On Wednesday, evening, the Kansas City Chiefs added another running back to their stable for 2020. Former Texas Tech Red Raider (and Oakland Raider) DeAndre Washington was signed to a one-year deal to once again play with Patrick Mahomes.
Washington was never much of a factor during four seasons in Oakland. But while filling in for the injured Josh Jacobs in 2019, he totaled 100 carries for the first time. He also performed well in the passing game, hauling in 36 catches on 41 targets for 292 yards receiving. That is a solid 8.1 yards per reception, which exceeds any of Damien Williams’ receiving totals since he arrived in Kansas City.
So while Washington was in a timeshare with Jacobs and receiving back Jalen Richard, he got a steady run as a feature back near the end of 2019. With that in mind, I took a look at his role in those games — and how it could apply to the Chiefs in 2020.
New Chiefs RB DeAndre Washington has good vision that fits into KC's zone scheme.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) April 9, 2020
13 personnel split zone look here. Washington does well to press frontside, forcing SAM LB into the gap. Washington reads the excellent cut block by the RG and takes the bend read to daylight. pic.twitter.com/8pg2NH2kFK
One of the best components of Washington’s skillset is his vision in the running game.
Washington routinely identified the right gap and made the most from his runs by quickly reading his blockers and the opposition. He performed particularly well in split-zone and inside-zone looks, potentially adding another element to the Chiefs’ outside zone-heavy rushing attack.
Washington is a patient runner; he’s not necessarily a one-cut-and-go kind of player — but this can be a blessing as well as a curse. At times, he can lean on his keys to a fault, waiting too long for blocks to develop and therefore creating more obstacles to avoid in the gap. Sometimes, he misses it altogether.
After the departure of Lesean McCoy, the Chiefs’ running back room lacks vision. While Washington is certainly not at Shady’s level, he showed enough of it at the end of 2019 to think he’ll be upgrade to the running back corps in this regard.
Washington's lateral agility and vision allow him to make something out of nothing on interior runs.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) April 9, 2020
Aiming for the frontside gap, he ID's the DT getting to half man and gaining penetration. He plants and gets across to the backside and gets upfield to ice the game. pic.twitter.com/Uob0ySHZ3R
Washington’s best attribute is his lateral agility.
When paired with his good vision between the tackles, he is able to create yardage where other Chiefs running backs cannot. Washington can identify penetration on the front — and has the agility to cut back across the face of the formation to hit an open gap.
Not only can Washington make people miss in the open field, he can set up defenders in the box. He can press the line of scrimmage — forcing linebackers to commit to a gap — and then can quickly dart to the back side of the formation. This sometimes gives him minimal (or negative) gains by trying to do a little too much — but in his limited 2019 snaps, he had plenty of runs like this one.
Washington’s lateral agility could open up more counter plays — and make cutbacks a more prevalent part of the Chiefs’ rushing attack. On an Oakland team with heavier personnel (and a quarterback who struggled to throw downfield) Washington saw plenty of loaded boxes. But with the Chiefs’ spread offense (and facing lighter boxes). Washington may find more room to run — and bigger cutback lanes to hit.
Washington isn't just a finesse runner, his compact frame affords him some plus contact balance.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) April 9, 2020
Presses the frontside A, good agility to get back across the formation, then breaks two attempts on his lower body to get into space and bust a long run. pic.twitter.com/EFZhrRFhOk
Ever since the Chiefs moved on from Kareem Hunt, Chiefs fans have coveted running backs with excellent contact balance. While Washington won’t be mistaken for a weeble-wobble, his ability to keep his feet on the run is well-above average.
Through three starts, Washington was able to make more than he should have when he got into open space against linebackers and safeties. His compact, dense frame often made lower-body tacklers miss — and he was regularly able to spin out of contact.
Washington has good speed — although not top-notch speed like Williams — but the majority of his big runs came from putting himself in space by shedding a tackle at (or near) the line of scrimmage. This ability should give his new team a player who can pick up tough yardage when the box is stacked — something that the Chiefs have struggled to do.
