James Washington did indeed dolphin dive this past Sunday. He has a miraculous 32% catch rate on the year and a mere 8 receptions on the season. Yes, he should have had a big TD on Sunday, and potentially squandered what could have been a defining moment of his rookie year. He was also then called out by his QB Ben Roethlisberger after that catch.
Maybe all that is true, but Washington is going to be more than fine.
This kid may never be a top receiver like Antonio Brown or JuJu Smith-Schuster, but he will turn out to be a solid receiver. The talent is, and was, there on not just his college tape, but his preseason tape, too. However, when it comes to Washington, it is a very unique situation.
Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State offense asked Washington to run three basic routes — a simple streak, a post, and occasionally, a slant. Washington is immediately at a disadvantage due to an inexplicably bare route tree. You think Dez Bryant was polished coming out? He certainly was not, and he had to learn all the NFL routes, and it was no wonder he never came on until late 2010.
Washington is the same way. He has had to learn routes like an in, the NFL out, a chair route, a simple fade, wheels, anything you can think of, Washington has had to learn. The guy wasn’t even asked to run a curl route in college. Over the past few weeks, the Steelers are starting to expand his route tree, which is why you saw him run a reverse sluggo on Sunday.
This could not have been a better run route. Honestly, this was better than when JuJu ran his sluggo earlier. That break is so smooth and easily cooks the defensive back. Not all WRs can run a break that smoothly, or even sell it. The separation alone is a huge feat, and he usually would run through this. He did it many times in college, and don’t judge his hands by this either. This guy has incredibly strong hands.
When you have such a limited route tree, the learning is going to be huge and it will take a long time to get acclimated. Washington is not necessarily a poor route runner more than he is just a raw one.
That Oklahoma State offense never asked for timing based routes, which is key to note for the Steelers to take into consideration. A simple out route for Washington not only has to be fluid, but he also has to understand the timing-based mechanisms within it. Washington now has to be in sync with Ben Roethlisberger, choose where he has to go, and read the corner’s coverage.
That is not a concept in the Oklahoma State offense, and that is why this learning curve is steep. All Washington knew how to be was a deep threat, and he is being asked to do much more here in the NFL. Tomlin and Fichtner must have enough confidence in him to be letting him run sluggos, outs, slants, and wheels like he does. Otherwise, he just wouldn’t play at all.
Washington also clearly has very little chemistry with Big Ben right now. Chemistry is huge for a WR and QB, and when you factor in that Washington didn’t run with 1s into nearly Week 1, and that Ben sits out a day a week, it is tough to get these things fixed.
What is Washington’s issue? It is that learning curve that he has to get used to. This is not a spread offense that he ran in college. Washington, with all the new routes he has had to learn, certainly has caused him to play more timidly than he would.
Washington is simply thinking too much right now. He is not reading the field or using his instincts right now because that learning curve is huge. You can already see him starting to come around. The separation he got there is a plus, and I have noticed he has been getting more and more open as the season has gone on. The All-22 shows Washington just isn’t getting targeted, and maybe not to his benefit.
His instincts and natural feel will come with more and more repetition. I think the kid is a better route runner than many give him credit for. His breaks have gotten better and I can see he is learning. Once he feels comfortable, those contested catches are gonna come back, too.
Don’t worry about James Washington, this kid has tons of talent and will be just fine.