Cornelius Washington had been warned by friends that the NFL Draft experience wouldn’t be what he expected, and it wasn’t even close.
As Friday’s third round ended and Saturday’s fourth and fifth went by without the phone ringing at his Hephzibah home, Washington’s draft plan fell well beyond his expectations.
“Kind of bewildered about it,” said the former Burke County and Georgia defensive end, after he finally got picked 188th overall in the sixth round by the Chicago Bears. “But it’s a blessing even to be drafted considering how many players never even get the opportunity to play pro ball. So I’m blessed.”
Expectations had grown pretty high for Washington after a dominating performance in the Senior Bowl followed by some impressive workouts at the NFL scouting combine. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound pass rusher ran 40 yards in 4.56 seconds, posted the second-highest vertical leap (39 inches) and did the most bench press reps (36) among the linebackers he tested with at the combine, sending his draft prospect up to potentially as high as the second round.
But when it came time for NFL teams to make the choice, they seemed underwhelmed by his on-field production his senior season at Georgia. The teams that had expressed the most interest in him kept passing as his name sat for several hours in the No. 1 spot on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s “best available” list.
“I was getting a little bit worried,” Washington admitted. “But I prayed a lot about it and eventually the call came. I was ecstatic from that point.”
That the call came from Chicago was another puzzler. The Bears had not been a very vocal suitor during the combine or pro day workouts.
“I was very surprised because they hadn’t show any interest at all outside of saying something to me once at pro day,” Washington said. “Speaking to some of my former teammates, they were telling me before the draft that it’s going to be a team that’s never spoken to you or showed any interest that drafts you, and they were right. I guess that’s how the process goes and those organizations try to keep everything quiet and under wraps.”
At any rate, the Burke County grad once again will get to call himself a Bear, and he looks forward to getting his first taste of Chicago when minicamp starts Thursday.
“I’ve been hearing that despite the cold it’s a great place to be and live. I’m excited,” he said. “I know they call it the Windy City, but I’m going to call it the Freezing City. I’m just ready to experience it all and soak up as much as I can.”
The Bears scouts believe Washington never got to show his full potential at Georgia because he was moved around a lot in the Bulldogs’ 3-4 scheme. Chicago intends to use Washington as a down end on the left side of its 4-3 defense and sees a “great developmental upside” in the late-round pick.
“Any time you can get a player with that kind of length, that body type and that explosiveness at that level of competition – we were awful happy to see him sitting there in the sixth round, believe me,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said.
“What we saw on tape is an explosive athlete. He’s got a lot of ceiling.”
Said new Bears coach Marc Trestman: “We’re bringing him in here because we think he has upside and talent, and we’ll see where it goes as we move forward.”
Washington is ready to show the Bears what kind of bargain they’ve got.
“I’ll be playing in a different system with different schemes for different coaches,” he said. “I’ll go in with the expectation of putting in hard work and let the chips fall where they may. That’s the biggest thing is to work hard and learn as much from the veterans that I can. If you just work hard everything else will come. Of course, I showed that I can play, that I have the ability and the talent to do it. I just need a chance.”
Getting selected in the sixth round only makes Washington hungrier to prove himself.
“The coach who actually recruited me to Georgia, Jon Fabris, always told me to never get complacent, stay hungry and stay humble,” Washington said. “I’ve done my best to do that. That’s been paying off. Nothing’s going to change when I get there. I know I have stuff to prove. I know I have to show that although my stats weren’t the best my senior year, I am a good player. The best is yet to come.”