Being a rookie in the NFL isn’t easy, even under the best of circumstances. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ last three first-round draft picks have all had NFL bloodlines, and that has and is helping them make a smoother transition from the college level to the pros, but neither T.J. Watt nor Terrell Edmunds stormed out of the gates. I’m not sure that Devin Bush is, either, though of course some rookies have very successful seasons.
A guy like James Washington, however, it’s easier to understand how he might have his difficulties trying to make the jump from the amateur level to the professional ranks. A country boy from a small town, no extensive sporting lineage, learning the ropes all on his own. At least he came into the league with college teammate Mason Rudolph, but that only means they’re going through the same trials and tribulations together.
Washington is simply one of many player who struggled to play at an NFL level in his first NFL season. That has little to no bearing on his future, for such a common occurrence, especially when you consider the fact that he was playing with two Pro Bowl wide receivers who each commanded in excess of 160 passing targets.
It was all a big adjustment for the Oklahoma State product, who barely recorded 200 receiving yards during his rookie season after compiling nearly 4500 receiving yards during his four collegiate seasons. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in college football in 2017, and then was the single-most unproductive rookie wide receiver on a per-snap basis in the NFL last season, and for the last several seasons.
“It’s a lot of ups and downs in the NFL”, he told Teresa Varley for the team’s website. “In college everything was smooth sailing. Everyone is good in this league. You’re not going to find someone that you can go out and beat every time. You’re not going to win without a fight. That is one thing that I learned. I just have to look at it differently next season. Just stay persistent”.
That’s a pretty important lesson to learn. Too many players, even to this day, underestimate the level of actual skill and craft it takes to succeed at the NFL level, and, unless you are truly elite, how little your pure physical attributes actually matter in the absence of the former.
That’s not to say by any means that Washington was lacking in effort in any way, either on the field or in practice, in the classroom, or in the weight room. It’s just a whole other level when you realize that essentially everybody that you’re playing against now is as good as you are. You’re no longer the head of the class, but just another guy.