USA TODAY Sports
BRB takes a look at the fast rising Georgia linebacker/defensive end/freak of nature.
Cornelius Washington #83, DE/OLB, Georgia
Weight: 265 lbs.
- Physical specimen. Has speed, power, and size combination that can overwhelm blockers.
- Explosive first step and good pad level on bull rushes to go with his great raw physical power.
- Flashes good dip ability at times, but is very inconsistent with it.
- Versatile defender. Experience all over the defense, playing at DT and DE in both 3-4 and 4-3 looks as well as standing up at linebacker. Has the strength to stack and contain the edge versus the run and the lower body power to push the pocket and disrupt plays. Phenomenal speed on the edge as a pass rusher.
- Unlimited potential if he can hone his craft and become more technically proficient. Will contribute immediately as a solid role player and on special teams while he develops.
- Very underdeveloped hands. Has a great bull rush and has the physical tools to have a great speed rush, but I want to see him add complementary moves that can take advantage of his natural athleticism.
- Was never asked to cover, so it’s tough to say whether he can do it or not.
- Had a bad habit of going half-speed on plays away from him.
- Needs to develop more awareness on the field and understand his role. Dropped his head and didn’t keep vision on the play at times, allowing ball carriers to run right by him before he noticed what was happening. Sometimes failed in lane integrity by taking the wrong gap and allowing himself to be turned out of the play or going too far up field and overshooting the play.
- Despite excellent power and straight line explosiveness, he is not very laterally mobile and has very stiff hips and clumsy feet. Seems to struggle in quick changes of direction. I question his ability to break down in space or peel up to ball carriers on reverses and options.
- Sometimes plays too high and bends at the knees rather than sinking his hips, dipping the shoulder, and using the blocker as a pivot point.
- Limited as an edge run defender and pure power rusher on passing downs until he becomes more refined.
The NFL Combine, contrary to popular belief, doesn't really change big boards that much. What it does do, however, is create an entirely separate list itself called "People I need to watch more tape of when I get home." If someone goes to Indy and performs how you expect them to perform, he doesn't really move anywhere, but when a third round offensive tackle that you've only watched two games of runs a 4.71 at over 300 pounds, you start scrambling for every shred of film you can find. If you like what you see and it backs up his athleticism (or if his athleticism shows improvement from the season), that’s when they start moving up the boards. Cornelius Washington was at the top of my own tape list this year after watching the linebackers go through their tests and drills on Monday afternoon. I had never watched a single snap of Washington’s up until this point and saw relatively late round grades on him leading into the Combine, but after looking at the tape myself I came away very impressed.
Long story short, this dude is scary athletic. At 6’4" 265 pounds, Washington ran a 4.55 forty, benched 36 reps, broad jumped 10’8", and had a 39" vertical. That’s defensive end size with safety speed, nose tackle strength, and wide receiver lower body explosion.
What. The. Hell.
I had to see how this guy played. Nobody with that kind of athletic ability could go unnoticed for this long. It’s just not possible…until you watch his tape. I put on some of his games from early on in the season--Missouri, Tennesee, South Carolina. He certainly had the upper body strength to stack on guards and push the pocket, but I didn't see anywhere near the burst or speed that his Combine displayed. He looked bad off the snap, slow, clumsy, and just plain ineffective. All of the power on display in Indy was nowhere to be found, and I was severely disappointed. "Just another workout warrior," I thought. Before going to bed on Monday I decided to give it another go and put on his Alabama tape from late in the season just to see if he improved, and I’m glad I did.
I have two questions for the Georgia coaching staff: where was this guy all year, and why weren't you using him more often? I have never seen that kind of explosion out of a 265 pound man before. His first step was insane, and once he got under a blocker's pads on a bull rush, it was over. Nobody could anchor against him if he got a half decent start. He’s the only player I've ever seen go one-on-one with Chance Warmack and literally jack him back seven yards into the quarterback. That doesn't happen to Warmack against behemoths like John Jenkins, let alone against someone who is 50 pounds his junior. So what exactly happened between then and now? When comparing his Alabama tape to his earlier tapes, I noticed one little tweak that made all the difference – stance.
