James Washington caught four passes for 68 yards and a touchdown in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ win over the Cleveland Browns back in week six, logging 43 snaps, or over two thirds of the team’s total offensive plays during the game.
Then he logged 41 snaps combined over the course of the next three games, catching just one single pass, albeit a 17-yard touchdown, on four targets during that span. He would see six straight games in which he played under 30 snaps and under 50 percent of the team’s total, before seeing his playing time start to tick back upward in recent weeks.
That has largely been a product of the Steelers beginning to manage rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool’s snaps, coupled with Diontae Johnson’s struggles, which saw him benched for the majority of the first half on Sunday.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster on the top of the food chain, Johnson emerging as a high-volume player, and Claypool’s early showings demanding opportunities, Washington became the odd man out, but as he continued to make plays with his scarce opportunities, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger called on him to be involved more, things have begun to swing back around.
He has logged 84 snaps combined over the past two games, including 46 on Sunday, during which span he has been targeted 10 times, catching five passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
No doubt it can be frustrating to lose out on reps when you’ve done nothing to merit it, but Washington insists that he maintained good spirits through it all. “No, it wasn’t hard at all”, he told reporters about handling his reduction of snaps. “It is what it is. I’m just waiting on my opportunity, and anything I can do to help this team win, I’ll do”.
On the year, the third-year wide receiver now has 28 receptions for 372 yards and five touchdowns, the latter representing a new career-high. He is also posting the highest catch rate of his career, indicating that he has improved his connection with Roethlisberger.
Where exactly do we go from here? It’s really hard to say. Smith-Schuster, Johnson, and Claypool are all still very talented. If they intend to continue to manage Claypool’s workload, and if Johnson continues to struggle, to the point where they can’t trust him to be on the field 60-plus snaps a game, then there should still be plenty of opportunities for Washington to work his way into the offense.