Player similarities and comparisons always make for interesting content and intriguing conversations. Most players have a favorable comparison, while some may have more than one.
There are certain criteria and parameters that make a player prototypical for the position. The wide receiver position has a few variables, but even the most distinctive individuals have a comparison.
Former Steelers standout Ike Taylor, during an exclusive interview with BTSC last week, attempted to utilize the knowledge gained from his successful NFL career to offer a player comparison for some of the Steelers current receivers. Some were easier than others, and one was nearly impossible.
Taylor compared JuJu Smith-Schuster to Hines Ward, and Diontae Johnson to Santonio Holmes. These are nothing we haven't heard before, even if Johnson reminds me more of Antonio Brown personally. I can see the Holmes comparison also.
Taylor resisted the obvious comparison between Calvin Johnson and Chase Claypool, preferring to focus on Claypool's superior height and athleticism in making the unconventional comparison to NBA star Lebron James. Ike might have been trying a little too hard on that one.
This brings us to James "El Presidente" Washington, a young man blessed with a unique physique and demeanor for the wide receiver position. Washington has extremely long arms and lower body, especially for a sub-six foot individual. He has a powerful, if somewhat squatty torso. His long strides make him a deceiving deep threat, more so than superior speed.
I have been unable to find a suitable comparison to Washington thus far in his NFL career, and Taylor apparently couldn't think of one either.
“James is old school, country strong,” Taylor answered, referencing the functional strength obtained by growing up working on a farm rather than the strength gained from lifting weights. “He’s a little bit different. He’s a bare-knuckle guy. Don’t MMA me. Don’t box me. We’re fighting bear-knuckles. I’ve had some dogs like that. I’m just talking about just like natural brute strength. If you just look at his story—what he did going on his dad’s farm and just losing weight. There’s a difference between being weight room strong and country strong. He’s grandpa strong. That’s what he is, and I really can’t compare him with nobody. But I like what I see in James. James was starting to break out last year.”
Referring to Washington as “country strong” and “grandpa strong” reminded me of a former camp story.
Years ago at a Steelers training camp at Latrobe, some teammates were picking at legendary nose tackle extraordinaire Casey Hampton, a man who's only real comparison would have to be the Pillsbury Doughboy, that DE Evander "Ziggy" Hood was stronger than he was. Hood had a impressive power-lifting resume at the time, something that regrettably never transferred into sustained success on the NFL gridiron. Hampton was undeterred by the friendly ribbing from his teammates, proclaiming that although Hood was “weight room strong,” he himself was “old man strong,” no doubt referring to the fact he was arguably the most difficult player in the league to move from his spot once anchored. Hampton refused to give ground, even against a double team. The difference in weight room strength versus playing strength.
Is that really this best compliment we can give the receiver who actually lead the Steelers in total receiving yardage last season? Definitely not, but that is what Taylor could come up with when put on the spot. After two years watching him playing in the NFL, I still don't have a logical comparison.
Washington had a breakout season last year...kind of. He was either blazing hot, or ice cold, with no in between it seems. Was the extreme inconsistency in his game the byproduct of subpar quarterback play, or advantageous defensive matchups he was able to exploit on occasion? This season should provide us an accurate parameter of his abilities, with Ben Roethlisberger back on the job.
After missing the first few days of training camp this season due to COVID protocols, Washington has picked up right where he left off last season, reportedly making multiple big plays on contested catches already in camp.
Who knows, the increased production and national exposure just might result in a ever elusive comparison. Or he might just remain the incomparable, one and only James Washington.
To listen to the entire interview with Ike Taylor, it is available below.