While it’s now been almost three months since Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert traded wide receiver Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for a third-round selection in this year’s draft, I’m still shocked that such a deal was able to be pulled off. Additionally, the fact that Colbert was able to quickly turn around and essentially replace Bryant with the top deep threat and most accomplished wide receiver in the 2018 draft class in Oklahoma State product James Washington is also quite impressive. Now, we’ll sit and wait to see if Washington really can immediately replace Bryant and even provide more offensive production than the team’s former fourth-round selection out of Clemson registered during the 2017 regular season.
While Bryant did register 50 receptions for 603 yards and 3 touchdowns last season for the Steelers, it’s worth pointing out that 9 of those receptions and 125 of his receiving yards came in the team’s two meaningless games against the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns to close out the regular season. It’s also worth pointing out that Bryant only registered three deep pass receptions during the 2017 regular season that resulted in gains of more than 30 yards and one of those came in the game against the Texans.
When you break Bryant’s 2017 regular season up in halves, you’ll notice that he only registered 18 receptions for 234 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers first 8 regular season games of which one he was inactive for due to disciplinary reasons. Those 18 receptions also came via 36 total targets which equates to just a 50% catch rate. Bryant also played 66% of all offensive snaps in the first 7 games of the regular season as well.
Now, this post isn’t intended to be a kick at Bryant from behind as he exits. However, it is intended to show that his production last season should easily be replaceable and especially during the first half of the 2018 regular season. While Washington is indeed a rookie, his deemed excellent football conditioning combined with his perceived above average football IQ should ultimately allow him to start seeing the field on offense as a No. 3 Z wide receiver immediately. Say what you will about Bryant, but he didn’t begin dressing for games during his rookie season until Week 7. If it takes Washington that long to dress and contribute during his rookie season, something has probably gone horribly wrong for him and that means he’s likely dealing with a serious injury.
While Bryant was indeed a deep threat during his time in Pittsburgh, he really never became anything more that. Sure, he provided a big catch every now and again that didn’t come via a deep pass, but it wasn’t often enough. In fact, of Bryant’s 126 total regular season receptions during his career in Pittsburgh, only 16 came on third-downs via passes shorter than 16 yards down the field that ultimately produced first-downs.
Washington, as I have already pointed out since he was drafted, enters the NFL as more than just a deep threat. He ran the entire route tree very well at Oklahoma State and in addition to establishing himself as a big play producer via both short and deep passes, he also had his fair share of combative catches, something Bryant certainly wasn’t known for in either college or with the Steelers.
A good measuring stick point for Washington during his rookie season should be after the team’s seventh game. By then, he should have at least 20 catches and 250 yards receiving and perhaps a touchdown or two as long as injuries don’t sidetrack him. Last season, fellow Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith Schuster registered 17 receptions for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns through the team’s first 7 regular season games and that was with him failing to register a catch in the opener against the Browns.
At worst, Washington should be able to match the average of what Smith-Schuster and Bryant registered last season in the team’s first seven games and that means 18 receptions for 233 yards and 2 touchdown. If he does that, the Steelers should be in great shape and Washington’s second half of 2018 should be even more productive than his first half and especially if he’s able to carry over his 62.2% catch-rate from his final season at Oklahoma State to the NFL.