Washington's suddenness shows up in his route running. His shiftiness creates natural separation, particularly against linebackers.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) April 9, 2020
Here, Washington runs an angle route. He gets the LB to commit his hips, then cuts sharply inside. Easy throw, soft hands, and a good gain. pic.twitter.com/x85XuxwLWZ
We know that Andy Reid wants to utilize his running backs as receivers as well as runners. Reid is a master at scheming his backs into quality matchups — and utilizing good route runners to the best of their abilities. In this regard, Washington will fit well in the Chiefs offense.
Washington’s agility (and strong change-of-direction ability) translates very well to his route running. He is very good at setting up linebackers and breaking quickly into space. It doesn’t take him long to get up to speed — which means his routes create natural separation against second-level defenders.
Washington is primed to take advantage of space underneath with his releases -- particularly through the line.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) April 9, 2020
Receivers push vertical, and Washington releases through the line before executing a sharp cut on a flat crosser. He's into space underneath the defense for easy yards. pic.twitter.com/UXur2zwGlh
Some running backs have rounded routes that “float” into the flat. Washington is not one of them. His sharp cuts allowed the Raiders to leak him through the middle of the offensive line, putting linebackers in a situation where they had to defend a “two-way go” on the route. Washington’s crossing routes are flat and quick, affording him the ability to rapidly get into space underneath defenders.
Washington is not likely to be a vertical threat on wheel routes — and he probably won’t stretch the defense up the seam in the same way Damien Williams does. When he has the ball in his hands, he also won’t run away from defenders like some of the Chiefs’ other running backs can do. But he does offer solid ability to get separation underneath — and with a more developed route tree than other running backs, could be counted upon to generate extra yards.
Washington wasn't asked to do much in pass protection last year because Richard was better at it.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) April 9, 2020
However, he was too passive in limited reps, setting his feet too early and not driving through the blitzer. He'll need to attack w/ more aggression to keep a cleaner pocket in KC. pic.twitter.com/lAzlCwsWtB
One of the biggest areas of concern for Washington is his pass-protection ability.
In Richard, Oakland had a good third-down back who could pick up blitzes and was good in the open field — which limited Washington’s opportunities in obvious passing downs. So Washington saw fewer blitzes and ran more routes, leaving his pass-protection reps few and far between.
But when Washington was required to stay in and help, he was far too passive. Instead of stepping up into the pocket and delivering a strike, Washington would too often wait near the quarterback, trying to “catch” the blitzer. This led to pressures — and even on hot routes, the quarterback often had to move away from the pass rush.
With the Chiefs, Washington needs to learn to step into the gap and form a “line of defense” with the rest of the blockers up front, creating a solid pocket with room to move. Unlike the Raiders, Mahomes and the Chiefs offense will want to go vertical with longer-developing route concepts (hello, Wasp!) and will need a running back who can handle that. If Washington can’t shoulder that load, he simply won’t get on the field under Andy Reid.
The bottom line
Washington is an intriguing addition to the Chiefs running back room. He immediately offers better vision than most of the backs that Kansas City had on the roster. His contact balance and agility could help Eric Bienemy and Andy Reid unlock a more diverse (and successful) zone-rushing attack to help close out games. In the passing game, he even offers a different element than Damien Williams — so much so that the Chiefs could run two-back sets with Williams flexed-out wide.
But to get on the field, Washington has to be able to pass-protect. Every year, we see talented running backs with strong traits struggle to make their mark on the Chiefs offense — simply because they can’t be trusted to keep Mahomes upright. It’s why Spencer Ware has often returned to the Chiefs: Reid knows he can trust Ware to protect his quarterback.
Fans shouldn’t expect Washington to be a top-tier running back for the Chiefs. But he is a solid complement to the running back corps — and isn’t someone we should just write off as a camp body. If Washington can develop his pass protection under Bienemy and Deland McCullough, there’s no reason to think a Chiefs running-back-by-committee that includes Washington couldn’t be successful in 2020.
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