It wasn’t so long ago—circa 2018—that the Pittsburgh Steelers were regarded as having one of the very best wide receiver rooms in the NFL. Especially at the end of the 2018 season, though by the start of the next, they had lost their greatest wide receiver in franchise history, and their new number one didn’t quite look the part.
Entering 2020, the team now has a room stocked with young pedigree, but low on accomplishment to date, outside of JuJu Smith-Schuster, who does at least have one Pro Bowl season under his belt, not to mention over 200 receptions, nearly 3000 yards, and 17 touchdown catches in three years.
Flanking him are James Washington, entering his third year, Diontae Johnson, coming off a promising rookie campaign, and the newest member, second-round pick Chase Claypool, with such names as Ryan Switzer and Deon Cain rounding out the group.
Pro Football Focus recently took to ranking every wide receiver group in the NFL, and they were not sold on the Steelers, ranking them in the middle of the pack, at 18. I am very curious to see what the story will be about this group of players after the 2020 season. Ben Linsey writes:
Pittsburgh has a very young group of receivers. In terms of experience at the wide receiver position, JuJu Smith-Schuster is the elder statesman, and he’s not even 24 years old yet. There is talent here for sure, though. Diontae Johnson was listed as one of Sam Monson’s breakout candidates for 2020, coming in as one of the better young route-runners in the NFL. James Washington started to put things together towards the end of the season, as well, earning a receiving grade of 73.4 from Week 9 through the end of the season (28th among wide receivers). There is a fairly wide range of outcomes for this group in 2020, but the ceiling is there with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger.
Truth be told, I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. There is a wide range of potential outcomes for this receiving corps, but with Roethlisberger, the breadth of that range has a lot to do with how high the ceiling is.
This could be a really, really good group of wide receivers, who complement each other well. Claypool may take some time to be integrated into the mix, but I have high expectations for what Washington and Johnson can deliver under a full season with Roethlisberger after gaining valuable experience last year.
A lot of people are down on Washington, but I do think it’s important to remind that he was their most consistent wide receiver in the second half of the year (and that was with below-average quarterback play). Between weeks 9 and 16, he caught 34 passes for 574 yards and three scores, averaging 4.3 catches for 72 yards per game. That projects to a 68-catch, 1148-yard, six-touchdown year.