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Why the Steelers are lucky to draft James Washington

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Is he an inside guy? Outside guy? Deep threat? Possession WR? Retired NFL DE Stephen White says: Yes.

Valero Alamo Bowl - Oklahoma State v Colorado Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Update: The Steelers picked James Washington in the second round.

James Washington runs so smoothly, it looks like he’s floating across the field. One second it looks like he’s jogging, the next — skrrrrrrt — he’s zooming right past a cornerback.

I saw Washington ran a 4.54 at the combine, which isn’t exactly blazing speed, but I didn’t see many corners keeping up with him in the four games I recently watched. Hell, on several deep balls, Washington already had a couple of steps on his man, but had to slow down because his quarterback underthrew him.

That allowed the defender to catch up, but to Washington’s credit, it didn’t stop him from making the catch.

That is a lot harder than it looks, I can promise you.

Washington routinely made tough catches look easy, and that’s one of the hallmarks of the wide receivers I see as being worthy of first-round picks.

Having said that, I also appreciated the fact Washington made all of the “easy” catches, too. He didn’t have a single drop in those four games, and his hands were outstanding. I’m not sure if I have ever broken down a receiver who didn’t have at least one. That gives me a lot of confidence that no matter where Washington is drafted, if he stays healthy, he is going to be productive.

One catch that really stood out to me was against Pittsburgh, where he had a cornerback draped all over him on a five-yard slant and made the catch in stride, then turned on the jets and gained more than 20 yards.

Most good college receivers are used to getting open relatively easily, so they make a lot of uncontested catches. But what happens when they get to the NFL and every corner is good, so instead of being wide open, a guy is right on their hip? Can they make catches under duress?

I know for sure that Washington can.

There was a play that drove home for me just how hard Washington concentrates on the ball. Ironically enough, it came on an incompletion. Against Oklahoma, he was trying to make a catch on a post route when the defender contacted him a hair early.

As you can see, Washington bobbled the catch because of the contact, but look at his eyes as the ball bounces around in the air. Even though he was not able to haul it in, that was some impressive hand-eye coordination to even have a shot at catching it.

Washington can win one-on-one deep and be a “possession receiver” as well, and that’s about as much of a win/win as you can get.

Oh, and did I also mention that he’s a willing blocker?

Because yeah, he gets after people, too.

I love watching big play receivers who don’t mind getting their hands dirty and blocking for their teammates. It seems like a little thing, but it shows they are unselfish and willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Probably my only concern when it comes to Washington is the question of whether he plays more inside in the slot or out wide.

He didn’t move around much in those four games, mostly lining up wide on the right side of the formation. Since he’s 5’11 and 213 pounds, some teams might see him as more of a slot receiver, however, and that might be adjustment for him, after running so many deep routes in college.

I don’t see that as being much of an issue. Washington is a good wide receiver, no matter where you decide to line him up.

I see Washington as a first round-talent who might slide to the second round because he isn’t over 6-feet tall and didn’t run a blazing 40.

From what I saw, I believe he is plenty tall enough and plenty fast enough to excel. He might start off a little slow if he ends up in the slot, but I see very productive seasons ahead if he can stay healthy. He could easily be a No. 1 receiver, but he will at least be a strong No. 2.

Since I don’t have access to all-22 for college games, I use the next best thing for my draft profiles and go to draftbreakdown.com, where they post the TV copy of a bunch of top prospects’ games already cut up and ready to go. For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched James Washington play against Pitt, TCU, Texas, and Oklahoma. Those represented the third, fourth, seventh, and ninth games on Oklahoma State’s schedule last season, respectively.