The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: Will James Washington get as involved in the offense as quickly as JuJu Smith-Schuster did a year ago?
The Steelers envision themselves having a three-headed monster at wide receiver. Martavis Bryant’s head was one of them, but it’s now floating up above Oakland, so they replaced him with James Washington, a highly productive college wide receiver.
The Steelers have had mixed success getting immediately contributions from rookie wide receivers, though that has sometimes been influenced by the depth chart, as was the case for Markus Wheaton. Bryant contributed relatively early, at least after sitting for six weeks. Mike Wallace was an immediate contributor, as was Emmanuel Sanders to a degree. Smith-Schuster had the best rookie season of all of them.
The Steelers are kind of banking on Washington being an immediate or near-immediate contributor given Bryant’s absence. Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster will obviously be the starters, but there is no other solid options right now to play in that third role, albeit with Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, and Marcus Tucker currently on the roster, and Eli Rogers lurking as he recovers from a torn ACL.
You can’t will a player to make an immediate impact, however. While Washington should theoretically be able to make a relatively smooth transition to the NFL when considering the volume of work that he saw at the college level, the draft is never guaranteed to give you the return on investment you were looking for. You know, Limas Sweed.
At a certain level it is impossible, or at least extremely improbable, for Washington to have the same rookie impact as Smith-Schuster. While he didn’t even receive a target in his first game, he was a starter by the end of it, and it’s unlikely Washington will pass him the way he passed Bryant a year ago.