game changer here. It’s not easy to design a guy who is better suited to cover the NFL’s new breed of “super tight ends” than Washington. He’s about as big a linebacker you will ever see but he has the movement skills of a 4-3 weakside linebacker or even a strong safety. However, as of right now, Georgia may run a 3-4, but the only reason I say Washington is a linebacker is the fact that, more often than not, he lines up in a 2 point stance. He has almost no experience in coverage and has a fair amount to learn about zone. Still, Washington has the size and athleticism necessary to cover the Jimmy Grahams of the world, and that’s not easy to find.
Against the run, Washington isn’t a project. The term “project” implies he has hope. That’s not the case. Washington is loaded with the physical tools necessary to stop the run, yet, in 4 years at Georgia, has made virtually no progress in this regard. His instincts are horrendous and he can’t use his hands to shed blocks against the run. He has virtually no on field awareness and can’t make arm tackles. He is frequently overpowered at the point of attack and struggles to get a good initial punch. Not to mention, he never really thinks about stopping the run. He tries to get outside the tackle on every single play. This is what I call “a blind penetrator.” He tries to get into the backfield as quickly as possible on every play, and, if he does get past his blocker, he usually has no idea where the ball is. Frequently, when he is trying to get outside leverage, his aggressiveness simply results in a huge hole forming in the B gap (between the guard and the tackle) that the running back can hit every time. Either Washington is overaggressive, or he just realizes he sucks at stopping the run and figures he might as well go for the sack on every play. On the bright, Washington has loose hips and solid strength, so he is usually a pretty effective tackler.
There are some character issues surrounding Washington. He was suspended for two games last season due to a DUI, but his on field effort seems respectable. Regardless, I’ve never met him, so I don’t feel comfortable saying too many things about his character.
I can’t emphasize this enough; I don’t think Washington will be an every down player in the NFL. He is terrible against the run, and, at this point, it’s safe to assume he always will be. That being said, I think he has a bright future as a purely situational pass rusher in the NFL. I think he’s a guy who can get at 8-10 sacks a year playing exclusively on third downs that also has the potential to dominate in coverage against many of the NFL’s tight ends. He’s a role player, but a pretty good one, who can give a team some nice snaps when asked. And he’s worth keeping an eye on.
Ultimately, I think Cornelius Washington is a solid player who is a safe bet to make an impact on passing downs at the NFL level. His lack of production against the run is a reason for concern, but he can deliver some pretty good snaps harassing the quarterback.
NFL Comparison: On pass plays, he reminds of Justin Houston. On run plays, he reminds me of Dwight Freeney.
Grade: 78 (worthy of an early third round pick)
Projection: 68 (will be an early fourth round pick)