The Steelers’ first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Terrell Edmunds, caught just about everyone by surprise. Their second-round pick, Oklahoma state receiver James Washington, might as well have been born with a Terrible Towel in his hand, because the pick was that obvious by the time Pittsburgh was on the clock for the 60th overall pick.
When the Steelers jettisoned somewhat disgruntled receiver Martavis Bryant in a trade with the Raiders on Thursday evening, it set in stone what was already expected, anyway: Pittsburgh would draft a receiver fairly early.
To be fair, they likely made the trade in the first place to give them an extra third-round pick with which to move up in the first round and select Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans, but that fell through, and they went with plan B. The good news is they got more value for Bryant than just about anyone might have expected, ultimately leaving them with a fourth selection in the first 92 picks, along with the luxury of using a second consecutive round-two pick on a receiver. Last year, the pick netted them JuJu Smith-Schuster, a kid who may have been the steal of the entire 2017 draft, and who pretty much wraps himself in the official Pittsburgh city emblem every morning when he wakes up.
And that brings us back to Washington, who now has a lofty bar to reach, thanks to Smith-Schuster’s record-setting rookie season. And he may be one of the few guys in this draft who could do just that without requiring a first-round salary.
There are a lot of comparisons to be made, but not many similarities. Smith-Schuster has the better hands, while Washington comes out of college with the breakaway speed we all seemed to think Smith-Schuster lacked. It may not show in his 4.54 40-yard-dash time in the NFL Combine, but it shows on the field. Smith-Schuster is built for crisp routes, while Washington is built a bit like a fullback at seven-eigths scale. He’s top-heavy, so don’t ever expect him to run routes like Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown. It’s just not happening.
Despite being five inches shorter than Bryant, Washington’s stride is remarkably similar to what Bryant brought to the table thanks to almost comically long legs. This gives him that long, lazy-looking stride that Bryant and Randy Moss used to almost lull defenders to sleep. But, before most defenders know it, Washington is behind them.
What really stands out about Washington on film, though, are two things. First, he handles press coverage well, using his 213-pound frame well to bull through defenders at the line. And along those same lines, he’s a willing and tenacious blocker, which the Steelers love in a receiver. If anything, he may get a little too grabby at times, but the one thing he doesn’t do is shy away from blocking.
He has plenty towork on, though. He’s outstanding when he gets behind the receiver, but he is inconsistent on contested catches. On one play, he’ll perfectly high-point the ball and use his ample frame to box out defenders. On the next, the slightest contact from the defender will cause him to drop the ball. His overall drop rate isn’t alarming, but it’s certainly higher than it should be. But, for someone with the game film Washington has, complaining about a few drops may be splitting hairs. If you want to know what you are getting, it’s a guy who really has few good physical comparisons. He’d thick like a smaller version of Kelvin Benjamin or Dez Bryant. He has a great work ethic like Brown or Smith-Schuster. He’s scrappy like Hines Ward. And he’s a high-character guy like Calvin Johnson. He’s notany of those guys, but he key traits of all of them.
A hard-working athletic specimen with a ton of upside. Sounds like the Steelers have a particular type of player in mind in the 2018 Draft.