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 a bigger role in Matt Canada’s offense than conventional wisdom suggests.
Explanation: We know little about Matt Canada’s offense at the professional level, and can only extrapolate based on what we have seen in college and what we’ve heard players and coaches say this offseason. James Washington fell to fourth in the pecking order last year, but a fresh start in his contract year could see him play a more prominent role than might be obvious.
The Steelers operate on the principle that their receiving corps is a collective unit, not a group of individuals, some of whom are more significant than others. Sure, Diontae Johnson is probably going to be the chief volume guy, but it’s reasonable to believe there will be more variation this year.
One thing Canada has made clear is that his priority is putting players in situations to succeed, and that can depend upon the opponent. Washington could play a bigger role against one opponent than he might against another.
And he does fit in better to the more physical, aggressive approach they want to instill. Washington is probably the most physical wide receiver they have. He is also one of the most productive college wide receivers in decades. He simply has been underutilized, the Steelers not maximizing his abilities.
There is a bit of a false perception about Washington’s role last season, which admittedly did ebb and flow as the season progressed. He still logged nearly 500 snaps on offense, saw more than 50 targets, made 30 catches, and caught a career-high five touchdowns. The only thing that was really missing was more connections on deep balls.
There are simply too many options on this team, nevermind JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool, one a former Pro Bowler and the other a future Pro Bowler. This offense now has two receiving tight ends with Pat Freiermuth being drafted, and Najee Harris should play a bigger role in the passing game than any Steelers back has since Le’Veon Bell. I would suspect that Washington may play about as much as he did last year on the upper end of the scale, perhaps a bit more if they’re in more passing situations and he’s taking advantage of his downfield opportunities.