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Film Room: Broncos Rookie WR Montrell Washington Should Make Year-1 Impact

Breaking down Denver's fifth-round pick.

With the 162nd selection of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected Montrell Washington, a shifty slot wide receiver with punt- and kick-return abilities out of Samford. Unknown by a wide majority of the draft community, Washington flew under the radar for the most part as a player at the FCS level.

That is, unless you are the most dominant player on the field, as Washington was every week.

Washington led the nation at the FCS level with 1,938 all-purpose yards in 2021 — 813 receiving yards, 742 kick return yards, 243 punt return yards, and 140 rushing yards — with 18 total touchdowns (three via return) to add to a massively productive senior season for the Bulldogs. He was so dominant in the Southern Conference that teams would actively rotate coverage his way or squib-kick it to keep the ball out of his hands for fear of him taking it to the house.

A gadget-style slot receiver with great elusiveness, solid burst and vision to get skinny when holes open up, and long speed to outrun defenders, should translate nicely to the NFL level. But there is a long way to go for him to see the field aside from a very obvious fit as a return specialist.

Let's dig into the film.

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Plays 1 and 2: The Obvious Fit

The Broncos have been looking for a quality return specialist ever since Trindon Holliday. Their last kick-off return for a touchdown came via Holliday back in 2013, and they have had two total punt return touchdowns since 2015. Experimental projects like Isaiah McKenzie and Diontae Spencer have come and gone with varying levels of success, but the simple fact of the matter is this: fans have grown accustomed to being happy when the punt or kick isn’t muffed. That’s how bad it has been.

With Washington, there is a legitimate shot that they have found a guy who can fill the void on a very cheap rookie contract for the next four years — if he translates to the highest level of football.

Washington made a nice case in his three-TD performance against the Gators this past season, most noticeably on this kickoff return in which he appeared to be swallowed up only to sneak his way through multiple creases. This shows the incredible patience, vision, burst, and long speed needed to be a viable return specialist, and it happened against a team that sends professional talent to the NFL every season. Check that box off the list. The kid can play.

Just for good measure, let’s show him taking a nice punt return for a touchdown against The Citadel where he shows burst and a bit of wiggle in the open field. You automatically tell that he is the best player on the field in this clip, as he goes relatively untouched on the return, making a couple of would-be tacklers look incredibly silly along the way.

Plays 3 and 4: Need to See More Route-Running

Watching Samford’s offense was incredibly frustrating for a couple of reasons. First, they only run a handful of different concepts in their passing game, most of which don’t translate to the next level. Most of what you see are quick screen passes, an all-hitch concept that they use to get their double moves going up the seams and a mesh concept that they run at least once per drive.

Secondly, the way they used Washington in the passing game was horrendous in that they used him as a blocker on tunnel and smoke screens. All 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds of him. That’s a talent misusage at its finest because Washington is incredibly shifty out in open space. Why not get him the ball quickly and let him go to work?

On top of that, Samford runs a play about every 15 seconds, so getting quality looks from the replays just wasn’t an option. However, I did find a couple of really nice routes in the red zone on their shot play package that features a double move that Washington aces.

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Here against Mercer, this stop-and-go route is tremendous for a raw route runner that doesn’t have a viable tree to work out of. This is one of the few concepts that the Samford offense tweaks every now and again to stretch the field vertically.

Watch as Washington sells the stop route to draw a pair of defenders to crash down. The explosion through the defenders as he hits another gear is impressive as well, and a nice hands catch for the touchdown is easy like Sunday morning.

The one other example I found of some creative red-zone tape was this poor angle shot of him coming back over the middle of the field off a double move. I liked this play because it not only showed his twitch to get open, but his smooth hands and some nice footwork to stay inbounds.

Aside from these examples, there isn’t much to work with when watching his route running. A lot of his success stems from being the best athlete on the field and getting the ball into his hands early. He had some success as a deep threat to take the top off of the field, but in terms of running smooth routes that have sharper breaks over the middle of the field or towards the boundary, the options for quality evaluation are incredibly limited.

This is a big question mark that needs to be answered for his hopes of seeing the field on offense outside of our next couple of plays

Plays 5 and 6: Go, Go Gadget!

Despite running a very simplistic and fast-paced offense at Samford, there were a couple of great examples of them being fairly creative with Washington to get him quality touches in the red zone, specifically on the reverse.

Samford draws this play up at least once per game in the tape that I saw, and they run it in the perfect situations. Washington didn’t score here against Florida, but he came close. Washington was able to score two plays later on a designed sweep in which he was lined up as the running back.

The Bulldogs also ran this play against Mercer, getting Washington into the endzone for his third touchdown of the game.

If Washington does get on the field offensively in Denver, this would be a great way to incorporate his skillset. I can see enough burst utilized on jet sweeps and misdirection looks that get him into open space quickly. Samford also used Washington on a jet sweep motion that got him on a wheel route against Florida where he made a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch.

What Did We Learn?

There is a lot to like about Montrell Washington. His shiftiness in open space, nose for making big plays and finding the endzone, as well as a skill set that the Broncos don’t currently have at the return specialist position make him incredibly intriguing heading into training camp.

Until we see refinement as a WR, it may take some time to see be incorporated into the offense on game days. There is also an incredibly long list of higher-quality options ahead of him on the depth chart who will be on the field far more often. However, if he does crack the final roster, there is a way to utilize him on a handful of plays as the season progresses.

The questions far outweigh the answers in terms of his ability to compete at the highest level. However, being the best player on the field at the FCS level is often a sign of a player that can at least make a practice squad in the NFL. Washington is a raw athlete with explosive playmaking ability. A moldable ball of clay.

And for that, the depth of this team is now better.