This shouldn’t be much of a shock—and chances are, most of the comments will be about how you don’t actually care, even though you’re here and reading this—but following Friday’s impressive performance over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which he caught four passes for 84 yards and a touchdown, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington was named to Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week for the first week of the preseason.
A forgotten man this offseason by many, Washington made a huge impact in the game and led all wide receivers with at least four targets this week with his 7.00 yards per route run average. He also ranked second with 65 yards on passes of 20-plus air yards, showcasing his ability to create big plays.
Washington was drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft with the 60th-overall pick, making him the second-highest drafted wide receiver by the team since Santonio Holmes (Limas Sweed in 2008, 53rd overall). JuJu Smith-Schuster was the 62nd-overall pick a year before him, but had a much larger impact as a rookie.
The former would gladly settle for the sort of impact in his second year that Smith-Schuster had in his first. Gradually emerging as the number two target, the then-20-year-old caught 58 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. In his own rookie season, Washington was benched twice due to performance and caught only 16 passes on 36 targets for 217 yards and one touchdown.
The lack of production was not due to lack of playing time, as he saw the third-most snaps at wide receiver for the Steelers in 2018, trailing only Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown. But he did finish the season on a good note, making a few big plays, and he continued that into an offseason in which he reshaped his body by losing 15 pounds of fat.
Washington caught a 43-yard pass from Joshua Dobbs on the second play of Friday night’s game, but if the ball had not been underthrown, perhaps he would have gone the distance for a 90-plus-yard score. Dobbs again found him on a 20-plus yard pass through the air for 22 yards, on third and 21. He nearly connected on a touchdown later, but the receiver couldn’t quite keep his left foot inbounds on what would have been an excellent effort on his part.
His final two of five total targets came from his Oklahoma State teammate, Mason Rudolph, in the second quarter. The first was a catch-and-run of a nice gain on an underneath route that picked up a first down. The duo capped off that same drive with a beautiful eight-yard back-shoulder touchdown pitch and catch that looked like they’d done it 100 times before.
Can he do all this and more when it’s Ben Roethlisberger throwing him the ball, and he’s going up against William Jackson III or Denzel Ward or Marlon Humphrey? That’s the real test of how he has grown since his rookie season.