“It’s so nice to have the best receiving corps in the NFL,” is something Steelers fans have been saying for years.
Like a reliable vehicle that always gets you where you need to go, if there’s one thing you’ve been able to count on in Pittsburgh, it’s a never-ending flow of highly-talented wide receivers.
But Thursday night, as I kept tabs on the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, I was equally shocked and dismayed when I learned of the news of the Steelers’ decision to part ways with troubled but ultra-talented receiver Martavis Bryant, who was traded to the Raiders for a third-round pick.
Obviously, Bryant, a receiver often disgruntled over his lack of playing time in 2017, was set to be a free agent next spring and likely would have quickly signed with any team willing to promise him a starting position. Therefore, it made perfect sense to unload him for something, rather than let him walk for nothing.
And to get a third-round pick for him....let’s just say I didn’t see any team willing to pay that much for a player one strike away from never being employed in the NFL again.
So, yes, the haul (as they say nowadays) for Bryant was pretty darn hefty, but the void his departure left on the receiver depth chart didn’t exactly give me that warm and fuzzy feeling.
I mean, who cares about premium draft picks or potentially losing Bryant to free agency in 2019, when competing for a championship in 2018 is really the most important and urgent matter?
With Bryant joining the injured and unsigned Eli Rogers as former Steelers receivers, Darrius Heyward-Bey getting longer in the tooth and Justin Hunter the proud owner of 82 career receptions, that old reliable receiving corps suddenly seemed much more likely to break down right in the middle of rush hour traffic-- the premium motors of Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, be damned.
Therefore, despite Pittsburgh’s obvious need to upgrade the inside linebacker depth chart, believe it or not, I was actually relieved, Friday night, when James Washington, receiver, Oklahoma State, was the Steelers latest in a long-line of second-round picks that have left fans befuddled over not using the selection on a position deemed more necessary.
It wasn’t very audible, but as I glanced at the TV screen while preparing for the next horrible roll in my bowling league, I honestly said, “Thank God.”
And the reason for my relief had to do not only with the Steelers adding yet another talented receiver to their ranks, but the fact that, well, they’re just so darn good at adding talented receivers to their ranks.
Will Washington, the 2017 winner of the Biletnikoff Award, continue to bolster Pittsburgh’s new found reputation as the Wide-out Mecca of the NFL and make the Steelers receiving corps a force to be reckoned with yet again in 2018?
After averaging 19.8 yards per reception in four season at Oklahoma State, I have confidence he will.
Will Washington be a deep threat on par with the wickedly fast Bryant? While the rookie’s aforementioned college stats suggest he will, his 4.54 40 combine time suggests otherwise.
But that’s what they said about JuJu last spring, and his rookie season included a 97-yard touchdown catch and run and a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Does Washington’s skill-set and body-type (5-11, 213 pounds) make him a better fit as a slot or outside receiver?
In this day and age of position-less football players (ever notice how more and more coaches and scouts are describing prospects as “versatile”?), who cares?
As long as Washington can help keep the Steelers receiving strength a strength, I’ll be happy.
The Steelers could have gone in several different directions with their second-round pick, but judging by their history with receivers, I think you'll be happy they went with James Washington.