Washington, Harris Battle for Chance to Be Next Undrafted Sensation on Giants

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistAugust 22, 2014

New York Giants wide receiver Corey Washington (6) makes a catch for a touchdown against Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Isaiah Green (39) in the fourth quarter of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

The preseason is so weird because your key players can perform terribly and the negative reviews can drastically outweigh the good ones, but you can still have a 3-0 record. That's the case right now with the New York Giants, who have been lifeless on offense with quarterback Eli Manning and his core group of weapons. 

But if you're looking for an explanation as to how the G-Men have still managed to win all three of the meaningless exhibition games they've played thus far this summer, look no further than undrafted receiving sensations Corey Washington and Marcus Harris. 

The 25-year-old Harris leads the Giants with eight receptions in three games, while the 22-year-old Washington has scored the winning touchdown three weeks in a row. He's the only player on the team with multiple scores, and he's the only receiver with over 100 yards. 

Combined, they have zero drops and have caught 15 of the 19 passes thrown their way, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). 

Nobody expected that in late August we'd be talking about a pair of promising young Giants receivers and that neither would be named Odell Beckham, but that's how unpredictable this league is.

Beckham, whom the team drafted 12th overall in May, has been hampered for most of training camp and the preseason by hamstring problems, opening things up for Washington and Harris to attempt to sneak onto the roster a la undrafted rookie Victor Cruz back in 2010. 

Those Cruz comparisons have almost become worn out, but the similarities between Washington, who spent a fortnight on the Arizona Cardinals' roster in May before being cut loose, and Cruz are hard to ignore.

Harris has been kicking around the the NFL and the arena league for three years, but Washington is the rookie hijacking the preseason, just as Cruz did in 2010 in spite of entrenched starters Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith. That August, the Massachusetts product had 15 catches, 297 yards and four touchdowns. 

Washington's numbers might not be far off that by the time this five-game preseason sked concludes next Thursday, which is exciting when you consider how quickly Cruz rose from a similar situation to become the team's top receiver. 

But it's Harris who more closely resembles Cruz on the field. The Murray State product is slightly taller and lighter, but while Washington is 6'4"—easily the tallest receiver on the roster—and a threat on the outside, Harris is a wildly reliable option inside, using his speed and Velcro hands to keep drives alive. 

And while Washington has made more of an impact on game days thanks to his big-play ability, reports from training camp do seem to indicate Harris has been standing out more frequently and for longer stretches in practice. 

And while both had a chance to work with the ones this week in practice, ESPN.com's Dan Graziano reported that Washington had "one glaring drop during a two-minute drill" on Wednesday. 

Drops happen but apparently not to Harris. From NJ.com's Jordan Raanan earlier this month: 

Wide receivers coach Sean Ryan said Tuesday that Harris simply "does not drop the ball." This summer that barely seems like an exaggeration.

OK, so they're both kicking ass. Washington is using his size to prove that he can become the big red-zone threat this team has been missing since the end of the Plaxico Burress era. A pair of examples from the last two weeks:

Credit: NFL Game Pass

Credit: NFL Game Pass

"He's a small-school guy who wasn't getting reps at first, but he just exploded," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said of Washington, per Newsday's Bob Glauber. "Even in practice, he's making big catches against the ones, twos and threes. It doesn't matter who's out there. He tends to find himself jumping over people. He's definitely a gifted young man."

And Harris has become the kind of receiver quarterbacks can lean on. Two examples from a big fourth-quarter drive last weekend, with the second coming on fourth down:

Credit: NFL Game Pass

You get the feeling head coach Tom Coughlin, who really values consistency and focus, is already in love with the guy. That would explain why Harris was kept on the Giants practice squad last year after failing to gain any regular-season snaps during stints earlier in his career with the Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans

The problem is the Giants have six other receivers in the mix, meaning Harris and/or Washington would have to beat out at least two of those guys in order to make the 53-man roster. With Cruz, Beckham, Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan likely locked in, that leaves the duo having to slay veterans Mario Manningham and Trindon Holliday. 

It's likely at least one of the two will accomplish that because early reviews for those guys haven't been good. But that also means there's a chance Washington and Harris will be battling one another for a roster spot over these final two weeks of the preseason. 

That home stretch kicks off Friday night with the Giants taking on the crosstown rival New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. And with Beckham still out of the lineup, both Washington and Harris are expected to gain extra reps with first-teamers. 

"It’s an important thing to get them involved [with the starters]," said Coughlin this week, per Metro's Tony Williams. "How they’re used and how many snaps they’ll get in that time slot, we’ll see. I would like to see each of them, but there are also other people that have to have an opportunity to show."

If Washington can break off another play like this, he's set:

Credit: NFL Game Pass

But if the Newberry College product (look it up; it's a real school) finally comes back to earth and Harris continues to come up big with fundamentally-sound catch-and-run plays like these, he could move ahead: 

Credit: NFL Game Pass

Coughlin is known for being conservative with his rookies, and Beckham is already inching toward the doghouse, so this is their moment. There's room on this team for an undrafted superhero but maybe not for two of 'em. 


Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.