When I first saw Kelley Washington play with his size (6-3, 218), I thought he would be the next great Bengals possession receiver. Need a third down? Throw it to Washington. Need to pick up a few yards over the middle? Throw it to Washington. And to this day, Washington has the best touchdown dance of all-time. I will never pass an opportunity to share with you his celebration.
Back to the issue.
Washington played in every game his first two seasons recording 53 receptions for 677 yards and seven touchdowns. He had eight 20-yard-or-more receptions. In his last two seasons, Washington played sparingly. A hamstring injury early in 2005 could have slowed his progress while others like T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry exploded sealing his reduction of playing time. Combining 2005 and 2006, Washington was only activated for 12 games, started only one and caught a pedestrian 19 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns. More hamstring troubles hampered him in 2006.
I grew up in Minnesota and watched Cris Carter -- one of the best receivers I've ever seen. His size and ability to block out defenders was a gift I thought would propel Washington into a great receiver. I was big on Washington for the similarities between he and Carter. All of which went for naught.
While the off-season was in high gear last year, the Bengals offered Washington the standard offer for a restricted free agent. Washington refused to sign hoping another team would pick him up. When the team lost Kevin Walter, the Bengals needed Washington back to keep the depth. Since the 49ers were the only team with minor interest, no one seriously approached the team about Washington and he signed his one-year deal.
This year, we don't have to sign Washington to ensure the depth at wide receiver. In fact, I believe this receiving group heading into 2007 might be their best, post Age of Helplessism.
We know that Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh will be here. We don't know if Antonio Chatman's injury will affect him. But his success in Green Bay proves he can contribute. Tab Perry, while potentially a great kickoff returning specialist, hasn't shown much more than taking shovel passes. Skyler Green has some exciting potential. Bennie Brazell is the type of receiver that runs a streak route and leaves all defenders in his dust. Neither Green nor Brazell had a chance to show anything and Chatman and Perry were hurt most of last season.
Then we have Chris Henry. There's still a chance Henry could miss the first four games in 2007 after his round of court cases this off-season. There's no question that Henry has incredible talent and gives us a better chance to win if he's playing. The problem is, will he play? His choices hurt the image of this team and on the field after being suspended for three games. Even his effort on the field has been questioned. When Chad Johnson refers to Henry as "little Moss", he knows what he's talking about. To put it mildly, you can't depend on this guy. But you also can't deny his results.
The talent at receiver is truly incredible. Johnson and T.J. finished the season with 1,000 yards receiving each. Green and Brazell could be discovered talent no one else wanted. Henry is, hands down, the league's best #3 receiver. Chatman has shown success in his career and Perry has shown to be versatile. And if 2007 mirrors 2005, then Chris Perry will add to the talent and weapons at Carson Palmer's disposal.
Our defense might be depressing, but this wide receiver group could be very exciting. The problem is, this is all based on potential. But there's a ton of it.