We always talk about Mason Rudolph landing in the perfect spot in Pittsburgh, but I think Washington might be in an equally-good situation. Forget the HOFer tossing the rock to him from behind center in Ben Roethlisberger, the HOFer across the field demanding double teams in Antonio Brown, and the rookie phenom receiver from a year ago lined up at the slot in JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Aside from all of that, the offseason trade of Martavis Bryant, the Steelers’ deep threat from last year, pretty much clears the path for Washington to make a splash in Year 1.
Also wouldn’t be surprised if James Washington from Oklahoma State is a Week 1 starter for the #Steelers.
Trading Martavis Bryant and having Washington beat out Justin Hunter and DHB for a job is essentially the same as gift-wrapping him the job.
— Chris Raybon (@ChrisRaybon) June 13, 2018
And for the blueprint for success as a No. 3 option and a rookie, look no further than Smith-Schuster who came in at a similar spot — the No. 62 pick a year ago, Washington was No. 60 — and ended up coming on midway through the year and finishing hot, totaling 917 receiving yards and seven scores.
And Smith-Schuster, now the second-year vet, has been helping his elder rookie (Washington is 22 and Smith-Schuster is 21) get acclimated to the pro level.
“He has to be able to play inside and out,” said Smith-Schuster, who also expressed his excitement over the addition of Washington.
“He has to be able to block linebackers, safeties, going down in the trenches and doing those things. But also being on the outside, being able to run routes and catching balls over top.” [Penn Live]
The same article also talked about Washington’s four years in a hurry-up offense at Oklahoma State giving him a leg up when it comes to the conditioning needed to play a deep 16-plus game NFL slate.
Washington actually says he enjoys the huddles, although he’s still getting used to taking a break between snaps.
“It gives me a chance to catch my breath and then get going again,” Washington said. “I love that. It helps with the play calling, too, because you got time for your brain to process the whole play.”
Washington has already been making plays, throughout rookie minicamp, OTAs and now in mandatory minicamp, that serve as a preview of things to come for Steelers fans, but are old hat for most of us.
Rookie James Washington goes high for a back-of-end-zone catch. pic.twitter.com/M6nJmv7sXw
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) June 7, 2018
Aside from what he can do on the field, Washington is already earning praise for what he brings off of it.
“He’s willing,” said Pittsburgh wide receivers coach Darryl Drake. “He puts in the time. What a great young man he is, just a special young man. Again, that’s the joy of coaching when you got young men like that.”
A sentiment Mike Gundy echoed in a recent Q&A with Steelers.com.
“Well, they’re both very hard workers,” Gundy said of Washington and Mason Rudolph. “They take pride in their job, and the amount of time that they spend together here paid off for them and I see the same thing in the future in Pittsburgh…
“I’m sure James will be out there a lot quicker [than Rudolph] but they’ll work together and I would be shocked if we don’t see those two hooking up for years to come.”
And one part of getting out there early will be his ability to line up and play in multiple positions, which Drake said was an emphasis for Washington so far this offseason.
“That’s a tough thing for a rookie,” Drake said. “When you’re putting him in that many positions, having him to understand the whole offense because formationally he can be any spot.
“And as long as he continues to learn the concepts and understands what the concepts are, he can flourish.”