The bye week is a natural break point over the course of an NFL regular season, especially if it is one that is not too early. For obvious reasons, it provides those on the outside an opportunity to pause and reflect on what has already transpired, which often tends to favor evaluation of the newcomers, whether they be rookies, free agents, or trade acquisitions.
During the bye week so far, most of the attention has seemingly been paid to second-round rookie wide receiver James Washington, who has just five catches through six games for the Pittsburgh Steelers, for under 50 receiving yards. His longest reception was a 14-yard touchdown on a broken play.
We ourselves have already covered him from a number of angles, providing context about the targets that he has received, the routes he has been asked to run, comparisons to past rookies at a similar point in time in their careers, and how he himself finds himself struggling, ready for the bye week to regather himself.
It is somewhat unorthodox due to the age difference, but second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has been an important resource for the older Washington to lean on as he goes through his rookie season. The younger of the two is off to a great start to the year with 42 catches for 561 receiving yards and two touchdowns, on pace for over 100 catches and very nearly 1500 yards.
Smith-Schuster was just 20 when he was drafted last year, and is still only 21. By this time last year, he wasn’t necessarily miles ahead of where Washington is now. He caught 15 of his 23 targets for 192 yards and two touchdowns, and he had just 44 yards on four kick returns as well.
Washington said that he has talked to Smith-Schuster a lot about his rookie experience. “He said at this point last year, he was still making some mistakes”, Jeremy Fowler quoted the rookie as saying of those conversations. “You’ve just got to keep trying. You can’t give up”.
Washington certainly doesn’t strike me as the giving up type by any means, but it will be interesting to see what the second half of the season has in store for him, especially in light of the fact that the team cut his playing time significantly in the final game before the bye week.
That was in large part because Justin Hunter was active while Darrius Heyward-Bey was injured. Assuming Heyward-Bey will be healthy by next week, the team will have to decide if they want to continue to dress Hunter, and that will come down to how they feel about where Washington is coming out of the bye week.