There’s no I-told-you-so detectable in Jamison Crowder. He can’t rattle off the 14 receivers taken in front of him in the 2015 draft. There are no grudges against the 31 other NFL teams that skipped over him once, twice and three times before Washington got him in the early fourth round.
He ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash as a 5' 8" receiver a year and a half ago, so there are no hard feelings that teams weren’t rushing to turn in their draft card with his name on it. But Crowder is just fine with where he’s at now—the leading receiver on a 6-4-1 Washington team looking to make the playoffs for the second straight year with its emerging slot star.
“I’m one of those guys where you put me on the field and put me up against anybody, I’m going to produce and play because it’s what I’ve been doing since I was a kid,” Crowder says. “It’s the same for a lot of players in the league. I just look at it as, I don’t worry about the test or this guy ran this or that. Can he play football? I feel I can play football.”
Crowder leads Washington with 725 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns to go along with a punt return touchdown in Week 5. His 114 receptions through his first two seasons are tied with Art Monk for the third-most in franchise history.
There’s a quiet confidence about Crowder, perhaps because he’s established himself in the league so well, so early. No player in the history of the NFL who is 5' 8" or shorter has brought in as many receiving yards through his first two seasons as Crowder has with 1,329 so far.
“Being undersized, people tend to overlook you. It was always like that, going through high school and college,” Crowder says. “Even making it to this level, a lot of people were surprised. But being able to be productive, I think a lot of people didn’t expect for me to do this. For me, this is what I’ve been doing my whole life.”
Crowder grew up in Monroe, N.C., just 20 miles southeast of Charlotte. He starred as a guard on the 30–1 state title-winning basketball team and was all-state in football. Crowder went to Duke, where he cut his teeth as a kick and punt returner his freshman year before getting more involved in the offense in his sophomore campaign. He assembled three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, had two punt returns for touchdowns in each of his final two years with the Blue Devils and earned first-team All-ACC honors twice.
Admittedly, Crowder isn’t much of a test guy. He knew his 4.56 40 time would hurt him since he already lacked ideal size for the NFL. But new Washington general manager Scot McCloughan thought Crowder could help the team win games, so he pulled the trigger in the fourth round with the 105th pick.
“Coming in they wanted me to be a punt returner, and that’s one of the things I can bring to the table. I’ll continue to do that,” Crowder says. “But at the same time my main focus is to get better at receiver. I feel like I can be one of the top slots in the league if I just continue to work and just get better at my craft. It’s really just a label that [draft experts] kind of want to put on you in pre-draft stuff. ‘Oh he’s coming in as a returner, he’s not a receiver.’ But throughout high school and college I was productive receiver. I feel like, why can’t I be a productive receiver at the next level?”
Crowder bested Monk’s franchise record for catches by a rookie with 59 last season as Kirk Cousins emerged as the team’s franchise quarterback. But it wasn’t a sure thing that Crowder would have this promising second year—Washington used its first-round pick on TCU receiver Josh Doctson, a 6' 4" receiver who figured to make an immediate impact as a top pick. But Doctson injured his Achilles in the preseason and last month was finally placed on injured reserve after just two receptions this season, opening the door for more balls to come Crowder’s way.
“I really didn’t have many thoughts on it, to be honest. I just look at as it is what it is,” Crowder says of Washington drafting Doctson. “I’m looking at it as, what can I do to prepare myself to be in better position?”
Just then, Crowder is interrupted.
“Yeah he does!” Washington coach Jay Gruden shouts in the background upon hearing Crowder’s last sentence. Crowder chuckles and continues.
“When they drafted Doctson, I was like, ‘That’s cool.’ I was going to make sure in the off-season that I was working hard and prepared and ready so that whenever I got the opportunity to make a play, I would.”
Crowder had an inauspicious start to the season, totaling 50 or more receiving yards in two of his first four games. But then came Week 5 against Baltimore and that 85-yard punt return for a touchdown. It’s tied for the longest punt return of the season, and it’s one of only eight touchdowns by punt returners all year. That seemed to jumpstart his season. He’s had at least 80 receiving yards or a receiving touchdown in each of the past six games.
His phone booth quickness showed on Thanksgiving, when he spun out of a tackle and sidestepped another on third-and-11 as Washington was attempting a comeback against Dallas. Crowder put his speed on display the previous week against the Packers as well, when he had a 44-yard touchdown reception plus a 53-yard completion that was stopped on the one-yard line after he didn’t see the final tackler. “That one kind of bothered me for a little bit,” he says.
In training camp, Crowder made a promise to himself to get into the end zone with greater frequency. He only had two touchdowns in 2015 and “that wasn’t really anything.” He’s now up to six and counting through 11 games this season.
“I want to at least have 10 receiving touchdowns and maybe two more punt return touchdowns” Crowder says. “I still have a little bit to go with these five regular season games…
“Going into these games you never know how things happen. If I go out there and just play and have fun, I think it can happen. I can get that 10 on the year.”