Early in the year, Washington’s three-point stance was very top heavy and unbalanced. His feet were too close together and his back was slightly arched rather than flattened out. He looked to be trying to balance his weight over his hips and feet rather than leaning hard into his hands and letting his leg muscles focus on getting an explosive first step. In the Bama game, however, his feet were staggered and his shoulders were further forward. His weight was on his hands and he looked much more "streamlined." When he uncoiled out of this newer, more energy efficient stance, it was one of the most awesome physical displays of power I have seen so far. His explosiveness off the snap is difficult to prepare for, and the ensuing strength of his bull rush as he pumps his legs deeper and deeper into the pocket is something few, if any, tackles can handle over the course of an entire game. He’s exhausting to deal with, and when his pad level is low enough, he’s almost unblockable. Most of the game Alabama’s offensive line merely slowed his bull rush down rather than outright stop it, and considering Bama’s offensive line is the litmus test that all defenders are judged by, I would say that's pretty high praise.
Encouraged by the Bama tape, I put on the Georgia-Nebraska bowl game and saw the exact same eye-popping explosion. The Bulldogs lined him up all over the field as a stand-up linebacker in 3-4 looks, defensive end in both 3-4 and 4-3 looks, and as a defensive tackle in obvious passing situations. Despite being next to big pocket pushers like Jenkins and Geathers, it was not uncommon to see Washington get the most push out of anybody. Off the edge, his excellent burst and inhuman speed showed itself as he raced tackles around the pocket. He didn't put up many numbers this season due to limited playing time as a rotational player and not really learning how to use his body until the end of the season, but he definitely was just as hard to handle as the rest of his vaunted team mates.
Washington was just as dominant in the Senior Bowl where he was finally utilized correctly and got the playing time he deserved. He might have only gotten one sack on the day as his only stat contribution, but he was manhandling tackles the entire game. They don’t record pressures in the Senior Bowl, but he got a lot. Justin Pugh and Ricky Wagner couldn't stop his bull rush; really, the only guy who was able to handle him was Kyle Long (sadly, they only got few snaps against one another). His first step explosion, speed, and power were on full display yet again.
While the former Bulldog does look impressive after finally harnessing his physical gifts, I do have some problems with his game. For starters, he has really bad hands. The speed rush and bull rush were his only two moves, and if either one got shut down, he couldn't counter with anything. No spins, no clubs, no rips, no anything. With that kind of bull rush I would expect at least a good jerk move to build off of it, but he never showed it. I never saw him work the edges like Alex Okafor with the dip and rip, and he never was able to simply get behind a guy with quick hands like Kawann Short. It was bull rush or die, every time. That needs to be fixed. If Datone Jones can improve his hand work so drastically, so can Washington.
Washington's motor was also questionable at times. When he had success with his bull rush off the snap he looked like a maniac, but he shut down too often if his first attack failed. On run plays away from him, he showed less than ideal pursuit and more often than not jogged after the ball carrier. Play recognition and awareness were also issues, and he took the wrong gaps a few times in key situations. Whether it was coming off the edge against a run set on 2nd and 1 and running himself out of the play or crashing the inside gap when he was supposed to be playing contain, he had more "what are you doing?" moments than I like to see.
Washington’s lateral agility and "twitchiness" are also less than ideal. He still looked a little stiff and slow-footed at the Combine, and I question his ability to change direction quickly in space to handle pitches or option plays to his side. Coverage will also be an issue for him with his stiff hips, though his size and speed combination is a good building block to work with if he wants to improve.
Overall, Washington has his fair share of issues, but what he does well he does very, very well, and that’s destroy pocket integrity. His strength to stack linemen and play two-gap or bull blockers back to disrupt plays lends itself well to Sam linebacker in a 3-4, and his speed and explosiveness on the edge should help him play in multiple fronts as either a linebacker or an end. Yes, he needs to expand his pass rushing move repertoire, yes he won’t be very good in coverage, yes he needs to tune up his motor to stop slacking off when he’s on the backside of a play, and yes he needs to improve hip flexion and footwork to help him break down plays in space, but the physical tools that Washington has at his disposal to help him make these improvements are beyond rare. At the very least, he can come in as a strong-side edge rusher that wreaks havoc with power and forces the quarterback into uncomfortable throws all day long; in the NFL, that’s as good as you can hope for from a rookie. A month ago Cornelius Washington was a fifth round pick. After seeing his Senior Bowl and Combine performances, I expect him to go somewhere in the third round. With potential like that, he’s worth it.