While there has been a lot of change and development on display so far through the first half of the 2019 season, one thing that isn’t as different from last year as most would like it to be is the productivity of wide receiver James Washington. He was their second-round pick a year ago, but is still struggling to maintain a regular role and produce in ways that fit that description.
Through six games played—he missed the Los Angeles Chargers game while recovering from a shoulder injury—he still has just 10 receptions for 161 yards on the year, without a score. He caught one pass on six targets against the Miami Dolphins for 21 yards, and dropped a pass on a jump-ball situation.
Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked for his thoughts on the second-year wide receiver’s development to date. “You know, I think we’re still writing that story”, he said. “Really, it’s just one game back. Hopefully we get a chance to keep him in a uniform”.
Given some of the blocks that he was able to throw against the Dolphins, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that his shoulder probably isn’t a huge issue, or at least one that would seriously hinder his ability to catch the ball.
“We’ll get a game body of work with him having an opportunity to do that over an extended period. A place where we can hang our hat”, Tomlin continued. “Got a lot of confidence in him being a second-year player like we do in all our second-year players. I think it’s reasonable to expect those guys to ascend, but he just hasn’t had a lot of fluidity because of availability, and that happens sometimes. Glad to have him back out there. Hopefully he can take a significant step in terms of building on top of a positive performance that he had last night”.
Sure, it’s nice if they can throw a couple of blocks, but the Steelers don’t need another Limas Sweed. Washington is seemingly being left behind by JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie third-round pick Diontae Johnson, who caught five passes for 84 yards and a touchdown against Miami earlier this week.
As Tomlin cautioned, he is only one game back from a shoulder injury, so it’s reasonable to suspect that he might take a game or two to play up to his capacity, which is often the case when players come back from being sidelined for some period of time.
Not all of it has been his fault, of course. He has only caught 10 of 27 targets this year, under 40 percent, but the vast, vast majority of those targets that he failed to catch were uncatachable balls, frequently deep passes that landed out of the field of play.