The Pittsburgh Steelers did not get the results that they were looking for in 2019. That much is easy enough to deduce from the fact that they didn’t have any games to play in 2020. They missed the postseason, in spite of the fact that they held control of their own destiny with even two games left to play.
Of course, everything during the year has to come with a caveat, and a big one, that being the absence of Ben Roethlisberger. If the Steelers get him back on the field next season and healthy, playing the way that he typically plays, then that drastically reshapes the complexion of the discussion.
Despite the results not being where the team would have liked them to be, there are still plenty of developments that occurred last season that should be perceived as encouraging for 2020. And perhaps near the top of that list, especially as the offensive side of the ball is concerned, is the progress made by second-year wide receiver James Washington.
Truth be told, he did not leave off the year on a good note. Admittedly through a driving rain, he failed to catch a single pass against the Baltimore Ravens, dropping a pass or two in the process. His hands were one of his draws coming out of college, so you want him to catch anything he can get two hands on, more or less.
That said, he had a strong season overall, relative to the availability of quality performance from the quarterback position. He finished the year catching 44 passes on 80 targets for 735 yards, the latter leading the team, averaging 16.7 yards per reception with three touchdowns. It was enough to get Pro Football Focus to highlight him as the player who gives the Steelers reason for optimism for 2020. Steve Palazzalo writes:
Despite playing with inexperienced quarterbacks, Washington took a huge step forward in his second year. He showed off the downfield ability that made him such a weapon in the Big 12 as he finished with 735 receiving yards at 16.7 yards per reception. Washington’s 68.5 receiving grade may not jump off the page, but it’s a major improvement from his 50.5 mark in a disappointing rookie season.
It’s notable that from Week Nine to Week 16, Washington caught 34 of 50 targets for 574 yards with three touchdowns. The biggest number there for me is the catch rate of 68 percent. Prorate that eight-game stretch over a full 16-game season and you get 68 receptions for 1148 yards and six scores. I would take that from him in 2020 with Roethlisberger under center.