A look at Arizona’s All-Pro LB, Daryl Washington

All right, here is part two of my infinite-part series breaking down players. By request I’ll be looking at Daryl Washington from the Arizona Cardinals. I knew nothing about him, but I saw that he was a second-team All-Pro this season. I’ve broken down four plays featuring him:

Here are some of the specific weaknesses scouts reported about Washington prior to the draft in 2010:

Weaknesses:

  • Tends to avoid taking on blocks
  • Struggles to stack and shed
  • Needs to bulk up and get stronger
  • Only 15 career starts – lacks some experience
  • Won’t fit every scheme
  • Needs to work on gap responsibilities

We will come back to this list after we look at the plays. Unlike with Christian Ponder, who had only one major concern (arm strength), Washington has many more potential issues with his play, so this might be a bit of a pain in the ass. We’ll see. That said, again, I’m picking positive plays from him as I feel like we can learn more from those (and they are much easier to find; I don’t have to sit down and watch full game tapes this way), not to mention they give us a glance at what his ceiling could potentially be.

So play #1 is against the Patriots: (note: relevant text is AFTER the picture. Hopefully that clears up any confusion.)

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I should note that Washington (DW from here on out) is an inside linebacker. We do see him line up on the outskirts to jam his man in a zone vs an Empty set, but that is it. Otherwise, he plays inside. I’ll get a pre-snap image for the next play to show you what I mean. Either way, this play is a zone right run. DW reacts just fine, but what’s important here is how he takes on the cut block. He keeps his arms out and kicks his legs back– solid fundamentals. This is the perfect way to engage a center coming out at you; DW isn’t backing away, he is staying strong to his gap and takes on the blocker with eyes still in the backfield.

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RB is now cutting back. DW has shed his blocker, pursuing the ball at a high level, and is ready for the soft cut. But the RB makes a hard hop back cut– so we’ll get a chance to see DW’s athleticism. His body is still taking him to his left; let’s see how he reacts.

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Look how well he squares himself to the hole. A perfect play, and it ends with him engaging and getting a tackle for a loss. Overall DW shows strong football sense, gap responsibility, and athleticism on this play.

Play #2:

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This gives us an idea of where he is lining up: He is in the middle, obviously (#58). And we kill a second bird here, because we can already see that the play is a zone left run. So let’s see him fill a gap.

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I’ve circled the center. The pre-snap line call likely identified DW as the key defender and called that the center was going to cut him off. DW has read the play too well, though. He is already attacking the hole in the zone run and filling the gap. Look at how awesome that play would be if the center could get a cutoff block. He doesn’t.

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We can cross off “lack of gap responsibility” as a weakness: DW demonstrates not only on these two plays, but a number of others, that he can fit so well into his responsibilities that it’s clear this as an elite trait of his, not a weakness.

Not much else to dissect here. Let’s go to a passing play, play #3:

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This time we’re using a sideline view. DW is circled in black, TE Rob Gronkowski is in maroon, and WR Julian Edelman is in blue.

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Here is the important part of the play. Gronk is running at DW. I drew the routes in the same color I used to circle the players. Gronk is running an aggressive stop-and-go, specifically to draw DW with him. It’s basically a flood combination, where multiple receivers attack the same zone. While Gronk is drawing DW with him, Edelman is running the flat route underneath to get the easy first down (spoiler: he gets it).

DW needs to react perfectly to stop this from being a big play. He knows he has his cornerback on the back side of the play, as Edelman released underneath and not over the top. The corner is now eyeing Gronk. What does DW do here?

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You guys like my MSPaint skills? Anyway, Gronk is covered by the CB correctly. And DW makes the near impossible decision to follow Edelman, the primary WR, and manages to tackle him for no gain. Yes, the pass is caught, but it’s a quick, shifty WR vs. an ILB. This should be a great matchup for the Pats, yet the play is only a short gain. An utterly terrific play from DW.

Play #4:

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Finally, we have a play vs. the 49ers. DW is at his typical ILB spot, and offensively, we see a TE left (the right of the defense) with a FB and a Queen back.

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I got a little zealous with Paint here. I’ll explain. The 49ers have pulled a guard (orange) and have the FB (red) leading the blocking. The Queen back (blue) has taken the ball. Vernon Davis has seemed to engulf our hero (circled in black). The FB has a free block, and the guard is going to come through the hole and destroy the safety. The blue is squiggly because, as of right now, this play is an easy home run, 6 points, count it, LOL Cards. When I previewed this writeup on my live stream, I said that if you gave me this blocking at this moment, I’d take the play 10 times out of 10. Let’s see why it fails…

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You may not be able to tell what’s going on, so let me break it down. DW has jammed Vernon; he never lets the tight end get near his body. He took on the block with authority, and he bullies Vernon out of the way. He has, for all intents and purposes, now filled the gap Davis was supposed to keep him from filling, but his next part of the play is even more impressive.

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DW has to also engage the fullback, and he does so and uses a swim move to get past him. And then, his outside contain fails, so he has to rally to the outside to make the tackle– and does. It truly is an incredible play: DW engages two blockers, one being a very good second-level blocker– maybe top 3 in the league among tight ends at that– and the other being a fullback, and then makes the tackle. Yes, the play still happens downfield. But again, it looked like a home run, and if DW doesn’t defeat two blockers, this play goes for 30+ yards, easily. One more look at his jam on Vernon Davis, who is attempting to block him:

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This is tough to see, but the important thing to look for is DW maintaining separation from Davis. Not letting the blocker into him is huge, and he keeps an arm free so he can still make a play. It’s utter perfection. Very few ILBs can do this.

So what do I think of DW? Well, let’s go back over our checklist:

Weaknesses:

  • Tends to avoid taking on blocks: LOL, no. We have a number of examples contrary to this– we saw three of them just in these four plays, and it’s typical for him, not the exception. (Watch my video review of his tape if you want to see more. ed. note: link contains drunk swearing and rap music.)
  • Struggles to stack and shed: Ask Vernon Davis.
  • Needs to bulk up and get stronger: I’ll plead the Fifth on this one. Who knows? He certainly looks strong enough, though, if he’s able to shed Vernon Davis with one arm.
  • Only 15 career starts – lacks some experience: Irrelevant.
  • Won’t fit every scheme: Similar to “lacks experience,” this may have been a concern as a prospect, but it obviously doesn’t mean anything now.
  • Needs to work on gap responsibilities: We saw on two zone plays that he did a perfect job attacking his gap. Again, if you watch more of his tape, you’ll see this is the norm.

This guy is legit. Does he have flaws? Sure. His on-the-edge pass coverage is pretty bad– I saw one play where he was supposed to jam his man and he missed it completely. Whatever– I don’t care if my ILB can jam or not. I care if he can fill his gaps and how he plays in the zone in the middle of the field. By the way, he’s a pretty good blitzer, too– two sacks vs. the 49ers, both on blitzes, and nine total on the year.

My conclusions just from watching his tape: he is a consistent All-Pro talent and definitely someone worth keeping an eye on going forward. The Cardinals got themselves a good one.

Note: I went back and looked for the play where he missed the jam, but I couldn’t and can’t find it. But while looking, I did find the play where he attacks Gronkowski seven yards downfield on a pass play. Not afraid of Vernon Davis, not afraid of Gronk, lol. “He a man today.”

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