Word of advice for Steelers Nation: don’t sleep on James Washington

Does anyone believe the Steelers aren’t set at the wide receiver position in 2019?

That’s a question I recently posed when viewing the strengths of the Steelers roster (as well as their weaknesses). In doing so, a question came to mind: what does this all mean for James Washington?

Last year’s second round draft pick out of Oklahoma State, there was a lot of hype for Washington entering the season as the Steelers moved on from handling oft-maligned Martavis Bryant.

However, Washington didn’t have the impact many felt he would in 2018, and a lot of that has subsided in enthusiasm for his potential progress going forward. Yet, I’m here to tell you: don’t sleep on the second-rounder from last season, as he’s a dangerous receiving threat who is poised to see plenty more opportunities in 2019.

Part of the problem for Washington last season was being a rookie. Rookie receivers often struggle to make a sudden impact in the NFL for many reasons: route running, rapport with their quarterback, learning new routes/playbook, and a continuation of a non-stop season that started back with their final year in college straight through the NFL Combine, NFL Draft, and their first camps and regular season with a franchise.

Rest may do Washington well, but so will a shakeup of the depth chart. Antonio Brown left town, and with him, a lot of targets to go around. The Steelers made up for any potential woes by adding free agent Donte Moncrief and drafting Diontae Johnson, but Washington should have an edge by being in the system for a full year.

In fact, those additions should push him to show even more of the promise he had in last year’s training camp and preseason, where as a rookie, Washington caught seven passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Four of those catches went for 20+ including a 54-yard long.

The regular season saw him stuck for a spotlight, with the team also adding a slot receiver in Ryan Switzer (via trade) as well as bringing Eli Rogers back into the fold later in the season. Even earlier on, the Steelers opted to play veteran Justin Hunter over having a liability in a rookie, with each of those moves keeping Washington sidelined.

Ben Roethlisberger had also called Washington out on a bad route, but such is life in the NFL. Washington doesn’t show any of the lack of enthusiasm to track footballs and fight for catches as some of his predecessors (Bryant, Sammie Coates) and is anywhere from being labeled a bust just yet.

In fact, a combination of Washington, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Moncrief is what we should expect to see on the field early and often in games, with Rogers and/or Switzer rotating in, or combining for four and five receiver sets. (I would surmise that the rookie Johnson may be in a similar sit and learn position as Washington, unless he really pops eyeballs in camp.)

The shear number of passes Roethlisberger attempted last season leads me to believe the Steelers will still come out guns blazing and with having to spread the ball around more by not forcing it to Antonio Brown this season, Washington will get plenty of opportunities. It will be up to him what he makes of it, but with a college average of 19.8 yards per catch, and over 4400 yards with 39 touchdowns in four seasons, the production could definitely translate to a promising pro career as soon as Week 1 of this upcoming Steelers season.

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