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James Washington Could Thrive in Role as No. 3 Option With Steelers



Pittsburgh took last year’s Biletnikoff winner and Oklahoma State’s all-time leading receiver with their second round pick. It filled a huge need for a Steelers offense needing to replace its No. 3 wide receiver role vacated by Martavis Bryant, who was traded to the Raiders.

Recently-named offensive coordinator, Randy Fichtner, didn’t mince words when describing his newest weapon.

“Tough guy, runs fast, scores touchdowns.”

That’s about as apt a description as I’ve heard for Washington’s on-field persona. So how quickly does it translate to him getting on the field?

The Steelers boasted one of the top receiving units in the NFL last season and were headlined by probably the league’s best in Antonio Brown.

Brown led the NFL with 1,533 receiving yards last year, and has been in the top 5 each of the last five seasons (leading the league also back in 2014). He’s a future Hall of Famer who could very likely hit 10,000 career receiving yards in Week 1.

JuJu Smith-Schuster contributed steadily early from the slot during his rookie season before exploding for 193 yards and a score in Week 8. He followed that up with a 97-yard game (his third-straight with a TD) the next week, and two more 100-plus yard outings down the stretch.

But this offseason, Pittsburgh traded its No. 3 option, “Z” wide receiver Martavis Bryant, to Oakland leaving a significant void in Ben Roethlisberger’s arsenal.

Big Ben himself saw the Washington’s selection for what it was, a would-be replacement for Bryant.

“When that happened, obviously we knew they would try to address that position in the draft,” Roethlisberger said according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I know a little bit about that kid from Oklahoma State, watched some of his highlights. A lot of people are comparing him to JuJu [Smith-Schuster]. If we can get JuJu’s productivity out of him, that’s awesome.”

His OC, Ficthner, has seen a lot more than just highlights of the smalltown kid from West Texas, and he thinks Washington’s got what it takes — especially his versatility — to make him a household name in Steel City.

“In the past and over the years here, we’ve had guys from Mike Wallace to Nate Washington — fast guys that play one spot and they can do one thing and hopefully in their time and in their growth might be able to do more than one thing — be more than potentially a one-trick pony,” Ficthner said. “This guy comes in with several tricks.”

“It allows you to put him in a lot of different positions,” Fichtner continued. “You can ask him to potentially run underneath routes, over-the-top routes, intermediate routes. You can potentially even use him in protection-type situations. We’ve done lots of those things in the past with Hines [Ward], we’ve done it with guys like JuJu [Smith-Schuster]. That’s kind of the position that he’s in.”

Washington’s record-setting QB from college may be accompanying him to Pittsburgh, but awaiting him is an established future Hall of Famer who has captained a top-5 passing offense in the NFL the last four seasons. And Big Ben likes to spread it around.

There will be chances for the reigning Biletnikoff winner to show off his skills and plenty of star power to garner most of the defense’s attention.

In three of the last five seasons, Roethlisberger’s No. 3 wide receiver has gotten at least 76 targets (79 each in 2015 and 2017), and that’s not including tight ends or running back Le’Veon Bell who is heavily featured in the passing game himself (106 targets last year).

The good news for Washington is that after Brown and Smith-Schuster only Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Hunter have any experience at wideout for Pittsburgh, and they combined for just 13 total targets last season.

For the first time in a long time, James Washington won’t be the top name on the whiteboard for opposing defenses. This could be fun to watch.



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