Kiszla: Meet Montrell Washington, the steal of Broncos’ 2022 draft class: “I’m fearless. Guess I was born that way.”
Football has no time to wallow in tears. On a bummer day at training camp, when the heart of the Broncos was ripped out after receiver Tim Patrick ripped up his knee, the team desperately needed a reason to smile.
Enter Montrell Washington, the steal of Denver’s 2022 draft class, who gave the Broncos a backflip that got the whole team buzzing.
“I’m fearless,” Washington told me Tuesday. “Guess I was born that way.”
At the conclusion of practice, backup quarterback Brett Rypien found Washington in the corner of the end zone. The rookie receiver grabbed the pass and celebrated his touchdown with an impromptu backflip so beautiful that Simone Biles would give it a perfect score.
“I started flipping when I was 5 years old,” Washington said. “Taught myself. I saw my older cousins flipping and told myself: ‘I can do that.’ I’ve been flipping ever since. It’s really pretty easy.”
Earlier this year, after a blockbuster trade for new quarterback Russell Wilson sent the Broncos’ first-round pick to Seattle, the draft class of nine players selected by general manager George Paton was solid if unspectacular. Maybe the one head-scratcher was Washington, a smallish kick-returner with less than stellar measurables from an unheralded Samford program.
In fact, the call from Denver startled Washington, who anticipated looking for work in the NFL as a rookie free agent. “Not going to lie to you,” he admitted back in April, when the Broncos selected him during the fifth round. “I wasn’t even worried about the draft.”
A little behind- the-scenes intrigue: In the Broncos war room, as Paton and his staff discussed which direction to go with the 162nd overall pick, there was acknowledgement it might be too early to roll the dice on Washington, whose highlight reel seemed to consist of video from one amazing afternoon against a bad Florida Gators team, when he scored touchdowns as a running back, kick-returner and receiver.
New special teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes, however, refused to blink with all eyes in the war room on him, cooly listing all the attributes in Washington that made him a solid bet for Denver.
When you enter the NFL from Samford, which got trounced by Auburn (52-0) and Chattanooga (55-13) alike during Washington’s time playing for the Bulldogs, you address everyone with yes-sir respect, quietly keep your head down and humbly tend to your business.
On Washington’s first day pumping iron in the Broncos’ weight room, however, the new face of the franchise found him. Wilson walked up to the rookie and introduced himself, as if a quarterback who’s won the Super Bowl and is married to singing star Ciara needs any introduction.
“I was literally shaking. I had my hand out to greet him, and it was shaking,” Washington recalled. “I said, ‘How you doing, Mr. Wilson?’ He just started laughing and told me: ‘You can call me Russ.’”
In short order during this training camp, when outstanding plays by the Denver receiving corps were too far and few between even before Patrick went down with a torn ACL in his right knee, Mr. Wilson has got an inkling the Broncos might have a cool new way to find the end zone.
Montrell stands maybe 5-foot-9 on a good day.
Small? Yes. But mighty.
Put it this way: Would the Guardians be able to defend the galaxy without Rocket Racoon?
Washington possesses legit skills that have allowed a player from the fringes of big-time college football to be legitimately fearless whether awaiting a punt or lining up in the slot at the NFL level.
“He’s worked so hard and I don’t think anybody really knew where he was going to put himself within the receiver rotation,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “He’s a guy that for sure Russell has latched onto and really tried to push … He has really grasped a lot.”
Washington was drafted to return a little fizz and pop to Denver’s kickoff and punt returns. But he has demonstrated the juice as a pass-catcher that can create space in a defense and nab nearly everything thrown his way.
“You’ve got to earn it. Nothing is given out here,” Washington said. “For me to keep making plays for my guys, hopefully I’m earning their trust. There are more guys on this team coming up and telling me: ‘Good job, rook. Good job, Montrell.’ Some of them are starting to say my name.”
Remember the name. And his number: 12.
Yes, NFL football in August can reveal false positives. So pardon me for doing backflips about a fifth-round draft pick. But I’m willing to wager he can grow into more than the biggest little surprise of training camp.
Washington could be an X factor in the AFC West arms race.
Remember where you heard it first.