Who is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ number three wide receiver going to be when the team takes the field on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns? At the moment, I think that it’s a conversation legitimately up for debate. Between rookie James Washington and veteran Justin Hunter, there is not a clear answer.
A year ago, the Steelers had Eli Rogers returning from the previous season to open the year as their top slot receiver, but he quickly gave way to then-rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, who this season has moved full-time into the starting lineup. Rogers will be serving a suspension this week and then will resume his stint on the PUP list after that.
Washington flashed big-time skill in the second half of the Steelers’ second preseason game, but did not offer much before or after that. He left the third game with an oblique injury and has not been a full practice participant since then, from what I understand.
Today is the team’s first full, regular work-week practice. If Washington is a full go, then there is a fairly good chance that he opens up as the primary number three option at wide receiver; and if that is the case, then Hunter may not even dress for the game, because it’s difficult to dress six wide receivers without injuries at other positions dictating as much.
Hunter was a healthy scratch for the first here weeks of the season a year ago, but the Rogers equivalent on the roster this year is Ryan Switzer, who has just come aboard and is getting acquainted with the offense, having limited offensive work on his professional resume during his one season with the Dallas Cowboys a year ago.
If the team doesn’t feel Washington is prepared to assume that role, then he may have to prepare to be an inactive himself. Taking a look at the 53-man roster, the inactive list should shape up as something like this: one quarterback (Mason Rudolph), two offensive linemen (likely Matt Feiler and Zach Banner), one defensive lineman (likely Daniel McCullers, two defensive backs (likely Jordan Dangerfield and Marcus Allen), and then, most likely, a wide receiver.
All four of the backup linebackers figure to be core special teams players. If one of the tight ends is not ready to go, however, that would open the door to dress either Hunter or Washington. Vance McDonald is scheduled to practice for the first time today since injuring his foot over a month ago.
Washington caught seven passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns during the preseason. Hunter caught seven passes for 132 yards and one touchdown. The two had the highest receiving yardage totals on the roster during the exhibition round.