After registering just 16 receptions for 217 yards and a touchdown in his 2018 rookie season, several are predicting a much bigger second season from Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington. In an effort to give himself the best shot at having a solid sophomore season in the NFL, Washington made it a point to lose some weight during the offseason in hopes that he’d become quicker. Additionally, Washington reportedly took a long look at his rookie tape to see how he could improve in 2019 and that study included him viewing his play from a different positional vantage point.
“I watched some game film by myself and just tried to become more of a football junkie,” Washington said recently, according to Teresa Varley of steelers.com. “I wanted to look at the game like a quarterback. Quarterbacks see everything, whether it’s this or that, a guy not getting his depth or a running back not blocking. They see everything and that’s how I want to see the game. I don’t just want to see it from a receiver standpoint, I want to know everything.
“Just talking to Ben (Roethlisberger) and talking to the coaches in general got me feeling this way. Coaches have that quarterback vision they see everything and once you know the entire offense and know where everyone is supposed to go, it’ll help you be better in your preparation and how you execute when you’re in the game.”
That’s certainly a unique way of self-scouting that you don’t often hear come out of the mouths of wide receivers. That said, it’s an understandable one. Washington, in addition to likely conversing quite a bit with starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger this past offseason, was likely also able to pick the brain of Steelers backup quarterback Mason Rudolph these past few months as those two were of course teammates and good friends at Oklahoma State with one throwing to the other for most of their college careers.
After registering 5 receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown in the first four games of his 2018 rookie season, Washington caught just 3 passes for 28 yards in the Steelers next eight games of which two he was inactive for as a healthy scratch. However, after being effectively benched for the Steelers Week 13 game against the Los Angeles Chargers following an uninspiring showing against the Denver Broncos in Week 12, Washington bounced back in the team’s final four games to close out the season as he recorded 8 more receptions for 140 yards in those four contests. Obviously, it goes without saying that Washington learned a lot from his very challenging rookie season.
“It wasn’t what I expected,” said Washington, per Varley. “It was a lot, just because of the ups and downs. One week you’re playing good and the next week you’re not. One week you’re inactive, then it’s like you question yourself and you think am I really good enough. It just kind of gives you that challenge to answer the call. Without challenges you wouldn’t have the opportunity to get better, or know what your weakness are or what your strengths are.”
With wide receiver Antonio Brown no longer in Pittsburgh, JuJu Smith-Schuster is expected to be the Steelers new number one target for Roethlisberger in 2019. Smith-Schuster is also expected to be complemented by newcomer Donte Moncrief during the first part of the season as he’s expected to assume the X position while rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson is quickly groomed to hopefully take over that spot in the offense. Additionally, Washington will once again be asked to play the Z position in 2019 and pick up where he left off at late last season.
Because of all the attention that Smith-Schuster is expected to receive from opposing defenses at the start of the 2019 regular season, Washington is almost sure to see a fair amount of targets down the field and against minimal coverage. If he can quickly take advantage of those early-season targets, it will make the Steelers offense even harder to defense as the schedule progresses. By the sound of what all Washington has said and done this offseason, he’ll be up to the challenge of living up to this year’s big expectations for him.
“This year I knew what to expect and I knew the offense better from when I first got here. All those stress factors weren’t on my mind. I am just thinking about playing football,” Washington told Varley.