He has seemingly regained his position as the number three wide receiver in the pecking order in terms of playing time, but rookie James Washington still hasn’t been much of a contributor to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive efforts so far this season.
He hasn’t had the sort of ascendancy that many Steelers fans have grown accustomed to once young wide receivers get on the field, and that’s a standard that frankly he shouldn’t have to be held to. JuJu Smith-Schuster played well above and beyond his expectations last year, as did Martavis Bryant in 2014.
That Washington isn’t lighting it up isn’t a problem in and of itself. But it is a bit of an issue that he is the team’s number three receiver while being only a marginal contributor. And when the team has needed a reception out of a number three behind Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown, they have been turning to Ryan Switzer instead.
To date, the second-round pick still has just seven receptions in eight games played, averaging under 10 yards per reception, his career-long being a 14-yard touchdown reception that came on a busted play that turned into a scramble drill.
That was back in Week Two, and remains the highlight of his season to date. Even though he has been on the field extensively over the past two weeks, he is still not being asked to be involved in the finer details of the offense.
Between the Steelers’ Sunday and Thursday games, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner told reporters that he feels that Washington’s time to contribute is coming. He caught two passes on Sunday, but then was not even targeted on any of Ben Roethlisberger’s 25 attempts, in spite of the fact that he played the vast majority of the snaps in the game.
For the moment, it doesn’t seem as though there is any immediate jeopardy in his being reduced to a healthy scratch again in favor of Justin Hunter, as happened out of the first game of the bye week, but I could see Switzer becoming a more routine part of the offense, as he is currently used more in specialist situations.
Until Washington actually comes up with a big game in which he makes a few significant catches, people are going to be wondering where he is and why he is not producing the way Steelers rookie wide receivers have been able to in the recent past.
A big part of the reality is that they haven’t needed him to, with Brown and Smith-Schuster at his position, plus skilled or competent receivers at running back and tight end. But even isolating specifically his individual work, he hasn’t been where they’ve needed him to be—sometimes literally.
Coming off something of a mini bye week, will he start to get a bigger opportunity to make plays through the final seven games of the season?