Ben Roethlisberger is returning to the field with a relatively new set of receivers. Could James Washington emerge as one of his favorite targets?
The last time Ben Roethlisberger played a full NFL season, players like Antonio Brown, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, Eli Rogers, Justin Hunter, and Darrius Heyward-Bey were still on the team. Obviously a lot has changed since the 2018 season – particularly when it comes to the skill players.
In their place, players like Chase Claypool, Eric Ebron, Diontae Johnson, and Deion Cain will be, largely, in their first action with Big Ben. There have been many guesses as to how Roethlisberger may distribute targets this year with his arsenal of weapons, but one player who usually gets lost in the shuffle is wide receiver, James Washington.
Washington did not have a good rookie season in 2018. Though it was Roethlisberger throwing him the ball, the two of them failed to develop a lot of chemistry as Washington caught just 16 of 38 targets (42.1 percent) for 217 yards and a touchdown. While Big 12 receivers often struggle from the gate, Washington made some major strides in year two.
Despite playing with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, Washington led the Steelers in receiving yards (735) and yards per reception (16.7). He also proved to be one of the most efficient receivers on the team despite being 99th in the league in catchable target rate, according to Playerprofiler.com.
Why James Washington could be a go-to target
2020 will be a new slate for Ben and his group of wide receivers. Could Washington emerge as a go-to target?
While we all expect JuJu Smith-Schuster to receive a bulk of the action, most believe that Diontae Johnson will be second in line for production. However, there is reason to believe that Washington will hear his name called more often than the general media is predicting.
Though his route tree consists of a lot of deep routes, Washington shares some similarities with former Steelers star, Hines Ward. He’s incredibly tough at the catch point and comes down with most balls in traffic. This was evidenced throughout the second half of the 2019 season. Washington can do the dirty work over the middle while beautifully tracking balls down the field.
In addition, Washington possesses elite physicality for the position. He’s not phased by defenders being draped all over him and he has the focus to finish the play. Washington is also a terrific blocker and takes joy in blowing up defenders when he gets a chance.
Of course, only time will tell who Ben Roethlisberger will truly love to distribute the ball to. He currently has the best chemistry with JuJu Smith-Schuster while Diontae Johnson creates a ton of space in and out of his breaks – leading all NFL receivers in 2019, according to Next Gen Stats. However, with the strides he made last year, Washington will certainly be in the mix for a go-to target for Ben Roethlisberger in 2020.