Fans have screamed for preseason sensation Corey Washington to get a real opportunity ever since the regular season began. Toward the end of Monday's blowout loss to the Indianapolis Colts Washington received such an opportunity and made the most of it.
In 12 snaps, Washington caught four passes for 40 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown reception and a 20-yard grab. Those were the first receptions of the 6-foot-4, 214-pound undrafted free agent rookie's career. Will Washington's work earn him more playing time? Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo would not commit to that on Thursday.
"We will evaluate that as we get closer to the game. We just had one day of practice and the last game as well as that week's practice determine playing time," McAdoo said. "He certainly did show up and make some nice plays."
Washington is a raw rookie out of Division II Newberry College. Much like tight end Larry Donnell was two seasons ago when he came to the Giants as an athletic specimen who had been a collegiate quarterback, Washington has physical gifts in size and strength that no other Giants' wide receiver can match. The 22-year-old is nowhere near being a finished product.
"He's learning to run an entire route tree," receivers coach Sean Ryan told The Star-Ledger during the bye week. "There is growing to be done with Corey. He works on his releases, his routes, his top of the breaks, getting out of those -- things he needs to improve on. That is where he is right now. He's a work in progress."
The Giants worked with Donnell for two full seasons before he earned the tight end job. Donnell, of course, has turned into one of Eli Manning's favorite targets. He is second on the Giants with 37 catches, one behind Rueben Randle. He has a team-leading five touchdown receptions.
Their current situation may not afford the Giants the luxury of working with Washington for much longer before they begin to give him in-game opportunities. Victor Cruz and Jerrel Jernigan are gone for the remainder of the season. Giants' receivers, other than Odell Beckham, are struggling to create separation and the Giants are consequently not generating enough big plays in the passing game. Drops were also an issue against Indianapolis. The Giants were officially credited with two. A closer look at the film, though, shows FIVE clear drops -- one of which was wiped out by a Colts' penalty. Aside from Washington late in the game, no other Giants' receiver was able to win a physical battle for a ball with an Indianapolis defender.
Washington's snaps against the Colts revealed both his potential and at least one of the issues that has kept him from seeing regular playing time. He clearly outfought the Indianapolis corner for the ball on his touchdown catch, winning a physical battle Giants' receivers have not won often enough this season. He used his size and reach to haul in a slightly off-target Manning pass on one play.
Three of Washington's four catches -- excluding the touchdown grab -- came against off coverage where he was given a free release and defended softly, with Indianapolis defenders only aiming to keep him in front of them. His only issue of the night came on the one play during which a Colts' corner jammed him. He got disrupted at the line of scrimmage and never really got off the jam, with Manning's pass toward him ending up batted down.
More playing time for Washington would likely mean less playing time for Parker, who has 14 receptions. Parker is an adequate player, but was out of the league a year ago and is little more than a stop-gap solution. The same goes for Kevin Ogletree, signed off the street when Cruz went on IR.
To play Washington more would likely mean moving Beckham or Randle into the slot more -- a position neither player is very familiar with.
"If the team needs me to play in the slot, then that is where I will be. There is no selfishness on our end. We are all out here to make the pieces of the puzzle come together and make it work as one," Beckham said earlier in the week. "At the end of the day, what has to be done is what has to be done. Whatever is necessary or whatever it takes."
Washington is nowhere near being a finished product, a complete wide receiver. Playing him isn't the answer to everything that is wrong with the Giants' offense. It won't fix the running game. It won't cure the mis-communications between Randle and Manning. It won't necessarily be the answer to the struggles to create more plays down the field. It might not help anything. It might end up showing that the raw rookie isn't ready for prime time, isn't ready to face the league's starting corners.
It might, however, provide some hope. It might provide a spark, might provide an idea as to whether or not Washington is a player who could become the big, physical, play-making outside receiver this team could desperately use to take pressure off Beckham. And off Cruz when he returns next season.
The Giants are sort of running in circles with the group they have now. Washington might show them that he can be a part of a more productive future -- and present.
Playing Washington might be worth a shot.