When a team drafts wide receivers in the second round two years in a row, and the second wide receiver essentially takes over as the number three position after the first held that role the previous season, it’s only natural that comparisons will be made between the two of them.
And from that perspective, rookie James Washington is falling a bit behind where JuJu Smith-Schuster was around this time last year. While Washington is playing extensively, he is not getting very many looks, even with Ben Roethlisberger averaging over 40 passing attempts per game.
Through his first four games last year, Smith-Schuster was targeted 14 games, catching eight passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Through the first four games of the 2018 season, Washington his been targeted 11 times, catching only five of those passes his way for 49 yards and one touchdown.
This is in spite of the fact that he has already played 164 snaps, averaging over 50 snaps per game over the course of the past three weeks after he saw only 11 snaps in the season opener. He is being targeted only once every 13 snaps in route, meaning that for every 13 times he is an available target, he is thrown at one time.
Said offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, “he’s starting to get snaps”, as we can clearly see. As for why he is not being utilized more when he is on the field, he added that he is getting open, but “sometimes he’s not always in a primary spot”, meaning that he is low on the read progression.
“I don’t know if it’s anything in particular that we’re trying to do or not do, but he’s actually improved”, the first-year offensive coordinator added. Washington caught two of four targets Sunday for 10 yards. He caught both passes that came his way the week before for 25 yards. Though he was targeted five times in Week Two, he caught only one of them, a 14-yard touchdown.
Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown accounted for nearly half of Roethlisberger’s targets on Sunday. James Conner and Ryan Switzer each also got seven targets, and Vance McDonald added another five. After that, there are not a lot of footballs to throw around.
Will things change soon, the offense figuring out ways to get the rookie wide receiver more involved in the offense? So far they really haven’t made much use of him on short or intermediate throws, let alone for any screen passes that get the ball in his hands.
They envisioned Washington as a player who would be able to add a vertical dimension to the offense, which has been lacking so far this year, but we have yet to see that develop, especially not with Roethlisberger struggling with his placement down the field.