After a slow start to the season, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver James Washington has started to emerge as a potential X-factor for the team’s offense.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers used their 2018 second-round pick on Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington, they did so hoping he would develop into a potential starter. After a slow start to the 2019-20 season, Washington has started to reward the Steelers for their investment, emerging as an explosive target over the last couple weeks. Given the issues No. 1 receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has had with injuries and production, Washington’s recent breakout has come at the perfect time. Smith-Schuster should be back soon as the team’s top guy, but it’s the second-year man in Washington that could make this offense dangerous.
For most of the season, we have been waiting on Washington to break out. Unfortunately, between a lack of playing time and inadequate quarterback play, things took a while to finally click. There have certainly been flashes, such as his 45-yard catch in Week One’s blowout loss or his 40-yard reception against the Indianapolis Colts, but overall it seemed like he and Mason Rudolph struggled to get on the same page despite playing together in college.
Luckily for Washington, the Steelers decided Rudolph was no longer the guy and, almost immediately, Washington started looking like a star-in-the-making. Devlin “Duck” Hodges might not be the most talented guy, but he clearly has a connection with Washington, and unlike Rudolph, Hodges can actually put the ball on his receiver in a timely fashion. The result? A 79-yard touchdown catch-and-run in Week 12 turned into a huge 111-yard performance in Week 13 with Hodges throwing the ball. The Steelers have finally put together some semblance of a passing attack, and it’s been exciting to see Washington take advantage of that.
As good as Washington has been, it’s possible the best is yet to come. Once Smith-Schuster is finally healthy and able to play, he can take some of the pressure off Washington as defense’s focus on taking the former Pro Bowler out of the gameplan. Not to mention, as Hodges gets more comfortable as a starter his production should only improve, directly benefiting his receivers.
It isn’t always pretty, especially on offense, but the Pittsburgh Steelers control their playoff destiny. With an elite defense and a running game that seems to be finding its stride behind rookie Benny Snell, an improved passing game could be what cements this team’s playoff standing. James Washington’s emergence could be the key to making that potential improvement a reality.