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James Washington hopes Ben Roethlisberger was paying attention while out of the lineup

Pittsburgh Steelers WR James Washington enjoyed a much improved sophomore season, actually leading the Steelers in total receiving yardage. So why does it feel like he will be back to stage one prior to next season?

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Recently I was perusing a comment thread that followed yet another excellent article available to be enjoyed by all here at BTSC. Thanks to an abundance of knowledgeable members, our discussion boards are usually chopped full of witty banter. The thread to which I am referring, holding true to form, did not disappoint. The article referenced yet another mind numbing mock draft, which surmised the Steelers selecting a wide receiver with their initial selection, which as we all know just so happens to be a second round selection. This suggestion invoked a variety of passionate responses.

Inevitably the discussion turned to the talent situation at the wide receiver position currently for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Almost immediately, questions arose as to whether JuJu Smith Schuster could actually assume the mantle of WR1. One can assume JuJu's drastic drop in production was the byproduct of various injuries and extremely subpar QB play last season, but nobody knows for sure. JuJu has much left to prove going into what is a make it or break it contract year. JuJu was an incredible WR2, playing happy go lucky Robin to AB's ultra intense Batman. The question remains; does JuJu have the work ethic, intestinal fortitude, and the burning desire necessary to lead the receiver group as a true WR1?

The truth is Antonio Brown is a football player. He is beyond lost without the game. If he has other passions or talents, they have yet to be revealed to the masses. His rapping ability definitely doesn't qualify as a talent, and being tragically self absorbed and painfully oblivious to social cues doesn't count either. Love him or hate him, nobody can deny his impressive work ethic and legendary abilities on the football field. I would never suggest that JuJu needs to be more like AB the man, but hopefully he learned some valuable lessons from his time having AB as a mentor. Emulate the positives, and learn from the negatives.

If things go according to plan concerning Big Ben's right elbow, one would have to believe that JuJu will have ample opportunity to enjoy a bounce back season in 2020.

Another point of discussion in the aforementioned thread was the possibility of Diontae Johnson continuing to build on his impressive rookie season. Could the Steelers find themselves in another 1A and 1B situation at wide receiver? I think that is entirely possible, considering the level of production achieved by Johnson last season, even with the Steelers offensive struggles.

With that being said, one particular comment caught my attention and is the driving force behind this article. The point of discussion was none other than James Washington, and Steelers Nation's yoyo reactions to his on the field performances. The hilarious responses ranged from Washington being a wasted draft pick who didn't have the athleticism necessary to be successful at the NFL level, to some wondering aloud if Washington might just be the next great Steelers receiver after a particularly productive performance. The responses were wide ranging and obviously all over the place. As currently constructed, James Washington remains the great unknown on the Steelers wide receiver depth chart.

One statistic that might actually come as a surprise to some people, it did to me truthfully, was the fact that Washington ended up leading the Steelers in receiving yardage last season. There was stretches in games where I questioned if Washington was even on the field, then suddenly he would haul in a deep pass or make a clutch reception to keep a drive alive. The problem was the production was very sporadic and unreliable, which actually describes the Steelers offense from last season to a tee.

A particularly surprising development occurred as the season progressed and Washington flashed glimpses of his potential. As I struggled to grasp for any positives that could result from Ben's injury, one immediately came to mind. Mason Rudolph and Washington had to have a connection, created from their years of success playing together in college at Oklahoma State. Funny thing was, once they got on the field together in an actual NFL game, the expected chemistry was no where to be found.

I haven't researched the numbers, but just from the naked eye, Washington enjoyed as much success catching passes from Duck Hodges than he did with Rudolph behind center. The elevated level of competition definitely affected any chemistry previously created. That was disappointing for yours truly.

Even though Washington enjoyed his first real NFL success last season, he will have to prove himself all over again this season with the return of Ben Roethlisberger. They must develop the chemistry and trust necessary to complete the game changing plays required to win games and return the Steelers to the promised land.

Based on last season's performance, and the healthy return of Big Ben, I fully expect Washington to continue to improve as a NFL wide receiver. He isn't a wasted draft pick or the next great Steelers receiver, his future probably lies somewhere in between.