It’s only natural for there to be a disproportionate amount of attention paid to a team’s rookie class. After all, especially for a team that doesn’t dip much into free agency, they are the new toys to play with, even if they might not necessarily get played with during their first season in the league.
One rookie that definitely will be playing during his first year is Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington, who took a big leap forward last night in Lambeau against a Green Bay Packers secondary that had two pick sixes before he really even got the opportunity to contribute.
It was a big night for the second-round pick, hauling in five passes for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns. We found ourselves last week wondering if there was going to be two dogs and one bone between himself and Damoun Patterson, but he showed against the Packers who the dog is in the fight.
On offer was a series of impressive catches of the contested variety, which has become a specialty for the young rookie in training camp that is now beginning to translate into NFL stadiums. It was already a regular feature of his college profile, but to do it against NFL talent is a completely new territory.
While he caught two touchdowns, it could have easily been three, as his long 54-yard connection with Joshua Dobbs featured him streaking past the secondary. Had the second-year quarterback been able to hit Washington in stride, he wouldn’t have stopped until he was across the goal line.
Both of his actual touchdown receptions were quite impressive as well, the first one featuring him going up over the top of the defensive back covering him in the back of the end zone. On the second, he snagged a pass out of the air and wrestled for possession with the defender, ultimately winning the skirmish.
Washington’s above-the-rim physical presence is a much-welcome new wrinkle to the Steelers’ offense that they have not gotten much from their other wide receivers, or at least not consistently. JuJu Smith-Schuster has shown that he can do that some, and Antonio Brown will always be a better grappler for his size, but the rookie seems to have a legitimate and natural knack that is going to be a major asset.
I realize that it’s just one preseason game—though he also had a couple of nice catches last week—but with what he has shown so far, and particularly in Green Bay, it’s really hard to imagine Washington not being a day-one contributor in a significant way. Of course that was the intention, but it’s just nice to see things go according to plan.