On Day 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers sent shock waves throughout the league when they sent troubled Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders for a third-round selection. Prior to the draft, wide receiver was considered a need but actually more of a want.
After the trade, everything changed. The want turned into a desperate need. With Bryant in the lineup, the Steelers could look for a mid-to-late-round talent to help fill out the receiving depth chart. Without Bryant, the team was left with just Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster as the primary receivers on the roster.
Then the team selected James Washington out of Oklahoma State in the second round, likely looking to hit on some of that Smith-Schuster magic, as JuJu was also a second-round pick in the 2017 draft.
If you didn’t watch a lot of Big-12 football the past few years, you might not have heard a whole lot about Washington. But know this — he isn’t just another receiver. As Pro Football Focus points out below, he was the best deep-passing receiver in the NCAA with 815 yards receiving on passes of 20 or more yards in 2017.
The Steelers added college football's premier deep threat in James Washington! pic.twitter.com/Mk3DZveYAj— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 15, 2018
When I saw this and did some research on Washington, it became clear what role he might—and probably will—fill on the team’s roster.
The Steelers tried a myriad of gimmicks for Martavis Bryant since he returned from his year-long suspension, but none truly worked. Bubble screens, reverses, quick slants. All were negated by a lone arm tackle.
I find no logical reason why Washington can’t take the top off of a defense like Bryant did last year. Fans should remember how long it took Bryant to finally get locked in with Ben Roethlisberger. Even with these early season struggles, Bryant still impacted the defense with his size and potential. It’s here I believe Washington can fill the role Bryant held last year.
The organization and its fan base will get a better look at what Washington can bring to the team at off-season workouts, training camp and the preseason, but on paper it looks as if he has all the skills needed to do what he does best—taking his man deep and making the big play. With Bryant gone, he could be just what the doctor ordered for the 2018 Steelers’ offense.