The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: James Washington will have his best statistical season in 2021 as the number three receiver.
Explanation: Predicated under the assumption that JuJu Smith-Schuster is not retained, Washington would elevate back up to the number three receiver role behind Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Ben Roethlisberger has gone on record as campaigning for him to get more playing time, even if he doesn’t always get a lot of targets.
It’s rather unlikely that the Steelers bring in any wide receivers who would challenge James Washington’s playing time this year, so he should be expected to be good for about 700 snaps, depending on how much time they spend in three-receiver sets…which is a lot.
Ben Roethlisberger’s stated enthusiasm for the fourth-year wide receiver also bodes well for him. He has talked about his comfort level with Washington where he can just throw the ball up and he will fight for it and grab it.
While his playing time diminished significantly in the second half of last season, he tended to be good for one or two big, significant plays per game. And he still finished with a career-high five touchdowns while catching only 30 passes for about 400 yards.
Well, if Smith-Schuster gets re-signed, this whole idea gets shot to hell, in the first place. Beyond that, we can’t ignore the fact that Washington did lose playing time last year to Ray-Ray McCloud, who took snaps in their four-receiver sets and caught 20 passes himself.
If Smith-Schuster is gone, then the Steelers are looking for a slot receiver, which is not Washington’s profile, and the reality is, neither Johnson nor Claypool ideally profile as a slot receiver, either. Someone will have to do it, of course, but it could mean Washington spending more time on the bench than you might expect with other players getting opportunities.