Today, we continue our top ten countdown by evaluating wide receiver Malik Washington, who led the ‘Cats in receiving in 2022. His last season in Evanston saw him become one of the main weapons for the Northwestern offense.
On a Northwestern team which had one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten and played five (five!) quarterbacks throughout the course of the season, Malik Washington was one of the players who made a constant impact.
Washington led NU in receiving with 65 receptions for 694 yards and a touchdown this year, after a 2021 season where he had 44 receptions for 578 yards and two touchdowns. But, unlike in 2021, Washington was the best wide receiver on the team.
Northwestern could not find any reliable production receiving-wise besides Washington from wideouts. Yes, Evan Hull became a much better receiving back this season, but outside of Washington, there was not much. Sure, Donny Navarro III had his moments, and Bryce Kirtz showed slight promise here and there, but nobody in that room consistently excelled.
This was why Washington was counted on; when most teams figured out that Hull was Northwestern’s best weapon, Washington stepped up. An example of this is in the Minnesota game in Minneapolis, where the Golden Gophers keyed on on Hull. Though Brendan Sullivan, Ryan Hilinski, Carl Richardson and Cole Freeman all played in this game, the wide receiver posted six receptions for 97 yards.
Here is one of the big positives Washington brings: the fact that he is a constant producer. While he lines up mainly in the slot, he can make plays from anywhere. His emergence as the top wide receiver in Evanston brings promise to Charlottesville, where Washington will be suiting up in 2023 for Virginia.
What else did Washington show during the 2022 season? That he is a threat in the short passing game and became an increasing presence in plays 10-20 yards down the field. Though he dealt with an offense that was inept in many games, this is where he thrived.
This season, what Washington lacked was deep route running and success far down the field. The wide receiver demonstrated in 2021 that he has the capacity for chunk plays (his catch over two defenders against Purdue shows this best), and in 2022, he did not have the chance to show this. On occasion — such as in Minneapolis, when he brought Ryan Hilinski’s first pass 40 yards down the field after a routine curl route — Washington gained significant yardage, but Northwestern needed more of that.
Many of the negatives of Washington’s season can be attributed to the boredom of the Wildcats’ offense and the fact that it could not find major success throughout the entire season. Its O was at its best at the start of the season, and this could be said about Washington as well.
Still, no matter the quarterback, the senior was able to haul in receptions. He did not go a single game without having fewer than three receptions, and had a season high of eight against Nebraska and Miami-Ohio.
In his best games this season, Washington indicated how he can be a top wide receiver on a good football team, especially when in the slot, as he provides a mismatch to many guarding him. Moreover, 2021 revealed that he has the talent to thrive in the deep game. The main takeaway from Washington is whoever is throwing to him has a reliable weapon that can make plays.
It will be interesting to see how the wide receiver comes into the fold for UVA, as he should be a main asset for the Cavaliers’ offense in no-time.