On draft day, it seemed that Kyle Long stole the show for the Chicago Bears.
There were rumors swirling that the Bears might select LB Manti Te'o or TE Tyler Eifert, so when the Bears pulled the trigger and went with Long, their decision generated a lot of buzz within the Chicago fanbase around the league.
After all, it was the first guard that the Bears selected in the first round since 1960.
The Bears, however, did make other selections in the 2013 NFL draft, and one of them is quietly working on becoming one of the best defensive linemen in the league. Cornelius Washington, a defensive end out of Georgia, was selected by the Bears in the sixth round of the draft. He was listed much higher on the big board of many NFL teams, but concerns about his work ethic caused him to fall to the sixth round.
Usually, picks in the sixth and seventh rounds don't get too much attention. But this pick got a second look by ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. shortly after the draft. Kiper called Washington falling all the way to the sixth round the "surprise of the draft." He went on to say:
Even though his sack totals were very low, his talent is enormous. I thought he played better in certain games than people gave him credit for, and I thought he had a nice Senior Bowl week. He's got too much talent to last to the sixth round, but when people get that underachiever label, sometimes that hurts you.
Taking a look at the stats Washington put up in college, it would be hard to disagree with Kiper on the subject. While Washington didn't get to the quarterback much (10.5 career sacks), he did compile 76 combined tackles, including 22 his senior season. It's clear that as time went on, Washington developed as a player, especially during his senior season.
His work really seemed to pay off against No. 2 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game this past season. In the third quarter of that game, Washington broke through the line and blocked a field goal attempt by the Crimson Tide, which was returned for a touchdown by teammate Alec Ogletree.
In addition to that game, Washington had a solid performance against No. 3 Florida this past season, getting two solo tackles and recovering a fumble in a 17-9 victory for the Bulldogs.
Despite what Kiper says, there are still some questions as to whether or not Washington will be able to compete at the NFL level. Israel Idonije is no longer on the Chicago Bears, which means that there is a spot open for Washington to compete and play. That being said, he not only still has to prove himself against veteran Corey Wootton but last year's first-round draft pick Shea McClellin, who is expected to have a bigger workload this season.
Still, Washington seems to have done a pretty good job so far with the Bears. When asked about rookie's performance so far, new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said, (via Chicago Sun-Times),He looks athletic, looks like he can rush a little bit, high-motor guy who only knows one speed, full speed whether it's a walk-through or whatever." (via Chicago Sun-Times)
So far, it seems that the "underachiever" label that Kiper believes caused Washington to fall has not made it to Chicago. Tucker went on to say, "He's a fun guy to coach...He's a guy who improves and takes coaching, so I think he's got some upside and the arrow is up with him."
It's too soon to tell if Washington will truly become known as the steal of the 2013 NFL draft, but one thing is for sure right now: Cornelius Washington has enormous potential and a great chance to make the most of his NFL career with the Bears.
It's now just a matter of time to see whether or not that potential turns into performance.
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