If you’re looking for an immediate impact from the Pittsburgh Steelers draft class of 2018, then you will be looking at second-round wide receiver James Washington, who figures to be the team’s number three target by the time the regular season begins—perhaps starting tonight.
After his preseason debut last week, Washington started getting a lot more time working with the first-team offense, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but against the Eagles, he came in behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Justin Hunter, actually coming in slightly after Damoun Patterson and Marcus Tucker did as Hunter got a few extra reps beyond the other ‘starters’.
But the first play that Washington made didn’t even come on offense. It was a special teams tackle on a kickoff. And while it wasn’t actually a good play for the offense—a 31-yard return out to the 36—the important part here is the effort. Special teams, as they say, is about want-to, and the rookie wide receiver showed the want-to here.
His first reception came about midway through the second quarter. On second and eight, working out of the left slot, he found the soft spot in the zone and sat down, waiting for the ball. He was able to turn quickly to get upfield and cross the first-down line.
One of the things Washington has talked about is the fact that he embraces the physical aspects of the position, and he showed his willingness to get his hands dirty and do some blocking. He helped out Fitzgerald Toussaint on his three-yard rushing touchdown, for example, driving Avonte Maddox out of a tackle by using his momentum against him.
The highlight of his day came late in the third quarter on the line opportunity that he had to hook up with his old college teammate, Mason Rudolph. Facing a third and eight, the rookie quarterback sought his old reliable down the field, and Washington reliably went up to get that pass for a 35-yard gain. Reportedly, such plays have become routine for him in practice.
It’s not every year that we get to observe this, but it’s been fun in recent seasons to have a front-row seat to the rapid maturation of a young player who is going to be a day-one contributor. That is what we are watching unfold this August with Washington, and tonight will be the next step forward.