In a perfect world, Scotty Washington wouldn’t have played a single down for the Patriots this season, and most New England fans wouldn’t have any idea of who he is.
But that’s not the reality we’re living in.
All of a sudden, Washington is a player who could see meaningful snaps for the Patriots as they make one final playoff push. And you can thank poor offensive play design and execution for that, as on-brand failures resulted in injuries to tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith during Saturday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Henry exited the Week 16 game at Gillette Stadium due to a knee injury while Smith was forced from the contest during the fourth quarter due to concerns about a possible concussion. Neither player returned and their statuses for Week 17 remain unknown.
If Smith and/or Henry can’t play in this Sunday’s must-win game against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots likely will have to elevate one or both of their practice squad tight ends: Washington and Matt Sokol, both of whom are in their third NFL seasons.
Sokol is a traditional tight end. And he played relatively well during training camp.
But Washington? He’s more of an unknown, with his actual position contributing to the mystery.
When New England signed Washington to its practice squad in September, the former Bengal was listed as a 6-foot-5, 247-pound tight end. However, at some point in the last few months, Washington was relisted as a 217-pound receiver.
That Washington was elevated for Saturday’s game — the first gameday elevation of his NFL career — with DeVante Parker out due to a concussion seemingly offered further evidence that the Patriots now consider him a receiver. But with Henry and Smith both injured, Washington entered the game and saw snaps at both tight end and receiver. He actually was the intended target on Jakobi Meyers’ miraculous fourth-quarter touchdown.
All things considered, Washington acquitted himself well.
“Scott was ready to run the things that he ran,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said during a Monday morning Zoom call. ” … For not much practice and the first time he was activated, I thought he stepped in and did a pretty good job. Anytime you have two tight ends on your roster and you lose one, it affects some of your two-tight end calls. But as I said, fortunately, we had Scott at the game. So we were able to do some of that. We ran a little bit more three receivers than two receivers after (the injuries).”
So, is Washington a tight end or a receiver?
The apparent answer is both, though likely more of a tight end. Since last week, Washington again has been relisted on New England’s official roster, this time as a tight end.
“He’s really only practiced at tight end for us,” Belichick revealed. “But he’s in kind of that in-between body type that’s somewhere between a tight end and a receiver. It’s been good to have him. He lacks some experience but has picked things up as he’s come along here each week.
“We felt like going into this game we needed a little bit more depth at that position with the skill position with Devante out. As it turned out we needed it.”
It’s possible the Patriots view a Lil’Jordan Humphrey-like role for Washington. Humphrey, who appeared in six games for the Patriots this season before the team released him in early October, is listed as a 6-foot-4, 225-pound receiver, making him just one inch shorter than Washington and eight pounds heavier.
Prior to releasing Humphrey, New England used the rugged hybrid essentially to run 12 personnel (two tight ends) while technically fielding 11 personnel (three receivers). When opposing teams went light on defense to match up against three receivers, the Patriots were able to counter with the big and strong Humphrey, who was effective as a run blocker.
The plan worked on occasion but eventually ran its course, as evidenced by Humphrey’s release.
Whether the Patriots indeed will use that approach remains to be seen. And this discussion could prove moot if Henry and Smith are able to play this Sunday.
But a large workload for Washington is possible if New England enters the weekend shorthanded at receiver and/or tight end. We’ll gain a better sense of the Patriots’ roster situation as the week progresses, with the final injury report due Friday and any practice squad elevations required to be announced Saturday.
New England and Miami are scheduled to kick off from Gillette Stadium at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.