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James Washington admitted that he had gotten down on himself during the middle of his rookie season a year ago. The 2018 second-round draft pick was struggling mightily in a number of aspects of his craft, in spite of the fact that he was receiving a significant amount of playing time as the number three wide receiver.
He was benched multiple times, and missed out on some big plays, but he got a boost from his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, following one of the lowest football moments of his life. And he picked himself up and started turning himself around after that, managing to finish the year with a few big catches as a prelude of what’s to come.
And that is exactly what his expectation is for himself. The Oklahoma State product very much expects himself to live up to his draft stock, emerging as the team’s number two wide receiver this year. He made headway on that front on Friday in the preseason opener with several big plays.
But from his perspective, it was a bigger day for those on the outside than it was for himself. He knew he was capable of doing that. It was just a matter of convincing others—and giving him some space. He told Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that it does instill confidence to have that performance, “just to get people off your back”.
“There’s times I’m walking around and people will say, ‘you better do good this year’”, he told Gorman. “I don’t even know you and you’re talking to me like that?”.
While it’s not exactly cool to go up to a football player and disparage him if he didn’t perform up to your expectations, it’s certainly also not a surprise of any kind to hear him experience that from football fans—and Steelers fans in particular.
“It’s real important because it shows the coaches and gives them a true evaluation of you”, the second-year wide receiver said of his big game. That included a 43-yard reception on a jump ball which, if better thrown from Joshua Dobbs, could have gone for a 94-yard touchdown. “It builds trust with the quarterbacks, as well, and that’s a big factor”.
Even in the absence of Antonio Brown following his March trade to the Oakland Raiders, there is still a crowd toward the top of the wide receiver depth chart, behind their new number one receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster. Veteran Donte Moncrief, signed as a free agent, has been running number two most of the offseason.
Washington is pretty established into that number three role, but it’s still possible that he could push himself past Moncrief as the other wide receiver on the field in two-receiver sets across from Smith-Schuster. Not that he has any doubt that he can do that. It’s just a matter of showing the rest of the world.