Today is probably the first game in a while in which James Washington will be taking the field without really having any doubt about his role—or his abilities. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie wide receiver had what is so far a career game on Sunday against the New England Patriots during which he caught three passes for a team-leading 65 yards, comfortably the most he has had in a game to date.
That included a pair of explosive plays, the first two of his career. The first was a deep pass, the first that he and Ben Roethlisberger have been able to connect on so far. The ball was a bit behind but Washington was able to go up over the defender and make the adjustment to bring in the ball for 32 yards.
It was just a few plays later that he took a short pass 24 yards by making a defender miss near the line of scrimmage. He had daylight up the sideline after getting past the first line of defense. He showed off his size and physicality in warding off the initial tackle attempt.
Those are the sorts of things that the Steelers had been waiting to see from him since the regular season began. While he hasn’t been given a ton of opportunities—the frequency at which he is actually targeted in comparison to the number of snaps that he has played in route is pretty insanely low—he also hasn’t capitalized on the opportunities he has gotten.
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said that he has seen a change in Washington’s demeanor since he was able to get that first real taste of success, watching him in practice this past week. He also made it known that while he is working with the first-team offense, they have also continued to give him work on the scout team just to give him as many reps as they possibly can.
The rookie did log the most snaps at the wide receiver position last week behind Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, edging out Eli Rogers in his return and Ryan Switzer. He saw the majority of the team’s snaps when they ran out of the 11 personnel look.
I don’t see that changing today, especially if Smith-Schuster is not 100 percent, as he presents a bigger body that can work on the outside, while they prefer to keep Rogers and Switzer more on the inside for obvious reasons.
Did Washington make that ‘jump’ against the Patriots next week that will help enable him to become a consistent contributor? His first chance to answer that question comes against the New Orleans Saints’ secondary.