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Building the Case: Leon Washington Can Be a Full-Time Back

Angel Navedo@NamedAngelSenior Writer IMarch 18, 2009

"It’s so much fun and so easy blocking for Leon. I’m sure you can make a good block and someone gets tackled, but if you make a good block for Leon, he may score." -Brad Smith

Leon Washington is being discriminated against.

People are working tirelessly to doubt and discredit the man’s potential because of an irrelevant thing like size. It’s almost as if his production doesn’t speak for itself.

Height and weight always seem significant. Football is a full-contact sport and to brave such physical abuse, one is expected to be of a particular stature.

In a game where heart, toughness, and fortitude can be more significant than any ruler, Washington doesn’t deserve such an irrational dismissal.

It is irrational, because if Leon Washington is too small, then so was the 5′8″, 200-pound Barry Sanders.

If you require a more contemporary barometer, the two-inch difference between Washington and 5′10″ players like Brian Westbrook and Tiki Barber wasn’t significant enough to deny them as offensive focal points for their teams.

In fact, allow me to get a little insane on you.

Walter Payton was also 5′10″ and 200 pounds—a mere two-inches taller and two-pounds lighter than Leon Washington—and Payton is beloved not only for his sweetness, but his ability to bounce off hits from bigger men.

It may seem ridiculous to juxtapose Leon with two of the most prolific running backs to ever grace the field, but it begs the question: where does this misconception that Leon Washington doesn’t have the right size come from?

Comparisons to all-time greats are, admittedly, a bit extreme at this juncture. So to keep it fair, the closest possible comparison to Leon currently plays in Philadelphia.

The first four seasons of Brian Westbrook’s career were spent trying to figure out how best to utilize him. Perhaps the arguments against his size subjected Westbrook to playing a complementary role, behind the likes of Duce Staley and Corell Buckhalter.

Westbrook was improperly utilized until he was finally embraced as the multi-purpose man he is in Philly. They discovered that a running back doesn't only need to receive 20 carries a game to be effective, but he can get the job done with receptions, too.

If there’s any argument to make against Washington, let it rest with the need to improve his pass-blocking. Washington is fearless and will throw his body in the way of an incoming rusher, but the weakness was exposed by Adalius Thomas in week two of 2008.

It’s an area Washington is committed to improving.

"I know I’m gifted enough to go out there and play football, but in this game that’s not good enough," said Washington while discussing his new workout regimen.

"I knew coming into the season, if I worked hard in the offseason to prepare my body the right way it would (help) me to at least have a little bit of an edge on my opponents. That was my focus," he said.

It’s a critical skill for a legit starter to possess, but it’s something that can be worked around. It’s not like Leon can’t do it at all.

"Okay, Angel, but I still don’t think he can take the pounding as an every-down back."

Fair enough, but the truth is, he wouldn’t have to.

The concept of the every-down back is a dead one in today’s NFL.

In fact, only four running backs averaged more than 20 carries per game in 2008 and they were Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Clinton Portis, and Steven Jackson. Most teams have players for specific situations.

The two-back approach is widely accepted and more teams are finding ways to use a committee of runners more efficiently.

Basically, Leon Washington doesn’t have to be an every-down back. He doesn’t have to be used in a strictly, between-the-tackles capacity. Also, the Jets would only have to find ways to get the ball in his hands.

Washington is so fast, swift, and elusive, that worrying about how he handles regular contact isn’t relevant when most tacklers can’t even catch him.

Besides, a size argument coming from Jets fans? I couldn’t imagine anything more insane! As if Wayne Chrebet isn’t a Gang Green hero.

Angel Navedo is a contributing writer to TheJetsBlog.com. He is also the Examiner for the New York Jets and the Head Writer at NYJetsFan.com

He can be reached here.

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