Don’t Freak Over James Washington’s Slow Start

I know James Washington hasn’t been everything we hoped for this year. So far anyway. Five catches, 49 yards, and one touchdown? Not what we thought we were getting out of this team’s #3 wide receiver.

But don’t lose sleep over his slow start. It’s natural, expected, and is no prediction of how the rest of his career will unfold. Let’s explain why.

I wanted to bring this up from a mailbag question I answered yesterday afternoon, asked if I thought Washington would turn out like JuJu Smith-Schuster by season’s end. And while yes, JuJu was much more productive through the first six weeks of the season, it was by less than you probably think.

Here’s where Smith-Schuster stood through six weeks: 15 receptions, 192 yards, two touchdowns.

Better? Yes. Playing in the slot sure helped unlike Washington, a Z receiver used mostly vertically. But it’s not by much. It wasn’t until his eighth game against the Detroit Lions did he really flip the script, aided by his 97 yard scamper and near 200 yard day. From there, the game slowed down and he became a consistent threat the rest of the way. But no, it didn’t happen immediately.

Martavis Bryant? You remember the story there. He didn’t catch a pass his first six weeks, making his presence felt under the lights against Houston in Week 7. So Washington has been more productive.

What about Emmanuel Sanders? Two receptions, 37 yards, no touchdowns. And he was only active for three weeks. It wasn’t until Week 14 – and then again the following week – where he went over 50 yards. Like so many others, he didn’t hit his stride until later in the year.

Antonio Brown? Just one catch that went for six. Sure, he was a 6th round pick, so expectation and role were different than Washington but you get the point. Even a first ballot Hall of Famer was an offensive afterthought. He didn’t see somewhat regular action until Week 10, catching 15 passes the rest of the way.

Mike Wallace is an outlier here. But when you have 4.30 speed, you can do some damage before defenses realize who the heck you are.

Hines Ward? Two grabs for 30 yards, though his special teams work should be acknowledged.

The average of those five players, Wallace excluded? Four catches, 44 yards, 0.4 touchdowns. Compare that to Washington and he’s above average (5/49/1) in all three categories.

Do I anticipate Washington to have a second half season that puts him on a path to stardom a la JuJu? Probably not. There’s too many weapons on this team, and that’s before Le’Veon Bell’s presumed, eventual return, for him to get enough of the target share to put up gaudy numbers.

What I do anticipate happening is a much strong rest of the season coming out of the bye week. Receiver is one of the toughest positions for a rookie to adjust to. But once they do, those with serious talent, and I think Washington has it, will start making plays. It gets them involved in the offense, increases their confidence, and the trust the coaching staff has in scheming them the ball even more. That’s what happened to all the names I listed.

Patience, Steelers’ Nation.

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