The Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves a ‘country-strong’ wide receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft a year ago when they picked up James Washington out of Oklahoma State in the second round. Not the tallest player at his position, he is nevertheless a stout figure who embraces the physical aspect of the position and has excelled in contested-catch situations.
That doesn’t mean that he was in peak physical condition. And according to Jeremy Fowler, we should expect to see him much closer to just that this year. He wrote via Twitter yesterday that he was told the second-year wide receiver has slimmed down from his rookie season to improve his conditioning and will check in at around 210 pounds.
The Steelers expect their draft picks to make significant conditioning leaps in year two, and James Washington should be latest example. I’m told he has slimmed down this offseason. The Steelers like him around 210 pounds, and he should be on the mark in 2019.
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) May 9, 2019
Now, he’s already listed at 213 pounds, so that’s really not so much of a difference, but it really depends on where it’s distributed. Similar weights could appear very different on the same frame based on the level of conditioning involved.
The expectations of growth for a young player moving from his first season to his second go beyond simply his understanding of the playbook and his comfort level on the field. It also concerns every aspect of being a professional, and that includes the manner in which one takes care of one’s body, when that body is used to rigorously to perform at their job.
Rookies coming in fresh are almost assuredly going to lack a lot of key knowledge about what it takes to maintain peak physical fitness to compete at the highest level of the profession, since they are coming from the amateur level in which they were ostensibly divided between their sport and their school work.
So a player’s first season is in many ways equally about learning how to be a professional individual as it is simply developing football skills and honing on-field instincts, learning how to properly study tape, and things of that nature.
While he has a number of different concerns throughout his disappointing rookie season, you could put conditioning on the list for Washington, though it’s difficult to pinpoint any one incident in which that clearly played a role.
After the Steelers traded Antonio Brown earlier in the offseason, Washington is now in a position in which he is competing for a starting position across from Pro Bowl wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. He figures to square off against veteran free agent signing Donte Moncrief, and perhaps with rookie third-round selection Diontae Johnson as well.
Whether he is on the field for 90-plus percent of the snaps or not, though, he figures to garner a sizable amount of playing time regardless of how the official depth chart actually shakes out. Replacing Brown’s production will be an all-hands-on-deck project.