Washington Football Team emphasizing flexibility with their personnel choices

Washington Football Team WR Curtis Samuel. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Washington Football Team WR Curtis Samuel. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

In 2020, the leading rusher on the Washington Football Team was a converted college wide receiver.

The Washington Football Team’s second leading rusher was another converted college wide receiver.  The second leading receiver – based on yardage – was a converted college quarterback.

With the addition of free agent wide receiver Curtis Samuel, Washington continues its move toward offensive flexibility, investing in players with multiple skill sets. In college, Samuel was a running back who could catch. He finished his career at Ohio State with more than 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving.

Despite moving to wide receiver in the NFL, Samuel has continued to carry the ball out of the backfield, rushing 41 times for 200 yards in 2020.

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This is nothing new for the Washington Football Team. Of the franchise’s four Hall of Fame receivers, two – Bobby Mitchell and Charley Taylor – entered the league as running backs.

A third, Wayne Millner, one of the league’s first great pass catchers, played in the league’s infancy, when two-way versatility was expected. Millner not only caught passes, but was also a standout defensive end.

Danny Kelly of The Ringer wrote a fine piece five years ago about how much the NFL was favoring hybrid players who could line up at multiple positions. With Samuel now on board, it is easy to imagine the Washington Football Team taking advantage of this in 2021 and beyond.

I can almost guarantee there will come a time in the upcoming season when we will see this scenario: Third and five. Washington goes to a four-wide look, with Samuel, Terry McLaurin, Kelvin Harmon, and perhaps a rookie receiver all split out. Logan Thomas will be lined up at tight end.

The defense will respond by going into a dime package, with pass rushers along the line and six defensive backs on the field. Just before the snap, Washington will shift. Thomas and Samuel will move into the backfield, and Ryan Fitzpatrick will hand the ball to Samuel. With Thomas serving as a lead blocker, Samuel will pick up eight yards and a first down.

This will happen at least once.

Of course, if it’s a shorter yardage play, you might use a similar line up use a different shift, having Fitzpatrick split wide before the snap, with Thomas, the college quarterback, under center. Running against the smaller defensive front, the 250-pound Thomas will plow ahead for the first down.

The NFL has experienced a very gradual seesaw since Chuck Bednarik retired as the last of the two-way players in the early 1960s. Specialization became more and more common as third-down backs and designated pass rushers entered the NFL lexicon.  But coaches have always looked for an edge.

Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart was Slash – the hybrid QB/wide receiver for Pittsburgh in the late ‘90s. Today, New Orleans uses Taysom Hill in a similar manner, though his size makes him more of a running back/tight end than a wideout. Had Tim Tebow been willing to test out his own flexibility, he might have been one of the league’s greatest, most versatile tight ends.

Ty Montgomery and Cordarelle Patterson never had great success as wide receivers, but both have carved out careers by being versatile enough to shift to running back (Patterson is also an elite kick returner).

William Perry was a good defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s. But he went down in folklore as The Fridge – lead back extraordinaire for Walter Payton, who poached Payton’s touchdown in Super Bowl XX.

The guru of positional flexibility in recent years has been future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick. In New England, Belichick first sent a jolt into the conservative specialized NFL universe by using a wide receiver – Troy Brown – as a defensive back in 2004. This grew out of necessity, but Belichick saw the utility in taking advantage of Brown’s specific skill set.

Later, he would do the same with converted college quarterback Julian Edelman, who was making the transition to wide receiver in the pros. Edelman had 18 tackles on defense in 2011, before his offensive productivity made him too valuable to risk in the secondary.

Belichick has been looking for a player with the rare blend of speed, power, and agility that made Aaron Hernandez a devastating tight end/running back for a few years before his own character demons doomed his career and took his life.

And do you know what player has the highest percentage of touchdown catches (with a minimum of 10 receptions) in NFL history? That would be current Tennessee head coach – and former Belichick linebacker – Mike Vrabel. Ten catches when lining up at tight end. Ten touchdowns.

Specialization has its place in the NFL. I certainly don’t want to see Terry McLaurin lining up as a wildcat quarterback, though I’m sure he could handle it. And Chase Young could be the most unstoppable goal line tight end in the league if Washington wanted to experiment. But I expect Washington is going let those elite athletes continue to grow and excel in their positions of choice.

But with players like Samuel and Thomas, as well as the college receivers Antonio Gibson and JD McKissic, Washington will have plenty of flexibility on offense. And don’t be surprised if they don’t expand on this trend by targeting players like Richie Grant, a college safety with the skill set to play multiple back end defensive positions, or Rashawn Slater, a left tackle who can line up anywhere along the offensive line, in the upcoming NFL draft.

Next. 7-Round WFT mock with team grabbing a QB. dark

Of course, you have to play that kind of thing by ear. In the NFL draft, you have to be flexible.