We talk a lot about second-year jumps for players, not just in terms of their performance on the field, but also in terms of their conditioning. Less discussed is the fact, which should be obvious, that such a process is an ongoing one that doesn’t just happen from the first year to the second, but during every offseason.
For example, while Pittsburgh Steelers second-year wide receiver Diontae Johnson has been praised for his ability to put on some weight during the offseason, fellow wide receiver James Washington has also undergone some changes. For the second year in a row, he has shed some pounds working on his farm.
“I feel a lot lighter out there running around”, he told reporters earlier today, who have been very positive about his performance so far in training camp. “I feel a little more explosive coming off the ball. Just being able to jump is night and day different, it feels like. And I just feel like all-around new person. When you shed some weight like that and kind of lean down just a little bit more, so, it’s all paying off”.
Washington, who weight 213 pounds at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, and is listed under that weight on the team’s website, told reporters that while his current weight fluctuates a bit, it hovers round the 207-8-pound range.
The Oklahoma State product had a difficult rookie season. Despite playing a good deal, he was not very productive and struggled to find a connection with Ben Roethlisberger. In his second year, even with Roethlisberger missing almost all of the season, he started to find himself, catching 44 passes for a team-leading 735 receiving yards and three scores.
Everybody is talking about Johnson as a breakout candidate, but Washington should not be forgotten about either. Both of these young receivers—who in actually are both older than JuJu Smith-Schuster—should be in position for career years, at least if the Steelers throw the ball around a decent number of times, which feels like a given.
With Smith-Schuster heading into unrestricted free agency, we could be looking at the team’s new trio in 2021 of Washington, Johnson, and rookie Chase Claypool. Of course, there’s nothing saying that Washington won’t follow in free agency a year later.
But that simply makes this window all the more important, while they have all four wide receivers in the locker room together to make the most out of some of Roethlisberger’s final years before he chooses to hang it up, whenever that might be.
One area in which Washington excelled in college was in the deep passing game. He has shown signs that he can convert that skill set at this level, with better quarterback play. Feeling quicker and getting off the ground easier will only further aid him in establishing himself as the Steelers’ deep threat.