Nobody got out of James Washington what they wanted during his rookie season. The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t. Washington himself didn’t. In spite of the fact that he was on the field for a ton of snaps, he didn’t factor in much outside of literally just a few plays all season, and the only games he didn’t dress for were coach’s decisions.
Now, part of all this is because the Steelers also had two of the highest-targeted players in the NFL last season in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, a pair of Pro Bowl wide receiver who each saw over 160 targets last season for over 100 receptions, over 1250 yards, and a combined 22 touchdowns (albeit skewed heavily toward Brown).
That said, that’s not the only reason Washington wasn’t getting more targets, or receptions. We’ve talked about his issues and struggles as a rookie. There’s reason to believe he will be better this year. One group that doesn’t believe he is going to make that jump, though, seems to be Pro Football Focus, who recently discussed the team’s training camp battle for the number two spot.
Mike Renner opened up the discussion by talking about free agent Donte Moncrief, who signed a two-year, $9 million deal. “He’s been on the verge of that breakout season pretty much his entire career. He’s just never taken that next step after he was young”, he said..
“Those early seasons in his career in Indianapolis, where he looked like he might be the next big thing, just never quite did it. I’m not sure I’d rely on him to be the number two target there, but then again, it’s either rely on him, or someone like James Washington, who had an all-time bad rookie year”.
In that regard, he noted that Washington averaged just .57 yards per route run last season, which is pretty appallingly bad. That means that for every route he ran last season, he hardly averaged half a yard. And he ran around 400 routes last year. That turned into just 217 yards.
Renner said that he “just was a non-factor pretty much. You forgot he was on the field at times with how much he just didn’t get targets in that offense, but he was actually on the field a lot for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season”.
Austin Gayle was even more authoritative in his opinion. “The Steelers brass is invested, draft capital-wise, in James Washington to the point where they’re going to want him to get the reps early”, he pointed out, to begin with.
“Diontae Johnson and even Donte Moncrief are going to have to fight to get into that rotation because they need to see if James Washington is going to pan out”, he went on. “My guess, he doesn’t. A couple weeks into the season, you start to see those reps go toward Diontae Johnson. I think he makes the most of those, and maybe wins this down the stretch”.
That’s not very encouraging when it comes to Washington in the upcoming season, but the good thing is that it doesn’t matter what anybody says about him, whether it’s PFF, us, or even his teammates. It’s what he does whenever he’s on the field that will determine his future.