Provided that everything works out as the Pittsburgh Steelers have hoped, second-year wide receiver James Washington should play a vital role in the offense’s success in 2019. The 2018 second-round pick is looking to make a significant jump from a disappointing rookie year, and he does see areas in which he feels he has grown since then.
“I have more confidence with the playbook”, first and foremost, he recently told the team’s website. One of his biggest issues, referring to his targets from last season, seemed to be not being entirely sure of the route he was supposed to be running or where Ben Roethlisberger wanted him to be.
He also said that he was “being a little more vocal, talking to guys, being more involved. I just need to stay in condition, know the playbook. Just maintain the receiver mechanics”.
All of these things have gotten positive attention so far this offseason, though none more so than his condition. He reportedly lost more than 10 pounds from last year in the hopes of being better conditioned to perform for the offense in 2019. It’s an all too common lesson for rookies to learn. No matter how well-conditioned they think they are, few truly understand NFL-level conditioning until they have to go through an NFL season.
There is a massive opening, an opportunity, for Washington to play this year following the team’s trade of Antonio Brown, which sent him to the Oakland Raiders for third- and fifth-round picks that they used in the 2019 NFL Draft.
The first of those selections went to acquired Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who has the opportunity to ascend the depth chart as the offseason progresses. For the moment, the expectation is that he will be filtered in behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, and Washington, but if either of the latter two lag behind, that will create an opening for the rookie.
Washington isn’t planning to let that happen. He is much more adjusted to NFL life now than he was a year ago, now that he has an entire year of the professional world under his belt and knows what to expect and what it will take to raise his game to the next level.
Building a stronger rapport with Roethlisberger is part of that as well, and really most of the offense has worked a lot in trying to bond this offseason, headlined by a big trip to Roethlisberger’s Georgia residence, complete with some on-field work.
We already know that Washington has the talent to play at the NFL level. If he can also raise himself up to have NFL-worthy conditioning, mechanics, and knowledge of the offensive system, then he can without a doubt live up to his draft pedigree.