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: Wide receiver James Washington will have a starting (top three) role in the offense on the other side of the bye week.
Explanation: The fourth-year wide receiver has spent most of the season as the team’s fourth wheel, which is normally good if you’re a car, but is awkward when you’re a tricycle. With one of those wheels, JuJu Smith-Schuster, gone flat, the Steelers need a spare, but Ray-Ray McCloud played more on Sunday.
Washington played 66 snaps (80 percent) and 49 snaps (82 percent) in the two games that Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, respectively, missed in weeks three and four. He is the team’s number three receiver when one of the top guys are out, and one of those guys is out for the rest of the year.
So he’s now in the top three. And his contributions will reflect that the next time the Steelers are on the field. The reason he didn’t play much on Sunday is because he is still working his way back from a groin injury. He was limited in practice, so they went with the guy who had been practicing, McCloud. Plus, they didn’t want to risk aggravating his injury when they had the bye week right around the corner to really get him past it.
People want to discount Ray-Ray McCloud and the likelihood of his actually playing a lot of snaps, but that’s just rooted in their desire that it not be true. I’m interested in figuring out what is actually going to happen, not insisting that what I want to happen will happen and then getting outraged when it doesn’t.
The reality is that McCloud has been on the field more often than he has been on the sidelines for the past month, and he played over two thirds of the snaps on Sunday, 52 in total, catching two passes for 18 yards.
This is about roles, not availability. Washington is not a slot guy. Diontae Johnson is not a slot guy, either, regardless of what fans decide. Chase Claypool is not a slot guy, either. All of them can play there sparingly, but benefit from being primarily on the outside. McCloud, whom Smith-Schuster himself said was the second-best slot receiver on the team, will be the guy who primarily fills the void of the loss of the slot receiver.
And must of the rest will be absorbed by an increase in two-tight end sets, as that group becomes increasingly viable, even going with three now.