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On James Washington and The Trend of the Deep Ball



Since the emergence of quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receiver James Washington, the deep ball has quickly become one of the Cowboys’ best and most frequently used weapons. The two have mastered the art of the big play, and the duo has been carving up opposing defenses for the past two (and a quarter) seasons.

Now, Rudolph and Washington have the opportunity to thrive in a system that they helped establish.

Some people think that deep throws are fairly simple, but that’s just not true (that ain’t true!) There’s an art to a properly completed deep ball. There’s a standard streak, seam, skinny or standard post, back-shoulder route, goal-line fade or a route that fades toward the sideline.

Receivers have to get a good release off the ball, and they use many techniques to create separation on deep routes, such as “stacking” or “stair stepping.” The quarterback must have accurate ball placement, depending on the type of deep route that the receiver is running. And these things must be practiced tirelessly for maximum effectiveness.

All these things go into a successful completion. Many teams don’t have the players nor the experience to properly execute such throws. Luckily for the Cowboys, they have the personnel to do it, and they do it well.

“We call them 70/30 balls. They’re not 50/50 anymore,” said Rudolph during Big 12 Media Day. “It’s something we work on every day and it’s something that we’re extremely good at.”

Even as an underclassman, Washington was one of OSU’s best deep threats. He came in at a time when the offense had trouble scoring points, and he helped the Cowboys find their offensive consistency in the vertical passing game. Alongside Marcell Ateman, who was a natural at coming down with deep passes due to his size, Washington helped make the deep ball a key part of the offense.

“James started it off, really,” Rudolph said. “It was his freshman year … and just seeing him go up and grab it, just the body control he had in the air, it was like from then on people started following that trend.”

Although offensive coordinators don’t often call quarterbacks to throw to the deep route in certain plays, Washington often found a way to get more open on deep routes with his ability to separate and come down with the catch. Even a quarterback like Daxx Garman found success lobbing the ball up to his receivers, which ironically had a higher success rate than OSU running the ball.

“James is such a deep threat,” said Mike Gundy during his Big 12 Media Day press conference. ” James is so good on the deep ball that people have to get off of him … [he’s] right up there with the Dez Bryants and the Blackmons and the Rashaun Woods, the guys that have been terrific football players.”

Now both in their final season, Washington and Rudolph will have the opportunity to be a part of one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. Ever since their emergence, the Cowboys have been taking more deep shots than anyone in the country, and their big-play ability will be one of their biggest strengths going into 2017.

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