Bengals rookie wide receiver Anthony "Scotty" Washington, named after his father and nicknamed by his older sister, is trying to make a name in the NFL under the most trying of happenstances. Namely, as a college free agent in the middle of a pandemic.
Since May, an undrafted rookie has been robbed of his greatest allies. First, it was the loss of off-season workouts. Now it is the swirling media reports that there are not only going to be no pre-season games, but 80-man training camp rosters instead of 90.
"You start off a step behind being undrafted, but it's just about mindset," Washington said Wednesday, waiting out the results of his corona test at the team's training camp hotel in between virtual meetings. "You can't make any mistakes. You have to be on top of everything."
Washington is focusing on mindset with a not-so light summer reading list anchored by Navy Seal David Goggins' book, Can't Hurt Me, as well as audio books by other Seals emphasizing resourcefulness and resilience. More things going for him despite the long odds: brains, ceiling, and familiarity with the Bengals considering he appears to be the receiver on the field that has caught the most passes from new franchise quarterback Joe Burrow heading into whenever that first practice is.
"When you can't evaluate during OTAs or pre-season games, you have to go with what you've got," said Andrew Johnson, the Bengals East Coast scout who charted Washington for much of his career at Wake Forest. "You have to go on traits and upside."
The 6-5, 217-pound Washington has plenty of both even though injuries allowed him to play more than eight games only once in his four seasons.
After two years of watching 6-5, 228-pound Auden Tate snare passes, Bengals fans know that's an NFL body. Washington isn't a clone (who has hands like Tate?) since he may be slightly faster and smaller than Tate. Washington's 40-yard dash time is projected in the low 4.5s, he can catch the long one and before he broke his leg in the eighth game last year ("a non-displaced fracture of the fibula," he called it) he was averaging 17.3 yards per his 35 catches. That puts his career average at 15.2 for 110 catches.
Johnson was first drawn to Washington off his MVP-type performance in the Belk Bowl at the end of his sophomore season: nine caches, 138 yards and a 50-yard touchdown catch in a 55-52 victory over Texas A&M.
This is an intriguing guy. Washington became the first Wake Forest player in 50 years to have a catch and an interception in the same game when the defensive coaches put him into a win over North Carolina State. He preserved the win when he intercepted future Bengals teammate Ryan Finley's Hail Mary pass. He preserved another victory when he blocked a last-second Appalachian State field goal.
"He was one of those guys that every time you saw him, he just stood out," said Johnson, who caught himself staring even when he was in Winston-Salem the next season in 2018 looking at safety Jessie Bates III. "He kept jumping out. He's got the NFL body type. He's smart, good kid, he can run and he's got a big catch radius."
Another factor in his favor, if the reports are to be believed, are those expanded 16-man practice squads.
Plus, there are those Bengals' connections that tilted Washington toward Cincinnati in the moments after the draft. He roomed with Bates at one point during his college career and after appearing in the NFL Players Association all-star game during late January he joined Burrow's throwing group in California headed by former Bengals backup quarterback Jordan Palmer.
Also in those Orange County workouts were Bengals wide receiver John Ross, who stopped by a few times after the season, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the fourth most prolific Bengals receiver of all-time who has become a fixture on the guru circuit.
"It was a blast just being able to learn from a guy like T.J. Just seeing how he approached the game from more of a technical standpoint as a receiver," Washington said. "Then to go from that to learning in the classroom with Jordan to see how the quarterback goes through the process. I feel like I benefitted a lot from those two."
And since Washington's understanding is the Bengals reached out to Burrow to get a scouting report on him, he's hoping the feedback was positive. The feeling is certainly mutual.
"We had some reps together. That was definitely cool," Washington said. "It's not hard to see why he had the season he did. Just the confidence he had coming into training. And just being able to learn who he is as a person. Great dude. He just wanted to come in and work. There were camera crews around, but he just wanted to come in, get his work and go about his day."
That pretty much sums up Washington, a Washington D.C., native who picked up fishing as a diversion on the Chesapeake Bay piers in pursuit of perch and bass when he's not crabbing. He's just looking to get in some work, which he did with two of the draft's top receivers in USC's Michael Pitman and Notre Dame's Chase Claypool out in Orange County.
So getting an eyeful of Tate didn't faze him recently at Cincinnati's Moeller High School, when Finley unofficially opened the season throwing to a small group of receivers that included second-rounder Tee Higgins as well as a reunion with Washington.
"We played Florida State so I saw (Tate) play a couple of times," Washington said. "I'm looking to take things from other guys' games and they're probably doing that with me."
He listened intently when Houshmandzadeh, 19 years after he arrived in Cincinnati as a seventh-rounder, walked him through how to make an NFL team.
"Make the most of every opportunity," Washington said. "Especially now that the Covid is going to limit reps. Make sure the coaches recognize you. Separate yourself from the pack and show out on special teams. Prove you can hang with the big boys."
After waiting since November, Washington would like nothing better.
"I'm anxious," Washington said. "But a good anxious."