by Woodland Crisfield
The Washington Football Team exceeded the expectations that many in the media had for them coming into the 2020 season. Thanks to a late season rally, Washington more than doubled its victories from a season ago, while winning the NFC East Division and appearing in a playoff game for the first time in 5 years.
Washington head coach Ron Rivera believes that his team can reach new heights next season, but in order to do that they must address some areas of need in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. Washington holds the 19th pick in the first round; here are five players that coach Rivera and the Washington front office could select with their first round pick.
Kadarius Toney, WR , Florida
Kadarius Toney broke out during his senior season in Gainesville for 70 receptions, averaging 14.1 yards per catch, running for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games. Toney also racked up 161 rushing yards and 294 yards as a returner. Toney’s ability as a punt and kick returner would also come in handy for a Washington team that is in need of one.
While used primarily as a slot receiver during his time with the Gators, Toney is able to play on the perimeter as well. His ability to be used on screens, jet sweeps and/or reverses out of the slot could make him a perfect pairing with Washington’s Antonio Gibson.
While his small frame and lack of length hindered his ability to catch 50/50 balls and consistently win one-on-one matchups. Many scouts believe that Toney is one of the most dynamic receivers in the 2021 class, his explosiveness, acceleration ability, and elusiveness while in open space could be a perfect addition to Washington’s receiving corps.
Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
Three of Washington’s top five tacklers were linebackers in Jon Bostic, Cole Holcomb, and Kevin Pierre-Louis. Outside of those three, however, the position group was largely inconsistent.
A selection of Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins would bring depth to Washington’s linebacking core and more.
Collins went from a relatively obscure prospect to one of the nation’s top defensive players during his last season with the Golden Hurricanes. Collins put up 54 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 4 interceptions (two of which went for touchdowns), and 2 forced fumbles. For his efforts, the Pro Football Writers Association awarded Collins the Bronko Nagurski award as the nation’s best defensive player.
Collins’ 6 feet, 4 inch, 4, 260-pound frame gives him the ability to quickly shoot through gaps, blocking off running lanes, while his physicality and strength allows him to finish plays at their point of contact. In addition to that Collins’ size and explosiveness as a pass rusher gives him the ability to disrupt a quarterback’s rhythm and cadence.
Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
(Photo: David Carson/St.Louis Post-Dispatch.)
If Zaven Collins is already taken by the time Washington is on the clock, Washington might consider taking Missouri’s Nick Bolton.
In three seasons with the Tigers, Bolton had 220 total tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 12 passes defended, 4 sacks, and 2 interceptions. Bolton’s arrival in Colombia would contribute to the drop in Missouri’s points per game given up from 31.8 in 2017 to 25.5 in 2018, during his freshman year, to 19.4 during his sophomore year.
Standing at a modest 6 feet, 232 pounds, Bolton may not have the size of the draft’s top linebackers, but he makes up for it in his ability to make plays both against the pass and the run. Overall, Bolton’s athleticism, instincts for the ball, and quick motor would make him a solid pick for Washington.
Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama
Washington has been in the market for a consistent left tackle since the departure of Trent Williams in 2018. Drafting Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood might just be the answer at left tackle for the Burgundy and Gold.
Leatherwood is a two-time first team all-SEC player, and won the National Championship in 2018 and 2021. Opting to return for his senior season, Leatherwood shined on the Alabama offensive line giving up just two sacks and three quarterback pressures, while accumulating just two penalties all season. He was awarded the 2020 Outland trophy as the nation’s best lineman.
After playing right guard in 2018, he would switch back to offensive tackle starting each game ever since. Leatherwood’s consistency in 2020 was evident as the Crimson Tide offense was just one of ten teams to average 500 yards per game, ranking sixth in the league in total yards per game, and a +378 point differential.
Leatherwood often uses his 6 feet, 6 inches, 316-pound frame to over power defensive lineman, his length gives him the ability to overpower opponents, while using his arms to latch on and maintain control as the play develops.
Leatherwood’s long arms allows him to hold onto incoming pass rushers disrupting their mechanics through the play. He possesses good footwork and lower body mechanics to avoid being overpowered by most pass rushers.
Draft analysts have pointed out that he can get beat when matched up against pass rushers with elite bend or speed, leaving him to shuffle his feet and fight to reposition himself in order to stay balanced. Some have speculated that he may have to kick in at guard at the next level, but it would be wise for Washington to start him at tackle if they were to draft him.
Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech
At 6 feet 5 inches and 314 pounds, Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw has the prototypical build of an NFL tackle. Darrisaw started at left tackle all throughout his time in Blacksburg, missing just one game due to an injury.
He moves relatively fast for his large stature, using his size to power over defenders clearing paths for running lanes while keeping pass rushers at bay during pass protection.
Drafting Darrisaw may be an option for Washington to consider as they would be getting a solid player who can be developed into their left tackle of the future.