Now that the 2020 regular season 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 are seeing over the course of the season as it plays out. Who is making plays? Who is missing them? Who is losing snaps? Who is struggling to stay on the field?
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. 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 season as we move forward.
Player: WR James Washington
Stock Value: Down
Reasoning: James Washington only played 18 snaps last week after Diontae Johnson got back on the field, the Steelers showing a clear snap preference for Chase Claypool. I don’t know if this will be a two-dogs-one-bone situation as the season progresses, but what’s pretty clear is that Washington is now competing for the third spot in the pecking order, and probably losing more often than not.
It’s a good problem for the Steelers to have with two former second-round picks competing to serve as their number three receiver, with both players having had at least a modicum of production in their history.
James Washington led the team in receiving yards last year, and has made some notable plays this year, including two touchdowns. Chase Claypool has already managed to do quite a bit as a rookie and leads the team in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
But one is a rookie and a true physical specimen who has made an instant impact, and the other is a third-year player who is still, at least to some degree, finding his feet, and doing so in an offense that already has two high-volume-capable receivers in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson.
Last week’s game, with Johnson returning close to full health for the first time since week two, showed the effects of Claypool’s development in the interim. Claypool played 51 snaps, Washington 18. I’m not sure what else needs to be said.
Of course, we first have to establish a trend. If Washington’s playing time continues to plummet for another game or two while the receiving group is at full capacity, with Smith-Schuster and Johnson up and running, then we can call it a pattern and identify his demotion.
Otherwise, we could simply be seeing the Steelers playing matchup games. If they feel one player is better suited to win against one team than another is, they will get the snaps that week. Nobody should take this to mean that Washington is not a talented player capable of contributing. But his snap count last week still clearly means that his stock, for the time being, is down.