Heading into the season, much of the talk for the Steelers’ offense was about the return of Ben Roethlisberger, and rightfully so. JuJu Smith-Schuster was also a hot topic along with Diontae Johnson and some other weapons on offense that get to play with Ben again. A guy who seemed to slip under the radar was James Washington. Even after his Hines Ward-esque effort to get in the end zone in that pivotal two minute drive at the end of the first half against the Giants to put the Steelers ahead, Washington still seems to be flying under the radar. The third year pro will be a crucial piece to this offense moving forward.
It’s hard to ignore guys like Smith-Schuster, Johnson, and even rookie Chase Claypool, who made one heck of a catch for his first reception of his career, as guys who figure to lead the charge on offense. Two catches for 34 yards and a touchdown are certainly not sexy numbers, but Washington will have plenty of opportunities to make plays this year.
Last year, Washington made a big jump from his first year, and that jump occurred with mostly with Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph under center. Nonetheless, Washington once again has come into camp and the season in phenomenal shape as he continued to work on his farm in the offseason.
Washington is the guy the Steelers can rely on to win a lot of jump balls, as well as make the contested catch over the middle of the field. As Claypool makes more plays, JuJu’s redemption tour and Johnson’s explosiveness, it is going to provide more one-on-one chances for the former Oklahoma State receiver. On top of his pass catching ability, Washington is also a physical blocker in the run game and constantly shows up on tape with great effort, even when the ball does not come his way.
The one area where fans would like to see improvement and more consistency with Washington is his ability to create yards after the catch. He will never be a player like Diontae Johnson who can take it the distance every time he touches the ball, but if Washington can replicate the effort he made on his touchdown in the opener more consistently, it will certainly take him and this offense to the next level.
Washington is a physical receiver and he can utilize his physicality as a way to create with the ball in his hands. I mentioned Hines Ward earlier and he certainly is not Ward, but that should be his thought process. Ward was not a guy who was the fastest or the shiftiest, but it took two or three guys to bring him to the ground. We saw a small sample of that last year, especially his 79 yarder against the Steelers where he bullied former Steelers corner B.W. Webb on his way to the endzone. If Washington adds more consistency to his YAC, it is going to make the offense that much more explosive.
Look for the quiet, low maintenance Washington to come up big for the Steelers, even if he doesn’t receive the attention that others will.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Denver Broncos in Week 2 of the regular season.