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Rewind: The Dynasty-Fantasy Value of Dwayne Washington in 2017

Date:
September 8, 2017 2:02 AM
April 12, 2017 11:58 AM
— Our offseason ‘Rewind’ reports are where we look at an individual player’s previous season(s) of work–analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a ‘blip’ performance, or signs of future greatness…or signs of a mega-bust approaching. We try to do two per week in the offseason. —

OK, so Dwayne Washington won our ‘Rewind’ report voting tournament for 2017.

But why?

Why is it the FFM faithful want to see more info about Dwayne Washington? At its core, it’s because I hyped him to the moon this past preseason. After a rookie year of so-so results, I guess we all want to know – what now? Is he still as good as I was saying? If so, why did he do so little in 2016? Do we keep him rostered in dynasty? How can we keep him? The Lions love Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, and Zach Zenner lurks. There’s so little hope here, depth chart-wise.

Those of you with deeper rosters are just making sure ‘wasting’ a spot on him is still ‘OK’. Those with limited space are seeing some other names floating out there that you could sit on, plus the NFL Draft is sinking its rookie derangement hooks into and you see like 5–10 guys you’d love to add in a few weeks/months. You don’t have time to waste roster spots on pipe dreams or guys I promote heavily only to find that the next time they see the field is a Spring League 4–5 years from now.

All totally legit concerns from impatient, hopeful dynasty owners. You’re all like my own personal Jerry Jones-esque boss…’where’s the next magic trick?‘ It’s a lot of pressure continually pulling rabbits out of my arse.

But this is the business we’ve chosen…

 

I went back and watched every carry or target Dwayne Washington had in 2016. And I have a confession to make…

I know. I know. We graded him well last draft season – a real/true ‘sleeper’, a talent with a mild dark cloud hanging over him as ‘injury prone’, but the measurables were delicious…

6′1″/223, 4.48 40-time, 1.58 10-yard, 21 bench reps, 37.5″ vertical, 4.22 shuttle, 6.85 three-cone = 2016 Dwayne Washington Pro Day

Those are nice numbers from a 220+ pound RB prospect, especially one who worked as a wide receiver and then converted to running back. The hands of a receiver. The body and athleticism of a big running back.

How could I not fall in love? Especially when you make this comparison…

6′1″/224, 4.50 40-time, 1.57 10-yard. 25 bench reps, 41.5″ vertical, 4.27 shuttle, 6.82 three-cone = 2015 David Johnson NFL Combine

After watching Washington destroy things in the 2016 preseason, I went off the deep end on him…totally enraptured. I had the conviction that Washington was a kind of poor man’s David Johnson, and I mentioned it in many articles and various reports. Everybody wants me to find the next David Johnson…maybe I pushed the envelope too far?

I just finished watching all his 2016 touches to see why a player I thought was going to be ‘the next coming‘ could average just 2.9 yards per carry given a pretty decent workload as a rookie for the Lions last season. After watching all of his 2016 back, I feel like I need to make a fresh statement here.

For months, I’ve been feeling down on Washington’s prospects. A non-splashy 2016. Third or fourth in the team’s pecking order of the Lions’ backfield as we enter 2017. There are many things not to feel excited about. However, having had a chance to go back and re-look at 2016, I have to say this – I have to stop moping around, because Dwayne Washington is the single most talented running back from the 2016 NFL Draft class. More than Ezekiel Elliott. More than Jordan Howard. I held that position in August 2016…I hold it now.

If you allowed me to start an expansion franchise today, and we began play this season, and you gave me a free choice of running back from the 2016 draft class (and I couldn’t take one just to trade them)…I would take Dwayne Washington.

Same scenario from a 2017 NFL Draft preview…insert the Dwayne Washington I know from his 2016 work and from college work prior, and let me choose between him and Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, D’Onta Foreman, etc. – and I would probably choose Washington.

How’s that for a reaffirmation and valuation of Dwayne Washington’s talent?

Don’t tell me I’m crazy.

 

HIS FIRST TOUCH IN THE NFL (PRESEASON 2016)

Rewind: The Dynasty-Fantasy Value of Dwayne Washington in 2017
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Jordan Howard would be my second choice from the 2016 draft class…and he went pick #150 last year. Mainstream evaluations don’t matter to me…it’s why they all missed Jordan Howard to begin with. Let them choke on their Jeremy Langford scouting. I get that there is one little problem with me pulling Howard into this discussion as a defense – he became a star in 2016 and Dwayne Washington did not. Howard has proven himself. Washington didn’t. So, what was so encouraging about watching Washington’s 2016 work? I saw pretty much the same guy as I did in the preseason, but obviously not the same highlight reel moments. In fact, I grew more impressed with Washington the more my re-watch of the 2016 season unfolded. I knew Washington had superior burst and agility, and I saw evidence of some power running in college and in the preseason but I loved him more for his breakaway speed and solid enough toughness as a runner. Re-watching 2016, I’d say Washington was a bulldog…a very tough runner. He ran full speed into contact. He took tacklers on. I feared that his low yards per carry was from dancing around/indecision. It wasn’t. It was mostly crappy blocking.

Huskies/Lions RB Dwayne Washington
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The biggest example of a letdown in blocking was his Week 10 versus Jacksonville, where he rushed for 6 yards on 13 carries. He had a sequence against the Jags where it was like they knew what the play was – he was swarmed in the backfield just after touching the ball…his final four carries in the game all went for negative yardage. Three of the four just trying to run clock.

