Now that training camp is underway, and the roster for the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: WR James Washington
Stock Value: Up
With nine receptions for over 200 yards and two touchdowns so far through three preseason games, it’s fair to say that James Washington has had an encouraging month of work as he heads into his second NFL season. He has already produced about the same amount of offense as he had through 14 regular season games last year as a rookie.
He only had one catch on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, but it was a big one, a 41-yard touchdown from Oklahoma State teammate Mason Rudolph still in the early stages of the game, the 21st play on offense and the second snap for Rudolph, his first throw.
It is somewhat disappointing that Washington didn’t get many snaps at all with Ben Roethlisberger during his 19 snaps, totaling just two snaps, and those two plays came only to briefly spell JuJu Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster caught two passes in a row before checking out—then came back and caught a 17-yard touchdown on the next play he came back in for. Washington’s own touchdown came two offensive plays after that, the same play, but significantly further away.
What is most encouraging about his preseason work this time around compared to last year is that it has been much more consistent, not just from game-to-game or from a production standpoint, but really from play to play. He is more detailed and more versatile, getting work in the slot, for example, and more active as a blocker.
He did appear to have a miscommunication with Rudolph that was on him later in the game, as he was the target on a later interception that looked ugly. The ball sailed over all targets’ heads and was picked off by a diving defender, the only one near the ball, because Washington was expected to have continued his route into that zone.
Based on how the preseason has gone so far, it looks as though he will start the season as the number four wide receiver, with either Eli Rogers or Ryan Switzer being used in the slot between Smith-Schuster and Donte Moncrief. But the Steelers plan to use all of their wide receivers this year, so he should still have plenty of opportunities.