Now that the regular season has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of the offseason and the regular season as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning. In some cases, it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances, it will be a direct response to something that just happened. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: WR James Washington
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: While his playing time percentage did not notably increase during Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, James Washington saw a season-high six targets and had arguably his best game of the season.
James Washington has only been averaging about 25-30 snaps per game over the course of the season. Even after JuJu Smith-Schuster went down, his playing time didn’t really blow up. He has had three games in which he played more than 80 percent of the snaps, but those were games during which there were multiple wide receiver injuries.
He logged only 30 snaps on offense against the Vikings, which accounted for 41 percent of the Steelers’ offensive snaps. But instead of seeing only one or two targets during the game, he saw six, catching four passes for 65 yards, and scoring only his second touchdown.
That included some genuinely excellent catches, among them a great simultaneous catch grab down the left sideline that saw him reach over the top of the defender in the air. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger praised him after the game, pointing out his heart and his desire to make plays.
In spite of the fact that he is in a contract year, he hasn’t been afforded the opportunities that would much benefit him from a free agent perspective. He has only played little more than 400 snaps on the season, seeing just 36 targets. He has caught 21 passes for 249 yards and two scores, but has only been credited with one drop, according to Pro Football Reference.
A game like Thursday’s reminds us of what he is capable of doing when he is at his best, though we must acknowledge that he hasn’t always been at his best, either. If we’re being honest, the Steelers’ skill positions are not so awash with talent that they just can’t afford to take any of them off the field.