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NFL Draft

Who’s Most Likely To Be Washington’s WR2?

  • The Draft Network
  • July 22, 2020
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Back on May 29th, I wrote about why we shouldn’t be sleeping on Washington wide receiver Kelvin Harmon as a bounce back and breakout candidate for 2020.

Two months after that post, if writing about Harmon once again, I certainly hoped it would be in the form of positive news from camp or through a workout video. Instead, it’s to, unfortunately, address the fact that Harmon will miss all of the 2020 season with a torn ACL.

Harmon wasn’t too much of a factor in Washington’s passing game during his rookie season. His 44 targets were just the fifth-most on the team, though his 365 receiving yards were third-most. Even with Harmon in there, there were still questions as to who was going to be the second receiver option in 2020 after young star Terry McLaurin.

That question still remains, but the potential answers for it are now fewer in options with Harmon sidelined for the year.

So who’s left? Currently on Washington’s projected depth chart, you’ll see Cam Sims, Cody Latimer, and Antonio Gandy-Golden as potential outside receivers with Trey Quinn listed in a few places as the starting slot.

But the man who I believe has the best chance to be the WR2 behind McLaurin is the undersized, undrafted, and under-the-radar wide receiver Steven Sims Jr.

Sims Jr., a 5-foot-10, 175-pound undrafted free agent from Kansas, started on the practice squad, became a special teams contributor early in the season, and then as he continued to work his way into the lineup, ended up seeing the third-most targets on the team in 2019 with 56. His final stat line on the season read: 34 catches for 310 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. But 20 catches, 230 receiving yards, and all four of those receiving touchdowns came in the final four weeks of the season.

But that production was in no way handed to Sims, nor was it even his for the taking early on. In an interview with Sam Fortier of The Washington Post, Sims said he actually lived with quarterback Dwayne Haskins after being signed by Washington. Sims said he didn’t have a home in Virginia, at the time, and he didn’t even own a car. That meant he went everywhere Haskins did.

With Sims being on what he called a “quarterback schedule,” he would be at the facility early in the morning with Haskins before any other wide receiver got to the building. Sims specifically mentioned his connection with Haskins, as the interview was conducted this summer and Haskins is the starting quarterback moving forward. But for 2019, whether it was Haskins or even Case Keenum, Sims’ early morning and dedication to be the best receiver he could be showed up on tape when he was given his chances in the second half of the season.

As you would expect from a player of Sims’ size, he’s primarily a slot guy. That doesn’t exactly line up with what could have been a replacement for Kelvin Harmon as a true “X” wide receiver on the outside, but that doesn’t mean the amount of attention (different from the type of attention) can’t be transferred over to Sims if he proves to be the best return on investment for targets.

Sims is not the most athletic player in the world, even at his smaller size. He wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, and at his pro day, his 4.56 40-yard dash, 31 ½ vert, 9-foot-7-inch broad jump, 4.42 20-yard shuttle, and 7.20 3-cone were all below the 75th percentile, many below the 50th percentile. But Sims constantly overcomes what many would label as athletic limitations when you watch him win in his routes.

What leads me to believe that is the case is in play like the one above.

Here’s a better look at that play through a lens that specifically highlighted Sims’ route—and it was a thing of beauty.

I am a sucker for a good route-runner. Playing wide receiver is all about separation. Separation makes the quarterback’s job easier when delivering you the ball because it not only allows for more of a margin for error for a completed pass, but it also doesn’t put as much mental pressure on the passer, as they can visualize getting you the ball in an easier way.

As a wide receiver, no matter what shape, size, speed, or strength you have, you can gain some sort of separation with your routes. As a smaller, more compact player, it is easier for Sims to create that separation due to how controlled his body can be and how well he can sell fakes in one direction just to go the other. This is the kind of nuanced receiver play that gives me confidence in Sims to succeed above his lower athletic profile.

A testament to how good Sims is at route-running is how much success he had in the red zone.

Sims has plenty of plays where he is the quick-hit player that Washington lines up in the slot and uses to run a short out route to the sideline to gain five or so yards to either convert for a first down or set themselves up for a manageable second or third down. You can use those plays as evidence to his quick separation ability that can be useful. But Sims takes it to another level by providing that same sort of reliability in the red zone, where there is even less space to work with.

It’s the little things that make him so fun to watch. 

When you’re in the red zone, specifically within the 10-yard line, there are 11 defenders occupying less than 20 yards of space with three extra defenders (the two sidelines and the back of the end zone) aiding their coverage. Space is at a premium, and so is separation. 

But Sims is a player who can create that small window of separation that a quarterback can take a mile. Observe the play above where Sims was able to sell his fake well with that step to the left, fully moving his head in that direction, too, then stopping on a dime, flipping his hips and creating the catch point away from the defender. 

In a league where passing yards and total yards, in general, are higher than ever, offensive coordinators make their money by scoring six points instead of three when you get into the red zone. Sims is a player every offensive coordinator would love for that reason.

Washington recently cleaned house in their coaching room. Former head coach Jay Gruden is out and so is offensive coordinator from 2019 Kevin O'Connell. New head coach Ron Rivera and his offensive coordinator Scott Turner are now the ones under the headset.

Because of this, Sims is sort of in a situation similar to that of Daniel Ruettiger at Notre Dame, as made famous by the movie “Rudy”. In that movie, Rudy works his ass off in practice, and in doing so, impresses his head coach Ara Parseghian so much that Parseghian promises to let Rudy dress for a game the next season. But before that season could come around, Parseghian retired and a new coaching staff came in—one that never saw the work Rudy put in on the practice field the year before.

I am sure Rivera and his staff are well aware of what Sims was able to do last season, but I bring up the Rudy example because Sims, as an undrafted free agent, likely starts on an even playing field behind McLaurin in the mind of this new coaching staff. It will be up for grabs who earns that WR2 title.

Plays like the one above gives me faith that Sims will be the top choice when it’s all said and done—he’s a playmaker.

By nature, Sims as an undrafted free agent will carry the title of “longshot” with him until his production can outgrow it. But even though there is a new staff in Washington this year, they aren’t totally unfamiliar with getting production out of Sims-type players. Rivera built an offense in Carolina around Steve Smith, and Turner recently worked with the likes of D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel as playmakers that don’t look like your typical top receiver options.

Sims isn’t your typical wide receiver. While that’s a reason why he went undrafted (athletic limitations), it’s also the reason why he appears to be the best receiver in Washington not named McLaurin (work ethic and high IQ for the position).

Sims said later in The Washington Post article that he has upped his conditioning to train for 60-90 plays per week. If he’s getting that kind of emphasis, he likely won’t just be a slot receiver. He’ll also be lined up as a flanker (Z), out of the backfield, and could see continued work on special teams, too.

If Sims can pick up where he left off in 2019, he’ll be a very versatile weapon who might just fill up the stat sheet, if given a full 16-game season as a regular contributor.

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