There were two players in particular who drew praise for their performance in Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the Pittsburgh Steelers. One was rookie first-round pick Devin Bush, understandably, so, who recorded 10 tackles and nearly had an interception. The other is a player who had quickly gotten forgotten about on the national stage: second-year wide receiver James Washington.
The former second-round pick disappointed as a rookie but has had a strong offseason, ready to show that he is the player the Steelers drafted a year ago. His game against the Buccaneers was a good step in that direction, and that received added attention from analyst Brian Baldinger after the game.
Baldinger—who did the same for Bush, in fact—took a closer look at Washington’s biggest plays against Tampa Bay and came away impressed. He began by saying, “I never doubt the Steelers’ ability to find and draft wide receiver”. He concluded with, “the Steelers can find and draft wide receivers as well as any team in the history of this game”.
That’s bold praise, but they do have a pretty good track record, with two in the Hall of Fame, at least another who’s a lock and another who is in the Hall of Very Good. They’ve had plenty of talented players, such as Mike Wallace, in between as well. But I’m digressing.
He said of Joshua Dobbs’ 43-yard pass to Washington, “if he gets a little more air under it, James Washington is gonna finish in the paint with a 94-yard touchdown catch. But he’ll take that one for 43”. This pass, the second play of the game, was a bit underthrown, so Washington had to come up short and get it.
Later with Dobbs, he caught a 22-yard pass on third and 21. “He knows exactly where the sticks are when he curls in front of the safety right here to make this catch and finish for a first down”, he said. One play he was most impressed by was the incompletion that he caught in the end zone with his left toes out of bounds.
Baldinger praised him for the post-dig route that he ran to get the cornerback to open his hips to the field, allowing him to win the corner. Thought the throw took him ever so slightly out of bounds, the analyst says that Washington saw that he was out, looking down at his feet, but made a great effort to tap his other foot inbounds, all while showing excellent hand control.
Another play that he looked at was a block that the threw to help spring Jaylen Samuels for a long gain, and he finished with the eight-yard touchdown from Mason Rudolph. The thing that sticks out most about that play is his repeated ability to make hands catches, away from his body, and this was the perfect example of that skill.
It’s just one preseason game, and he’s had that big preseason game before, but if Washington can carry this into the regular season, he can emerge as the Steelers’ number two receiver.