The Pittsburgh Steelers are known for turning out All-Pro wide receivers better than any team in the NFL.
Steelers receivers From the Stallworth and Swann era in the ’70s, through the Louis Lipps era of the ’80s, Yancey Thigpen in the ’90s, Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress in the early 2000s and onto Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown in the 2010s.
In the last couple of seasons, we’ve seen JuJu Smith-Schuster represent the black and gold in the pro bowl and Diontae Johnson appears as though he’s on his way to making it there in the coming seasons as well. The Steelers have high hopes for their newest weapon, Chase Claypool, whom they just drafted in April and looks to have very high upside but the one man who needs to prove this season whether he’s going to fit the mold of the aforementioned Steelers greats or if he’s going to go the way of Sammie Coates and Limas Sweed is James Washington.
Washington, the Steelers 2nd round draft pick in 2018 has shown he has the ability to be a superstar but he’s also been highly inconsistent. As he enters year three, it’s time to show his true ability.
Without Ben Roethlisberger last year, Washington did put up 44 receptions for over 700 yards and 3 scores. That’s admittedly pretty good given the quarterback situation the Steelers were dealing with the absence of Big Ben.
With the return of Roethlisberger, the emergence of Johnson, the drafting of Claypool, and the hopeful bounce back of Smith-Schuster, the time is now for Washington to take that step from WR3 on the Steelers depth chart to pro bowl receiver with an impact.
Washington has shown the ability to find the ball at its highest point and make a play once he comes down with it but it hasn’t been on a week in and week out basis. In year three, the expectation would be for him to take the leap into greatness. He needs to force the Steelers to make a tough decision with Smith-Schuster at the end of his contract this upcoming offseason and he needs to be a guy that removes himself from a potential Sammie Coates comparison to a Hines Ward comparison.
If Washington can become a possession receiver who is good for making big third-down catches to move the sticks and a red-zone opportunity for the Steelers, he’ll have done his job and then some. We already know that he can take the top off the defense at times. Now he needs to have plays designed specifically for him rather than being that second, third, or even fourth option.
I think he’s going to have a big season and he’s going to be a guy the Steelers center plays around. Big Ben will be very happy with his wide receiver corps in 2020 and Washington will be a big reason why.
The time is now, Washington, let’s see what you’re made of.