As Everyone Predicted, James Washington Is Steelers’ Leading Receiver

Much was expected of James Washington heading into his second season. I don’t suppose that many predicted he would start producing in the second half of the year, working with Devlin Hodges. Not that he didn’t also put up some numbers while Mason Rudolph was still at quarterback as well.

One thing that I never expected was that Washington would be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ leading receiver—at any point of the year. But with four games remaining, that is exactly what he is. Following the first 100-yard game of his career—111 yards on four receptions with a 30-yard touchdown on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns—he now has 578 receiving yards on the season.

That’s 54 more receiving yards than JuJu Smith-Schuster has through 10 games, having missed the last two due to a concussion and a knee injury. Washington also missed a game earlier in the year due to a shoulder injury, however.

And the funny thing is that he is only tied for fifth on the team in receptions. He is getting more and more shots down the field and has been able to make the most of them. His 578 receiving yards have come on just 30 receptions. He is averaging 19.3 yards per catch with four games to play.

That’s the highest total in yards per reception since Mike Wallace averaged 21 yards per catch back in 2010 among those with at least 30 receptions. Martavis Bryant averaged 21.1 yards per reception in 2014, on 26 receptions.

And he has been on a consistently positive trend for over a month now. Over the course of the past five games, he has caught 20 passes on just 27 targets, yielding a catch rate north of 70 percent, for 417 yards and three touchdowns. In his first six games of the year, he had just 10 catches on 27 targets for 161 yards and no scores.

It’s clearly been a tale of two seasons for Washington, and there is no clear line of demarcation. It’s not because Hodges is suddenly in the lineup, because he was playing well for Rudolph as well. It’s not even simply after the bye week. In the first game after the bye, he caught just one of six targets for 21 yards.

It’s simply a matter of him getting more and more comfortable and more and more confident as he continues to play more and have more success. Production leads to more production, and opportunities lead to more opportunities.

Now the question is, can he keep it going? Can he continue to round out his game? Because he can’t sustain himself primarily on go routes the rest of the way. Can he get more nuance into his route running? Can he become a red zone threat?

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