The 2019 NFL Draft is drawing near, which seems to be a fitting time to take a look back at the rookie seasons of the Pittsburgh Steelers class from the 2018 NFL Draft. People start talking about the quality of a draft class before said class is even completed, of course, but now we have a year of data to work form.
Over the course of the next several days, I will be providing an overview of the team’s rookies, as well as an evaluation of each rookie that the Steelers drafted, while also noting any undrafted free agents that were able to stick around. This will not include the likes of Matt McCrane and Trey Griffey because they were first-year players, not rookies.
The Steelers went into the 2018 NFL Draft with eight selections, including two in the third round, but ended up trading out of the sixth round to move up in the third. They had two fifth-round selections and none in the fourth round, and flipped a number of picks due to multiple trades
Continuing a recent trend, the class has proven to be top-heavy in terms of early results, though there are still opportunities for those selected by them in the later rounds of the draft to develop into bigger contributors as well.
Player: James Washington
Draft Status: 2nd round (60th overall)
You wouldn’t think it by looking at his numbers, but 2018 rookie wide receiver James Washington played extensively last season, logging close to half of the team’s snaps as the Steelers’ primary number three receiver behind Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Yet in those 525 snaps, he was only targeted 38 times, and he caught a staggeringly low 16 of them, on which he produced 217 yards, with one touchdown, which came on the first reception of his career in Week Two on a broken play on which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nearly stepped over the line of scrimmage before releasing the pass.
Some of that was on Roethlisberger, who primarily would target the rookie on low-percentage deep passes, which were frequently off the mark in the beginning of the season. However, Washington had issues with his route-running, rounding out routes, and being on the same page with the rest of the offense.
His issues led to his being benched multiple times during the season, but they kept going back to him eventually, in part due to a lack of a strong alternative. It eventually started to pay off, as he had a couple of ‘big’ games down the stretch, catching three of four targets for 65 yards in Week 15 and three of three for 64 in Week 17.
With Brown now gone, Washington will compete with free agent signing Donte Moncrief for the full-time starting position opposite Smith-Schuster to open 2019. Either way, they figure to be the top three receivers provided that Washington shows a base level of competence, with Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer lurking behind him as slot options.