JuJu Smith-Schuster handling being “the guy.” Signing Donte Moncrief. Speculating about what receiver the Pittsburgh Steelers will draft a month from now. All solid discussions to have.
Just don’t forget about James Washington.
Mike Tomlin sure hasn’t. Speaking with the media at the annual Owner’s Meetings, Tomlin made it pretty clear what he expects from Washington in year two.
“He had some good positive moments as we pushed forward toward the end of the year,” Tomlin said, transcribed by Steelers.com. “It’s reasonable to expect him to utilize that as a catalyst for a big jump. We expect a big jump. We expect it to be revealed to us initially just in the level of conditioning that he shows up in as he starts the offseason.”
While Washington finished with an underwhelming 16 grabs for 217 yards and one score, he ended the year on a positive note, as Tomlin notes. Half of his receptions came over the final month and he put up a pair of 60+ yard performances over the last three, including three grabs for 65 yards in the then-critical win over the New England Patriots.
Tomlin believes what he saw in training camp and the preseason can and will translate, citing recent history as his guide.
“If their talents are real, if it’s what you and I see in those practice settings then more times than not it comes to fruition in year two. I think we all saw things from James Conner on the practice field in year one. There was not a lot of tangible evidence that would give us an indication that he would be a Pro Bowler in 2018, but he was.”
And there’s no question Washington had a stellar August. Here’s what I wrote about him at the end of training camp.
“Washington got off to a slow-ish start, losing out on several contested throws to Coty Sensabaugh, who legitimately got the best of him the first five practices. From there, Washington is NBA Jam hot, rarely losing out on a jump ball. The stats prove it too, his catch percentage increasing dramatically the first 5 practices (42%) to the last five (80%). He might have the second-strongest hands on the team behind AB and has shown to be a vertical threat even without 4.4 speed.”
Over the preseason, he caught seven passes for 158 yards and two scores. I’m not one to post highlight videos but since we’ve seen Washington in totality, it’s worth the reminder of what he did last summer.
Rookie receivers, Smith-Schuster aside, generally have a tough time transitioning to the NFL so it’s reasonable to expect Washington to play to his true talent in 2019. It doesn’t guarantee success, his NFL career is obviously still very much unknown, but he should enter the summer with momentum and more confidence in himself now than ever before.