The Steelers have a lot of players who don’t get the recognition they deserve. Here’s why James Washington might be the most underrated of them all.
The offseason is a great time to reflect on the ups and downs of the previous sesaon and to dive back into game film. Every year, the discussion arises about who is the most underrated player on the Steelers. While there are several candidates for this, I think James Washington takes the cake for his unsung performance in 2019.
While JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson draw all of the attention at wide receiver, Washington continues to fly under the radar despite outproducing his teammates last season. What’s remarkable is the way he was able to do so.
Despite 98 NFL receivers earning a higher catchable target rate than Washington in 2019, he was able to lead Pittsburgh in receiving yards with 735 last season. Remarkably, Washington was 21st in the NFL in years per target despite just 52 of his 80 looks deemed catchable last season, according to Playerprofiler.com.
Nobody talks about James Washington, but he deserves a pat on the back. He made major strides in 2nd sesaon (despite bad QB play).
He the #Steelers in receiving yards (735) and was 21st in the NFL in yards per target despite just 65.8% of his targets deemed catchable.
— Tommy Jaggi (@TommyJaggi) May 18, 2020
Steelers Washington’s improvements
This came at the hands of dreadful quarterback play in 2019, as Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges finished 35th and 37th, respectively, in their overall grades at the position, according to Pro Football Focus. While JuJu and Johnson were dealing with the same lousy quarterback play, Washington had by far the most amount of erred passes thrown his way as a result.
After a poor rookie season where he caught just 16 of 38 targets (42 percent) from Ben Roethlisberger, he improved by leaps and bounds in his second NFL season.
In addition to being 21st in the NFL in yards per target last season, Washington was 11th in the league in yards per reception and 26th in the NFL in true catch rate (a measure of total receptions by catchable targets).
While Diontae Johnson’s season last year was equally as impressive, he is getting a lot more recognition right now than Washingon. This offseason, the Steelers added both Eric Ebron and Chase Claypool to their weapons. Because of this, Washington may never be able to produce as he did in 2019, as targets will be harder to come by this year.
There are other Steelers like Steven Nelson, Matt Feiler, and Cameron Sutton who often go unnoticed for their contributions to the team. However, James Washington may just be the most underrated of them all. Let’s hope he improves on his performance from last season and finally earns some time in the spotlight.