"They told me they had heard I was pretty fast, and I told them I'd run a 4.3," Washington recalls. "And they were like 'we don't believe you.'
"So I just said, OK, I'll run one for you right now outside. Let's go."
That story made the signing day press conference and will hopefully be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
It is likely to be one on a slow burn. Washington is a project. He is projected by just about everyone to be a cornerback in college, but—as is often the case with super athletes—he played quarterback in high school. After a senior-year transfer from Texas, Washington walked into a Alabama state power at Pratville and immediately won the starting QB job. As a result all of his DB film is underclassman stuff from Texas. Also he is 170 pounds. It's going to take some time.
Even so there's a major disconnect between Washington's recruiting profile and his high school exploits. Prattville made the 7A* state championship game with Washington at the helm, rushing for 1200 yards at a Denard-esque 7.9 YPC. His passing numbers are pretty good, too: 61%, 1800 yards, 19 TD, 5 INT. He was mentioned as a (fringe) candidate for Alabama's Mr. Football award, won the Montgomery Advertiser's 6A-7A player of the year award… and nobody ranks him in, or really even near, the top ten players in the state when it comes to college potential. He does have to switch positions, but you'd think a guy who ripped through the best competition the state of Alabama had to offer would get a bit of respect even if it was as an "athlete."
Washington is certainly that, running sub-4.5 40s as an underclassman out of Clute, Texas. By the time Harbaugh sat down with him his go-to number was 4.38. Whether that is fake or not, his ability to separate himself—quickly—from defensive backs in Alabama's highest division leaps off his tape. A coach who played against him last year:
"The main thing that stands out about Washington is just how athletic he is," Dukes said. "He was dangerous whenever he got outside the pocket so that was our main focus. We wanted to keep him from doing that. … He can really run. Being athletic at quarterback is a bonus and hopeful, but it's not expected. If your quarterback is shifty and able to run like him it's a huge bonus, but at corner it's a must. You have got to have a great athlete there and I think he is that."
ESPN praises him as a "gifted athlete," repeatedly notes that he "demonstrates he can both run away from defenders and catch people from behind," and says he's a "general athlete that looks comfortable in whatever role he is asked to play."
The transition to corner is the holdup in his rankings. There is little scouting on him for obvious reasons. He's 170 pounds. He's been mostly an offensive player the last couple years. His DB film from his Texas days looks rough to my amateur eye. Touch The Banner also has the quintessential scout-guy question about him:
I question whether Washington has the hips to be a big-time corner. He's a little bit stiff in the upper and lower body, and he does not transition out of a backpedal very well. As one might expect of someone who's primarily a cornerback, he also lacks tackling technique and doesn't pack much of a punch. Some of these things are technique issues - and strength and conditioning issues - that can be helped with some time in college.
Overall, I look at Washington and I see Jeremy Clark, who's a 6'4" safety for Michigan.
It's tough to make any call on him given the QB transition. When he was a Cal commit, Cal folks were impressed:
Physically, he's long and lean; and he really doesn't have a frame suited for some of the physicality required of a safety. … great acceleration. His ability to turn and chase is impressive with his closing speed. His height and long arms help him in press coverage and playing the ball, and he's a willing though unpolished tackler. … his athleticism makes him a natural in pass coverage. …athletically, Washington really is impressive.
Unfortunately, when I think "recent Cal defensive back" good things do not come to mind. This does:
…got to like his height at 6-foot-2, and his rangy frame. Washington won't have an issue covering the big outside receivers. He's got good speed and can cover ground. … Washington shows good change of direction and breaks on the ball quickly.
Can he play cornerback? Nobody really knows.
There is a backup plan. Harbaugh loves to flip guys around and we already have a pretty good idea of what Keith Washington looks like as an offensive player. He looks like Steve Breaston. He looks creepily like Steve Breaston, playing against the top level of Alabama football. Northwestern recruited him as Kain Colter II, except fast(!):
While Washington says he "can come down under center" if he has to, his strengths are working from the shotgun and running the zone-read game -- much like Kain Colter did for Northwestern over the last four years.
Unlike Colter, however, Washington is a burner with "low 4.4, high 4.3 speed."
