We are starting a new summer series to look at who might be the next players to take that next step up. We’ll be taking a look at those players who have been productive to this point in their careers but could be on the verge of busting out and getting more national recognition. This is a breakout candidate for the 2020 season.
In our world of instant gratification we often wonder why a player hasn’t progressed to the point where we had hoped he would be. There’s a phrase I was told a few years back that simply and succinctly covers the reasoning why.
Growth is not linear.
It starts very earlier in our lives. Everyone doesn’t grow at the same rate or mature at the same speed. In school each person learns at their own pace. This continues throughout our lives for most people. We continue to learn and grow each and every day.
It’s the same for wide receivers.
If you look at some of the Steelers receivers in recent history guys like Juju Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Plaxico Burress topped 1,000 yards in year two. Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes wasn’t until year 4.
To This Point
The 2018 second round pick came in with exemplary numbers coming out of college with 226 receptions, 4,472 yards and 39 touchdowns and that created some expectations. He came into an offense that didn’t need a go to guy right away with Smith-Schuster and Brown already in place. However he was somewhat raw as a route runner so there was some work to do.
He made strides and at the end of the 2018 season and he had his best games of the year in week 14 and 16 with 3 catches in each and topping 60 yards.
His two year stats are similar to some former Steelers.
Ward and Burress had better number in year two but they had veteran QB’s Kordell Stewart and Mike Tomczak throwing to them rather than a year two QB and an undrafted free agent.
Even with the subpar quarterback play Washington play showed much improvement not only in his statistics but also in his confidence. If you haven’t seen it yet, go check out the Film Room study Alex did on Washington showing his improvement on his deep route running from year one to year two.
He is a deep threat in this offense but that not all he can do. Looking at the final quarter of the season he had 14 reception and only 2 of those were of the deep variety. He was involved more in the short and intermediate routes running Digs and Outs adding to his value moving forward. And there were also about 8 deep targets late in the year that were poorly thrown or were tightly covered lowering his catch percentage.
Another sign of his growth was his usage and production in the second half of the season.
What can happen?
The return of Ben Roethlisberger is obviously great for the entire offense. A player like Washington can benefit greatly. He averaged 2.5 yards of separation last year and with better quarterbacking decisions his receptions should go up. He caught just 55% of his targets last year while being credited with 5 drop passes. The accuracy of the passes being thrown to him this year should be better so his catch percentage should go up. The emergence of Diontae Johnson and health Smith-Schuster makes a strong WR trio. Defenses can’t double all of those guys.
Let’s play with some numbers. If we double his numbers from his play in the second half of last year you’re looking at 60 receptions on 98 targets for 1,010 yards and 6 TD’s.
In 2018, the top 5 WR’s in receptions averaged a 65% completion rate with a healthy Roethlisberger. Give Washington 100 targets, 65 receptions at his current career yards per reception (15.9) you get 1,034 yards.
- Improved route running and confidence
- More usage and effectiveness in the short and intermediate levels
- Similar starts to Ward and Burress
- Much improved second half of the season in 2019
- A healthy veteran QB
- Reasonable chance for improvement in catchable passes
I think it’s reasonable to expect a 64 reception, 1,000 yard season from Washington this year. When you break it down its 4 receptions and 62.5 yards per game which is approximately what he averaged the second half of last year.
Washington is still evolving into the player he will be. He is making strides to become a complete Steelers receiver and 2020 looks like a good time to bust out.