Now that the 2020 offseason has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past season, and with notice to anything that happens going forward.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: WR James Washington
Stock Value: Down
Assuming that the Steelers do intend to keep JuJu Smith-Schuster on a long-term basis, I’m inclined to believe that the player done the most harm by the drafting of Chase Claypool last month is James Washington, the third-year wide receiver who figures to be the next Emmanuel Sanders of the Young Money Crew 2: Electric Boogaloo.
In many ways, Claypool offers what the Steelers talked about with Washington when drafted—plus nearly half a foot. Both are big-bodied guys, but Claypool is even faster. Both are physical at the catch point and willing to go up and make contested plays. But the rookie has a higher ceiling.
We’re projecting into the future at this point, but it would be far from shocking if the Steelers’ top three receivers in 2022 are Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and Claypool, with Washington set to hit free agency that year, and certainly not tracking to be the one of the four most likely to be targeted for a long-term extension.
After a disappointing rookie year in 2018, Washington was done no favors with the loss of Ben Roethlisberger last season, but he did finish with a team-leading 735 yards and was starting to percolate with his downfield abilities. He had a strong stretch from Week Eight to Week 15 during which he caught 30 passes for 554 yards and three scores over an eight-game span. Considering the quarterback play, that’s not too shabby.
Still, this is a big season for Washington to live up to his draft potential, and to demonstrate that he can build a rapport with Roethlisberger, which had not been evident, frankly, during much of their playing time together, even in the first two games of 2019.
He still figures to be on the field for the majority, if not the vast majority, of the Steelers’ offensive snaps this year. This ‘down’ evaluation isn’t really about the 2020 season, because everything points to him continuing to maintain his role for now.
But the Steelers didn’t draft Claypool to provide depth. He’s envisioned as a long-term starter down the road. He’s not going to be pressed as a rookie, but they’ll expect that second-year jump in 2021. By then, Washington may already be ticketed for free agency like Sanders was in 2014.