The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: James Washington will emerge as the deep threat this year with his maturity and Ben Roethlisberger’s return.
Explanation: Even though he doesn’t have elite speed, the Steelers talked about Washington’s ability to be a deep threat when he was drafted. Yet when they took Chase Claypool earlier this year, they talked about his deep-threat ability as something that they hadn’t had on their roster. While Washington matured some last season, and did have some big plays, he had to work with inferior quarterback play due to Roethlisberger’s injury.
Sometimes it just takes some wide receivers some time to work on their rapport with their quarterback. The one that he had with Roethlisberger in 2018 was obviously bad, and unproductive. Even last year, it wasn’t great with anybody throwing him the ball.
But it built through the second half of the year. He was getting open more down the field, and Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges were starting to find him. He ended up leading the team in yards per reception at 16.7, several yards more than anyone else with more than five catches.
Last year, Washington was targeted 26 times on deep passes. He only caught eight of them, but only one of the incompletions was a drop, which speaks to the quality of quarterback play. He still produced 335 yards and two touchdowns from these eight receptions. His nine catchable passes were the third-fewest among all players with as many targets.
Washington can put up better numbers than he has, but he is not going to become a designated deep threat like Mike Wallace or Martavis Bryant were that defenses would actually be concerned about. He doesn’t have that type of speed, for one thing.
And then there’s also Roethlisberger. He’s not the deep passer he once was. A lot of his success on deep passes in 2018, for example, came on broken plays, not by design, and that is something that has to be taken into consideration. At the same time, Claypool will be being groomed for this role.