Steelers WR James Washington has been a good player with bad luck
By Tommy Jaggi
Steelers wide receiver James Washington has been a solid player when called upon, but he can’t buy a break to get his shot.
For a player who was the most productive receiver in the history of the Big 12, James Washington sure flies pretty low under the radar. After being the Steelers second-round pick back in 2018, Pittsburgh has since made other big investments at the wide receiver position – leaving Washington as an afterthought.
From a physical standpoint, there isn’t much to get excited about. At 5’11” and 213 pounds, Washington has an odd body type for a receiver and is built more like a running back. He doesn’t have any dominating athletic traits, and he tested slightly below average compared to other NFL wide receivers in every category at the NFL Combine, according to Mockdraftable.com.
Still, with limited opportunities throughout his first three seasons in the NFL, Washington has been impressive. The former Oklahoma State product is a good player who has run into a string of bad luck.
A series of unfortunate events for the Steelers WR
Though he was a former second-round pick, Washington played a very small role on Pittsburgh’s offense to begin his career in 2018, as he sat behind both Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Following that season, Brown forced his way out of Pittsburgh, and it seemed like Washington was in line for a huge role before the team drafted Diontae Johnson in 2019.
Washington remained the third wide receiver on the team, but with nagging injuries to both JuJu and Johnson, he managed to lead the team in receiving yards despite earning just 80 targets on the season and being without a quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.
Then in 2020, the Steelers spent a second-round pick on wide receiver, Chase Claypool – forcing Washington to fall even further on the depth chart. Still, the underlooked wide receiver came up big in some key moments for Pittsburgh last season.
It finally looked like Washington was going to get his chance at a larger role in 2021. JuJu Smith-Schuster was an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and all signs pointed to him signing a lucrative new deal with a different organization. However, the wide receiver market wasn’t what we thought it was, and as JuJu still sat in free agency, the Steelers essentially elected to cut cornerback Steven Nelson to bring Smith-Schuster back for another round.
Though this series of unfortunate events, Washington (as expected) remained quiet through it all. He’s a player who shows up to work every day and never complains about the situation in front of him.
Washington hasn’t done anything to warrant taking a back seat and rarely sees the field. He was just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had the Steelers made just a few different decisions over the past two years, Washington could be the number two receiver on this team right now and presumably in line for a big payday after his 2021 campaign.
Unfortunately, Pittsburgh’s moves over the past few years haven’t even offered the opportunity for a breakout campaign for James Washington, and he’s probably not going to have the chance to earn a big second contract. Washington is a quality football player who has been at the mercy of a series of unfortunate events.