James Washington has struggled to see the field in recent weeks, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers employ four receiver sets in second-half comebacks. Part of that can be attributed to Chase Claypool’s emergence. But Randy Fichtner mentioned another reason for his low snap total. Speaking to reporters yesterday, Fichtner was asked why Washington hasn’t been part of the team’s four receiver set.
“I think just in the beginning stages of that grouping, I felt in talking with Coach Ike [Hilliard] also, that James probably is a sharper guy to be able to handle the role,” he told reporters. “When you get into that group you only have x-amount of those players. Somebody has to be able to handle every position if someone goes down. That quite honestly just fell to James because I would trust and still have a lot of trust that he would be able to fit in if [Eric] Ebron was down or fit in if JuJu [Smith-Schuster] went down. That just required you to have to know a lot of different formations, a lot of different concepts. It wasn’t by any choice other than that.”
Washington has played just 23 snaps over the last two weeks. He’s caught only one pass though he made it count, a 17 yard score last week versus the Dallas Cowboys.
Fichtner’s answer here is a little curious. Washington is…too versatile so he becomes odd man out. The reality is the 4 WR grouping has two outside receivers and two slot receivers. Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool are on the outside with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ray-Ray McCloud (a better slot option than Washington) on the inside. That leaves Washington on the bench.
While Washington’s playing time has been cutdown and likely will stay that way for most of the rest of the season, he’s making the most of his opportunities. Three of his 18 receptions this year have found the end zone, the same number of scores he had on 44 grabs a year ago. Fichtner did point out Washington’s limited snaps makes him well-rested when he does see the field, which certainly doesn’t hurt for a vertical threat at receiver.
It’s clear Washington is never going to be a star NFL receiver. He’ll never be the “go-to guy,” the #1 option an offense revolves around. Chase Claypool has overtaken his role and not looking back. But Washington is as good of a #4/#5 receiver as they come and the Steelers still have at least another year with him – 2021 – before his rookie contract ends.