There’s a quirk about Jamison Crowder’s physique that Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has come to appreciate. Just 5 feet 8, Crowder is blessed with longer arms than his height suggests, translating to a deceptively broad catch-radius. And that makes him what Cousins calls “a friendly target.”
“I feel like sometimes he makes me a more accurate quarterback with the way that he chases down the football and brings it in,” Cousins explained of Crowder, who midway through the season leads the Redskins’ talent-laden corps of wide receivers in catches (40), receiving yards (498) and touchdown receptions (four).
But physical qualities go only part of the way toward explaining how Crowder, in his second NFL season, has carved out a role far bigger than the one Coach Jay Gruden envisioned when the team chose him with a fourth-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
As a prospect on their draft board, Crowder was viewed by Redskins officials primarily as a return specialist and inside slot receiver.
It was only after Crowder took the field during training camp his rookie season that the coaching staff began seeing broader possibilities for the Duke graduate, whose NFL scouting report, after listing upsides of acceleration, route-running and blocking effort, noted: “Lacks desired NFL size.”
What stood out about Crowder from Day 1 was the way he went about his work, with uncommon professionalism for a 22-year-old rookie. There was a singleness of purpose in the way he approached meetings and practice. And he delivered virtually every chance he got in passing drills, scrimmages and games.
He ran precise routes. He secured the ball with sure hands yet exploded quickly enough to slip past defenders or fight through contact, if need be, for extra yards. And he showed qualities that aren’t necessarily taught.
“He understands concepts — how to get there, when to get there, how to set up the defender, man, zone, all that stuff,” Gruden said Thursday. “That’s so crucial as far as a receiver is concerned. You can’t really coach all the nuances of the coverages. But he just naturally sees it, feels it and reacts.”
As the Redskins’ fortunes have waxed and waned, both this season and last, other receivers have found ways of making their discontent known over balls that weren’t thrown on target or on time — or didn’t come their way at all.
Crowder, by contrast, has been as steady as the sun on a sweltering summer day. He is an old soul in a young man’s body, confident that time, effort and patience will take care of most everything.
That quality was steeped in him as a child growing up in Monroe, N.C., a town of 34,000 about 25 miles southeast of Charlotte.
Neither a city nor a one-stoplight town, Monroe is a close-knit community with just enough things for young people to do to make few ever contemplate leaving. Crowder went to elementary school, middle school and Monroe High School with the same group of friends. No one in his crowd ever got in trouble because everywhere you went, somebody would know your mother or father.
To Crowder and the boys he grew up with, the year was divided into two seasons rather than four: basketball season and football season.
Crowder excelled in both, leading the Monroe Redhawks to North Carolina’s 1A championship in basketball and three state playoff berths in football.
It was during a Redhawks basketball game, in fact, that a Duke football recruiter spotted him. The coach had made the trek to Monroe to scout Issac Blakeney, a 6-6 wide receiver who, like Crowder, also played basketball. In the game, Crowder got three dunks and scored 24 points. So after talking with Blakeney, the recruiter told Crowder how much he enjoyed watching him play, too.
Two days later, Crowder’s high school coach, Johnny Sowell, called him in to inform him that Duke wanted to offer him a football scholarship.
Much as he would do four years later with the Redskins, Crowder stood out right away.
“We all thought, ‘Who is this guy?’ ” former Duke safety Jeffrey Faris recalled. “He was outworking everybody, at 17, 18 years old.”
Faris joined Duke Coach David Cutcliffe’s staff after graduating and became Crowder’s wide receivers coach. As their bond grew, Faris came to appreciate the relationship Crowder had with his younger brother, Jamaris, who was born with Down syndrome and is unable to communicate with words. Helping his parents rear Jamaris was a role Jamison treasured and a responsibility he shouldered with pride.
“It kind of forced him to grow up a little earlier than most of his classmates,” Faris said. “Jamison always had this sense of maturity. And because of the person he was, he set the tone [among Duke’s receivers].”
Though separated by 400 miles, the brothers are never far apart. They FaceTime during the week. And Jamaris makes the long car trip with his parents for nearly every Redskins home game to watch Jamison play.
“Dealing with my brother, it has made me a patient person,” Crowder explained of Jamaris, who is 13 and attends a special-needs school in Monroe. “You have to take your time. But seeing him make strides and learn to do different things makes me proud and makes my family proud.”
Jamaris is who Jamison thinks about when he suits up for games. “My brother is my inspiration. I try to do things that he can’t do.”
Crowder has been a bright spot in the uneven first half of the season, which has left the Redskins 4-3-1 heading into Sunday’s game against Minnesota.
While fans have clamored for spectacular deep throws to DeSean Jackson, it is the short and midrange throws to Crowder that have proved so pivotal in keeping the offense moving. And on several occasions, he has spun them into gold.
With the Redskins staring at the prospect of an 0-3 start as the clock ticked down on their Week 3 clash with the New York Giants, Crowder caught a short ball on third and long and took off, getting key blocks from Trent Williams and Jordan Reed, then outran a safety up the sideline for a 55-yard go-ahead touchdown.
In the Week 7 tie with the Bengals, he showed his toughness boring in for a touchdown as a defender, committing a flagrant face-mask penalty, tried ripping his head off his shoulders.
“The guy just plays with all-out heart,” said center Spencer Long, an unabashed Crowder fan. “Every time he touches the ball, it’s a dangerous threat.”