Now that the 2019 NFL Draft is underway, and the roster heading into the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we head toward training camp.
Player: WR James Washington
Stock Value: Up
I know it’s only OTAs, but second-year wide receiver James Washington is being praised left and right for what he is doing up and down the practice fields of the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex over the course of the past couple of weeks.
That is exactly what the Steelers are hoping to get from the player that they selected with the 60th-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Washington actually played significantly and started most games as a rookie, but his contributions were sparse until late in the year.
That is in spite of the fact that he made highlight-reel catches in practice, through training camp, and even in the preseason, including two spectacular touchdown snares from a pair of Joshua Dobbs jump balls.
The description of a practice player happens to bear some similarities to Justin Hunter, a former second-round pick who spent the past two seasons with the Steelers. He would look like a phenom on the practice field, but it would rarely show up in games. How do we know that this is no different for Washington?
Ramon Foster offered a take on that. “He lit it up just on raw talent [last year]. Now he’s fully thinking about it”, he said. “You see his technique come into it. He’s gotta be one of the highest, quickest jumpers I’ve ever seen and he just has a sense of calm over him. And that’s what it took for me, it was about a year before I actually got comfortable and he looks like he’s getting comfortable with what he’s doing”.
The progress is crucial not only for the Steelers but for himself, because they have given themselves alternatives if he proves inadequate in filling the void left by the Antonio Brown trade. There is Donte Moncrief, whom they signed in free agency, who can start. They added Diontae Johnson with the 66th-overall pick earlier this year. So Washington has to rise above them, more for himself than for the team.