After a mostly dismal 2018 rookie season that included him registering just 16 receptions for 217 yards and a touchdown, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington made noticeable strides in his second season that included him catching 44 passes for 735 yards and three touchdowns. Recently, Washington spoke with the team’s official website about not only this past season, but also what he has in store for himself moving forward into his third NFL season.
“I am going to continue to do the things I have done to get to this point,” said Washington, according to Teresa Varley of steelers.com. “I want to keep the weight where it is at. Maintain conditioning. Come back in the same shape I was in last year. I am ready to go.”
Washington reportedly played the 2019 season roughly around 15 pounds lighter than he was during his 2018 rookie season, so it sounds like he’s very comfortable continuing at that new weight, or close to it. Washington not only register 16.7 yards per reception in 2019, which was sixth best in the NFL last season of the players with 40 or more receptions, his average depth of target on his 80 total targets was a whopping 15.8 yards.
Most of those 80 total throws in Washington’s direction last season also came from a quarterback not named Ben Roethlisberger. Washington talked recently about the challenges last season that came with Steelers offense having to play most of 2019 with two very inexperienced quarterbacks in Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges.
“It’s hard, but their job is to give us a chance and our job is to catch those chances that they throw at us and help the offense move down the field and help the team win games,” said Washington. “Having three different quarterbacks, they throw different. Their release is different. The way they get the ball out on breaking routes is different, some slower, some faster. It’s definitely something you have to get used to. But with the talent we have in the receiving room we are able to withstand those.”
Washington saying the Steelers receivers were able to withstand those quarterback changes last season is a little strong and thus him just trying not to makes waves or be overly critical. Regardless, the in-game experience Rudolph and Hodges both gained last season was invaluable just the same. What Washington has to say in his recent interview about his fellow Steelers wide receivers, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson, was much more on point, however.
“Diontae is more of a quick guy, shake you, quick at the line with releases so he shares a little bit of how he does that,” said Washington. “JuJu and I are kind of the same player, we are bigger, more physical receivers so we share that with some of the lighter receivers who are fast and quick. We share all of that as well as mental advice to keep you stable when you are upset or mad to keep making strides.”
Will Washington, Smith-Schuster and Johnson have yet another new young wide receiver in their positional meeting room in 2020? It’s quite possible as odds are good the Steelers will select another one at some point during the 2020 NFL Draft. Whether they do or don’t is yet to be seen but we do know that there’ll be a new positional coach leading that group of wide receivers as Ike Hilliard was hired a few weeks ago to replace Ray Sherman, who was the interim coach in 2019 due to the sudden and tragic passing of Darryl Drake during training camp. Washington spoke fondly of the job that Sherman did last season at coaching the Steelers wide receivers.
“It helped us a lot,” said Washington. “Him and Coach Drake were good buddies. It was almost like Coach Drake was here at times. No one will ever replace him. But Ray shed a lot of light on us from when he was coaching Jerry Rice and those guys, their work ethic and how they approached the game. As young guys we were absorbing all of that. We want to be great like them too. Anything he said to us, we were always listening.”
With Roethlisberger hopefully back to his usual self in 2020, a lot will be expected of Washington, Smith-Schuster and Johnson this coming season. Washington was a premier deep threat in college, and he averaged 72.5 catches in his final two seasons at Oklahoma State with Rudolph as his quarterback so hopefully he can come a lot closer to that number in 2020 with Roethlisberger back quarterbacking the offense.