Now that the 2021 season is over, bringing yet another year of disappointment, a fifth 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 season and into the offseason 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: Down
Reasoning: The fourth-year wide receiver did not produce, nor get a substantial amount of playing time in which to produce, in a contract year.
James Washington played 526 snaps as a rookie before seeing a career high a year later with 634. His snap count dipped down to 486 last season. This season, it was even less, down to 480, in spite of the fact that JuJu Smith-Schuster missed most of the season due to injury.
That’s not going to be easy to explain to teams in March when he hits free agency. During his contract year, he caught just 24 passes on 44 targets for only 285 yards, a career-low 11.9 yards per reception. He had two touchdowns, his fewest since his rookie year, and just nine total first downs.
You can make the argument that he was held back, not just because of the offense in which he played, or the quarterback who was throwing him the ball (deep-ball inaccuracy where go routes are among his most common), but because of some sort of favoritism.
Even if there is merit to the latter claim, the bottom line is that his numbers are extremely pedestrian, and the fact of the matter is that he still played 480 snaps. That’s still a good amount of playing time. But how do you explain nine first downs on 24 receptions?
His average depth of target was still robust. What he didn’t do this year was excel in making defenders miss or gaining yards after the catch, something he was better at in the past, especially last year. I’m sure Washington can’t wait to get out of Pittsburgh, but I’m not sure there’s going to be a team out there ready to guarantee him 480 offensive snaps in 2021 based on his tape.
He’ll get signed, make no mistake. But he’ll have to earn playing time. Maybe he’ll even be out there playing special teams, covering kickoffs. Right now, though, I think he’ll settle for that just for the chance to get a fresh start outside of Pittsburgh. He already likely wanted out based on multiple reports of a trade request.