The Baltimore Ravens came into the 2021 NFL Draft with an underrated need to fortify the depth of secondary at both safety and slot cornerback. They were fortunate that both Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott were able to stay healthy and hardly miss a single defensive snap last season. Two-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey was able to step up and slide into the nickel role for Tavon Young after he suffered yet another season-ending injury.
While the Ravens picked up a pair of versatile defensive backs during the draft with the selection of SMU’s Brandon Stephens in the third round and Ohio State’s Shaun Wade in the fifth, they didn’t stop there.
General Manager Eric DeCosta and Co. were able to land one of the most coveted prospects in undrafted free agency after agreeing to terms with former TCU safety Ar’Darius Washington.
The former Horned Frog is one of the most versatile and dynamic defensive back in this year’s class with the ability to play both safety and nickelback. Heading into the draft, the vast majority of pundits and analysts believed that he would hear his name called as early as late day two or at least at some point on day three.
In college, Washington was a part of arguably the best safety tandem in the FBS at TCU with Trevon Moehrig. Even though his more highly touted former teammate who was projected to be a first-round pick fell to the second round before the Las Vegas Raiders traded up to select him at No. 43 overall, he still got to experience the joy of getting drafted.
Washington was ranked as the 57th overall prospect on Pro Football Focus’ 2021 NFL Draft Big Board and was the best available talent remaining when the three-day event came to a close. His 91.7 overall PFF grade was the second-highest among safeties in 2019 after he recorded all five of his career interceptions in 12 games.
Someone who’s quickly become one of my favorite players in college football. @TCUFootball RS Freshman DB Ar’Darius Washington (@ad_washington24) has so much @qdiggs6 in his game it’s ridiculous. This was his second INT of the game. Future star as a DB.#WNSFilm pic.twitter.com/dIG4hKagoI— Brandon Olsen (@WNS_Brandon) December 3, 2019
You’re probably wondering why did he not get drafted? What’s the catch? Was there a last-second injury red flag? Is there some kind of legal issue casting a shroud of uncertainty around his future?
Nope, it’s none of the above.
He’s just shorter than the prototypical player at either position he projects to at 5-foot-8 and 178 pounds. His size or rather lack their of, hurt his draft stock more than anyone could’ve imagined despite there being plenty of undersized players at just about every position making it to and thriving in the NFL.
Don’t fall into the trap, don’t consider his size. Ar’Darius Washington quietly became one of the best safeties in college football over the last two seasons, whilst partnering Trevon Moerig in that TCU secondary.— Nic Mason (@British_Raven19) May 3, 2021
Should’ve been drafted. #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/b7btcB0LBM
He checks every box from an athleticism, intelligence, and intangible standpoint. During the pre-draft process, he even drew some lofty comparisons to Kansas City Chiefs’ three-time All-Pro defensive back Tyrann Mathieu who was able to overcome any doubts of his size coming out of college and establish himself as one of the best in the game.
Washington is one-inch shorter than Mathieu who stands at 5-foot-9 and currently weighs 12 pounds less than the eight-year veteran who was last listed at 190 pounds on the Chiefs’ roster via their official team website.
While it is overly optimistic to suggest that Washington is going to become the next Honey Badger or even come close, he has the tools and intangibles to overcome his perceived physical deficiencies, prove his doubters wrong, and excel at the next level.
Despite his potent play-making ability, ball skills, and instincts, Washington still slid past all seven rounds with his size being the biggest and possibly only reason why. His NFL journey will have a much more humble beginning but a beginning nevertheless.
He will face a bit of an uphill battle to make the roster as a rookie since the Ravens went from having a deficit of depth at both safety and nickel to a bit of a logjam with Stephens and Wade coming aboard and Young, Anthony Levine, Jordan Richards and 2020 sixth-rounder Geno Stone already on the team.
The Ravens are one the truest believers in allowing competition to determine who wins starting jobs and earns roster spots over veteran of draft status. They give every player ample opportunity to prove themselves and had at least one undrafted rookie free agent make the initial 53-man roster in 16 straight years before the streak came to an end in 2020.
Washington has the potential to not only reignite the streak but also prove to be the latest in a long line of undrafted gems that the Ravens unearth who go on to make a name for themselves in the league.
To be completely honest, I was among the contingent of media that didn’t want the Ravens to spend an early to mid round pick on him and believed the slot would be where he fits best at the next level.
However, just like with Wade, I believe that the Ravens received great value for where they ultimately were able to get him. It was the mid-fifth round for Wade and undrafted free agency for Washington, both are worthwhile low-risk-high-reward fliers.