The Lions ran for the third-lowest yards per game in the league last season, fifth worst in yards per carry. Every Lions’ RB was under 4.0 yards per carry last season except for Ameer Abdullah (5.6 ypc), who got a full start Week 1 versus the awful run defense of the Indianapolis Colts and was gone for the season after getting hurt mid-game Week 2. Zach Zenner averaged 3.8 yards per carry for the season, and 3.1 per carry in his one playoff start.

Don’t take it from me hiding behind an ‘it’s the O-Line’ excuse…take it from the Lions’ themselves. Here are their offseason moves to date at O-Line:

— Let multi-year starters (G) Larry Warford and (LT) Riley Reiff walk in free agency. In their place, they signed top available free agent OLs (G) T.J. Lang and (T) Ricky Wagner.

They signed the two new OLs for about the same amount the guys they let go cost. It wasn’t a circumstantial move…it was a purge. A replacement plan.

— Eric Ebron is graded as one of the worst-blocking TEs in the NFL. Detroit recently signed free agent, quality blocker (and receiver) Darren Fells from Arizona.

In the running game, you could see (when Fells comes in) a 50% change in the offensive line starters from last year. Teams happy with their blocking group don’t tend to change over half their O-Line in the offseason. 2016 rookies Taylor Decker and Graham Glasgow are slated to take over the left tackle and guard positions with Lang and Wager joining on the right side.

It was a poor, inexperienced O-Line in 2016 for Detroit…and radical change has come in 2017. I think there’s some support in seeing Washington as struggling due to the Lions’ 2016 O-Line play. Ask Todd Gurley how important the O-Line is to a high-end running back. Ask Ezekiel Elliott the same.

Honestly, I watched every run for DW in 2016. I was looking for the problem, a problem. Mostly what I noted was ‘who was supposed to block that guy/tackler?‘ type of notes.

My one negative on Washington would be, I thought there were times he didn’t see a hole that was opening up because he committed to staying in his lane/between the guards or tackles. Jordan Howard overcomes poor measurables with extemporary vision. Maybe, Washington has the opposite problem? If it is a problem, I hope I would have seen that on this re-watch. When ‘instinct’ is an issue, you see a running back run up the backs of his blockers because they are blind running with the ball. They run as fast as they can and go as far as they can until contact, and then they go down quickly and tumble forward after being down because they’re out of control just making a mad dash. Washington was more finding defenders had already penetrated and he so concerned himself with trying to blast into them that he occasionally missed a chance to shuffle a different way…not all the time, but a few times. Not anything I’d classify as ‘an issue’.

The Dwayne Washington show continues for the Lions
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So, if you buy what I’m selling, that Dwayne Washington is a superstar talent…do the Lions think so too? Is Washington buried on the Detroit roster? I’d add in a couple things here…

 — For Washington to be a seventh-round pick, and then getting in on the first goal line effort of the 2016 season in Week 1 is a nice tip of the cap. At the time, Riddick and Abdullah were fully healthy…and yet some seventh-round rookie comes in for his first ever NFL carries – AT THE GOAL LINE, middle of a tight game.

 — Only two other seventh-round pick RBs have taken more carries than Washington in their rookie season since the 2000 season. Washington was given touches early, and more looks when Abdullah went down. Washington was coming on after Abdullah went down but then Washington got dinged up in Week 4 and was out until Week 9. Once back in Week 9 and 10 he was virtually starting right after…the moment he came back from injury he was the lead of an ensemble – working ahead of Justin Forsettand Zach Zenner.

I can complain about the Lions’ RB usage all I want, but they gave Washington much more of a chance than most seventh-round guys who didn’t have a ton of carries/experience in college get in the pros as rookies – most seventh-rounders wind up on the practice squad. The Lions did not bury Washington last year. David Johnson was more buried the first half of his rookie season than Washington was in his rookie campaign.

Can Washington beat out Abdullah-Riddick?

He does not enter the 2017 preseason as a likely starter, or even with a chance. In fact, most places list him fourth on the depth chart. He probably is third or fourth. Abdullah is their guy. Riddick is their pass game security blanket. Zenner may be one of the 25 best running backs in the league…so too Dwayne Washington. It’s an embarrassment of riches with Washington (and Zenner) on the outside looking in.

Washington will have to put on a show in the offseason…or Abdullah will have to get hurt, again, to help push the opportunity. Zenner lurks no matter what. It’s not any easy path. David Johnson blasting past Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington was inevitable…they were awful (in 2015). Abdullah is OK. Riddick is entrenched. Zenner is a talent. Washington has to fight through the deepest RB depth chart in the NFL.

I wish the Lions would trade him, but I think they showed last year that they are not overlooking him. 90% of the league probably doesn’t know Dwayne Washington is an NFL RB. Unless I became a GM…no one is trading for him today.

I might hope the Lions would be dumb enough to cut him, but suddenly the Detroit personnel moves are brilliant in 2017. I have some faith in this group all of a sudden.

Is Washington likely to have a meaningful 2017? Probably not. Too many things in the way. However, you have to add some value on this premise – what if he does get the chance (due to injuries or a great preseason)? We’re not just talking about a solid talent filling a spot…we’re talking one of the most talented runner-receivers in the NFL. The potential for greatness here holds me hostage – a new age ‘great’ RB, one who runs with power and has WR-hands for the passing game. He’s more like Le’Veon Bell than David Johnson…Le’Veon without the patience or O-Line.

I’m not exactly sure how to value a supreme talent at the bottom of a deep depth chart. I just know I’m not giving him up on him without a fight.   

Huskies, Lions RB Dwayne Washington doing what Ameer Abdullah doesn't
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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>