You don’t draft wide receivers in the second round of the NFL Draft without having some serious plans for them, and that is what the Pittsburgh Steelers have done over the course of the past two seasons with JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2017 and this year with James Washington.
Smith-Schuster, in 16 games played, has caught 76 passes for 1157 yards and eight touchdowns. He has caught 18 passes for 240 yards and a touchdowns so far in the two games he has played this year. As for Washington, he is working on one reception that was a 14-yard touchdown.
But the rookie is following a roughly similar career arc to his more experienced, yet younger peer. Smith-Schuster played sparsely in his first game and was not targeted, as was the case with Washington. They both played more than half of their second game, with their first reception being a score.
Their similarities don’t end there, of course. Both are willing blockers who have more speed than are given credit for and place an emphasis on assignment and technique over raw ability. And though he is younger, Smith-Schuster has been helping out Washington, as the latter told Missi Matthews in an interview for the team’s website.
“I do [lean on him] a lot”, he told Matthews. “Me and JuJu talk all the time. He’s kind of like that bigger younger brother, since I’m older than him, but he gives me a lot of advice. He’s a fun guy to be around”.
It should probably go without saying at this point that Smith-Schuster is a fun guy to be around. After all, he same into the league at just 20 years old, and didn’t even turn drinking age until late in his first season. He was deemed the Steelers’ celebration choreographer and finds almost everything to be ‘lit’.
But while he may have the gregarious personality and energy of a young man, he also has the seriousness and work ethic of a veteran beyond his years, and Washington has relied upon the second-year receiver’s experiences, the younger of the two having just gone through the same thing just a year ago.
“You’ve just got to roll with the punches”, he told Matthews as an example of the sort of things that Smith-Schuster tries to bring home to him. “It’s not going to be a perfect game every time, but if you just keep plugging, it’ll get there, it’ll happen”.
Smith-Schuster has recorded 100-yard receiving games in consecutive weeks, so he is well up and running on the season already. Washington is working on establishing himself as a regular contributor on offense, still looking for his second catch. That should come in Tampa in a couple of days, where he figures once again to play the majority of the game as the number three receiver.