The regular season marks the culmination of an extensive investigation into who your team will be that year. By this point, you’ve gone through free agency, the draft, training camp, and the preseason. You feel good in your decisions insofar as you can create clarity without having played meaningful games. But there are still plenty of uncertainties that remain, whether at the start of the regular season or the end, and new ones continually develop over time.
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 play like a starter in Diontae Johnson’s absence.
Explanation: With Diontae Johnson ruled out for tomorrow’s game, fourth-year wide receiver James Washington will be called upon to replace him. The 2019 team leader in receiving yards has played very sparsely for the first two weeks, having already begun to see his role reduced last year.
James Washington never lost playing time, necessarily, because of anything he did; rather, it was moreso the case of others, specifically and particularly 2020 rookie Chase Claypool, that led to his seeing so much time on the bench as an observer.
There was a point last season in which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said that he would be actively campaigning during games to get the coaching staff to get Washington rotating into the mix. If nothing else, that tells you that his quarterback likes him.
Even if it is the case that Washington is the fourth-best wide receiver on the team, you could compare him favorably to almost any other fourth wide receiver in the league—and many third receivers as well.
Roethlisberger has never met a wide receiver that he wouldn’t throw the football to, so that doesn’t mean a whole lot. The reality is that the connection between the two has not been great on a play-to-play basis. In point of fact, Washington owns just a 52 percent career catch rate, with 92 receptions on 177 targets.
Even adjusting for depth of target, which admittedly skews toward the long ball pretty heavily, that’s an ugly number that hints toward communication lapses, and he’s not against dropping the ball. He has one already this season.
I think the heart of the statement is that Washington being in the game will be a virtually unnoticeable change because he is contributing a high level of play. I don’t think that we can say this will definitely be true. In fact, it may be the case that he is most effective in a more limited role, like he was for much of the second half of last season, and that asking him to play 50-60 snaps will reveal why he isn’t ordinarily starting.