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 notably more success as a deep threat in 2021.
Explanation: The deep ball was Washington’s calling card coming out of college, and he flashed some of that potential in 2019, ironically while working primarily with Devlin Hodges—even moreso than with his college quarterback, Mason Rudolph. But though he ran plenty of go routes last year, it didn’t convert into success.
Deep ball success can come and go, and depends on a lot more factors than just the throw and the catch. He may not be elite at it, but Washington is capable of getting open, and Ben Roethlisberger is capable of gunning the ball down the field. Both of them should be able to do that at a higher level this year, especially the latter after coming off of elbow surgery on his throwing arm.
Matt Canada’s offense should lend itself to more people throwing their hand in the pile, which means more diversified opportunities, so Washington won’t be thrown on the back burner as often as he was at times last year, especially while Roethlisberger campaigned for him to play more. Personnel usage was simply not one of Randy Fichtner’s strengths, and he basically admitted that several times over his three years as coordinator.
The number one reason that the deep ball didn’t work last year was because Roethlisberger’s deep throws were erratic and uncatchable. According to Pro Football Focus, Washington was targeted 20-plus yards down the field 15 times with five receptions and no drops. The percentages were similar for the other three top receivers.
While Roethlisberger may be a little more dialed-in this year, it’s not going to make a dramatic difference in the success of his deep passing. And he’s not going to hold onto the ball longer to get those busted plays that used to pad his deep passing stats, either.
And Washington simply is not going to get on the field a lot. He’s the fourth wide receiver on a team that now has two receiving tight ends. At this point, he may well be the seventh option when you factor in Najee Harris.