Michigan's slot receivers in spring were playing corner and then booted off the team (Norfleet), a true freshman probably better suited to the outside (Cole), and various walk-ons. There is room for a Steve Breaston even in Harbaugh's world of thud.
If it turns out the transition to corner is not going very well, the obvious thing to do is stick him at receiver and see if he can also go to work. I'm not sayin'… I'm just sayin'. I am sayin' that I wonder how seriously we should take any of these positional designations given the propensity of Harbaugh to try anyone anywhere. This goes double for Washington, a quintessential ATH recruit.
Get him in, guess at a position, and let marinate.
*[This is the largest classification. Alabama just added it last January for reasons unknown. There are only 32 teams in it, which seems small for a high school division.]
What song are you picking if you had to sing karaoke?
“That’s a tough one. I’d probably have to pick Usher’s ‘Let it Burn.’”
Can you sing?
Please make this happen.
Why Steve Breaston or James Rogers? If you are going off the high school film that does not look like it was filmed underwater, Keith Washington looks like a clone of high school Steve Breaston, who was a dual-threat quarterback and all-around athletic terror. Washington has the same kind of foot-in-the-ground shallow cut Breaston did, and has the ability to maintain speed through it like Breaston did.
As a defensive back the closest comparison I have is not a positive one, but James Rogers was a tall, very fast offensive player in high school with a modest recruiting profile who many people thought would be a defensive back. He bounced back and forth between offense and defense before becoming a starting corner on Rich Rodriguez's first defense. He could not flip the ol' hips very well and was constantly picked upon.
Morgan Trent is another potential comparison here. Trent had a higher profile as a recruit; in college he ended up being a very fast straight-line guy who couldn't change direction well enough to thwart Troy Smith.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. Healthy and high profile player, but a major position switch clouds matters. Also no camps after a few early combines—very possible that was a reason his ranking was bleah.
Variance: High. This is an Ikea prospect who you must assemble yourself.
Ceiling: High. 6'2" cornerback with excellent speed.
General Excitement Level: Moderate. Love the go-get-it mentality, love the athleticism, worry about major transition and ability to add a bunch of weight and maintain said athleticism. I prefer him as an offensive player.
Projection: One of the surest redshirts on the team. Washington needs to add weight, move to a position he either hasn't played ever (receiver) or hasn't played in a long time (cornerback), and then add more weight.
After that your guess is as good as anyone's. He could end up a starting corner, he could be a slot receiver, he could never find a home and fade away.
Love the Breaston comp. And although it's a different game, I realize, the MGoBlues tell me that Breaston matriculated at 6'1", 169 and shot up to a robust 6'1" 180 by his fifth year. So if he does play that role I wonder whether Washington would need to bulk up all that much.
Obviously we all get excited by the Breaston comparison. What are some other examples of players who came in with a position really undefined (or quickly changes to a new postion) who turned out to be great contributors like Breaston?
He's hard to top, but a lot of players were very productive at new positions. Jon Janson and Adam Kraus (TE), Larry Stevens (S), Frank Clark (LB), Jay Riemersma (QB), Ian Gold (RB) are a few off the top of my head.
I think you're underestimating James Rogers. He had pretty darn good speed and did a decent job at both WR and CB. He latch on in the NFL in a peripheral role, and he ran a 4.42 leading up to the draft, which is not far from Washington's reported 4.38.
This write-up makes him seem most likely to help the team by having him get the ball and watching if anyone can catch him. (Thinking along the lines of The First Time Denard Touched the Ball). Less of a sense the the Woodson-Law-Jackson line of CB greats resumes with him.
Morgan Trent is pretty much a poster boy for how some things get blown out of proportion because they're dissected and immortalized on blogs. If we concentrated as much on Denard Robinson's ugly fumbles, Devin Gardner's ugly interceptions, etc., then those guys wouldn't be remembered well, either. Trent wasn't great, but he wasn't as terrible as some people make him out to be.
I don't get it sometimes. Guys like James Rogers, Morgan Trent, etc. get crapped on around here but make at least short careers out of playing on NFL teams. Meanwhile, nobody says a peep about a guy like J.T. Floyd (whom I was vocal about being bad), and Floyd never sniffed the NFL. If a guy makes it in the NFL, he's probably not as bad as some of the people around here think.