The Pittsburgh Steelers used a second-round draft pick on Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington knowing that they would need him in the offense after they decided to accept the Oakland Raiders’ offer of a third-round pick in exchange for Martavis Bryant, who was entering his fourth season and surely would not be re-signed in 2019.
They would need him, but not necessarily immediately. It would have been nice if he were able to integrate himself into the offense as quickly as JuJu Smith-Schuster did last season, but the coaching staff determined that he still has a way to go before they are comfortable with him.
He was active for the first six games of the season and played extensively in four of them. But his snap count was curtailed significantly in Week Six, not even seeing the field during critical moments in favor of Justin Hunter. And Yesterday, the Steelers decided to sit him down, the sixth-year veteran instead acting as the team’s primary number three receiver.
What that means beyond this week is not entirely clear. Are we officially in the two-dogs-one-bone phase between Washington and Hunter, the week of practice ultimately making the determination for who will dress for that particular Sunday?
Or is it simply a matter of the coaching staff actively making the decision to sit him down until they are comfortable with what they see out of him? He has only managed to catch five of 14 targets for 49 yards and one touchdown, though it must be conceded that a number of his targets have been inaccurate deep balls.
That also gets to another problem with using Washington, which is his usage. The Steelers have limited what they trust him to run when he is on the field, and that in turn limits what the offense can do when he is out there.
At least with having Hunter on the field, they (rightly or wrongly) feel comfortable that they can move him around and can ask him to do a variety of things. During yesterday’s game, he caught two passes for 15 yards, including a 12-yard pass that converted on an important early play.
He lacked crispness on his other two targets, however, either of which could have potentially been a big play, or even a touchdown. So because of his own lack of detail, he is threatening to put himself back in the bench.
In other words, through about half of the season now, the Steelers still lack a true, established number three wide receiver, which can now be worked on at a rotational basis for the remainder of the season, Ryan Switzer in the mix.
But the productivity of running back James Conner 66 yards on five receptions) and Vance McDonald (47 yards on three receptions) have largely negated the issue of lacking a consistent performer in that spot.