While he was already starting to come around more prior to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s injury suffered three weeks ago against the Cleveland Browns, second-year Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington seemed to save the best for the former’s absence. Over the course of the past two games, he has caught seven passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He only had two career touchdowns and never had a 100-yard game before that.
While he hasn’t been on the field with him, Smith-Schuster has been working with Washington during this time and being a motivator. He didn’t practice today, but now out of the concussion protocol, he did talk to reporters, and talked about his less experienced (though not younger) teammate.
Washington is “doing a lot of great things”, he told the media yesterday, describing him as “a big-bodied guy, making those physical catches”. He talked about his value in being able to play all over the field, and offered the following observation: “as a wide receiver, you could see that he’s out there looking like a ‘one’, doing his job”.
Considering that he has been doing this without Smith-Schuster on the field to take any attention away from him—and frankly, no other wide receiver has been doing much during this time, either—that should only make it more impressive.
It currently sounds like Smith-Schuster expects to miss more time, but he will be back out there eventually. He knows that his job right now is just to get healthy, but he’s already thinking about what it will mean to have both of them out on the field playing at a high level.
“I think it will help out the whole offense”, he said. “We have to have weapons on both sides of the field as receivers, inside and out, guys who can play inside and out. It helps out or running game, it helps out the passing, so I think it’ll do a lot in helping each other out”.
Washington was the 60th-overall pick, taken in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Steelers. Working behind Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster, it actually didn’t take him much to see the field as a rookie—he saw the third-most snaps—but finding success was another matter.
He didn’t get off to much of a hot start to his second season, either, but he has been playing on another level over the course of the past five weeks as he develops into a legitimate starter. He obviously has more room to grow as he continues to round out his game, but his recent ascension has been an important development for this team as a whole.