In Pittsburgh, we know James Washington is under the spotlight. Apparently, the national media has taken notice too. Former Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne, now working for NFL.com, listed the Steelers’ sophomore receiver as his top breakout player of 2019.
In the article, which I encourage you to check out here, the players aren’t listed in any particular order. But in regards to Washington, Wayne writes:
“There are a lot of factors working in Washington’s favor heading into the coming season. With Antonio Brown‘s departure, JuJu Smith-Schuster will attract attention as the team’s new WR1. Washington will get plenty of chances to make big plays against single coverage opposite JuJu…Expectations are high for everyone in Pittsburgh, and it’s up to the 2018 second-rounder to solidify his spot for years to come.”
Hard to argue with anything Wayne writes there. Washington will be counted on for a big role after an obviously disappointing rookie season that ended with just 16 receptions for 217 yards. His biggest play came on his first career reception, a touchdown during a scramble drill versus the Kansas City Chiefs. To his credit, he battled the whole way and finished the season strong with impressive showings against the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals.
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner noticed improved swagger in Washington’s game late in the year. Here’s what we wrote in late December.
“You could see” him playing with more confidence, and practicing as well, Fichtner said. “He’s getting a lot more reps and he’s going with the [scout] team, so he’s actually getting more reps that way, too”.
Washington is expected to step into the Z role he held for parts of last year. Playing well there will let JuJu Smith-Schuster spent most of his time in the slot, though he’ll play the Z in two receiver sets, which will allow Donte Moncrief and Diontae Johnson battle it out at the X spot.
Expect Washington to have another solid training camp just as he dazzled last year. But he’ll have to translate that to Sunday’s in order for Wayne’s prediction to come true.