The Steelers took Oklahoma State receiver James Washington with the 60th pick in the NFL Draft on Friday, near the end of the second round.
Washington is one of the most unique receiving prospects to enter the league in years, and this is one of the most exciting picks any team will make in the 2018 draft. Making it even cooler: Less than an hour after the Steelers took Rudolph, they took his college QB, Mason Rudolph, in the third round. Rudolph and Washington were arguably the most devastating QB-WR combination in college football over the last two years, and now they’ll stay together.
Washington is a brilliant all-around receiver.
He’s a threat on short, intermediate, and deep routes. He’s good as a slot receiver, and he’s good as an outside receiver. There’s no situation in which he can’t help an offense.
From a breakdown by retired NFL defensive end Stephen White:
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.
He has a unique build for a wideout — like, historically unique.
At the NFL Combine in March, Washington measured in at 5’11 and 213 pounds. That’s more running back size than receiver size. In fact, the last time the combine had a sub-6-foot receiver who weighed more 210 pounds was 2005.
Just two such players have been drafted this millennium, according to Pro Football Reference: Josh Reed by Buffalo in 2002 and Adrian Madise by Denver in 2003. Reed was a second-round pick who went on to a solid career; Madise was a special-teamer for one season before washing out of the league. That won’t happen to Washington.
Washington told SB Nation how he uses that size to his advantage against defensive backs.
“Strength and vertical,” he explained. “Most DBs that I went against are fairly small, and the fact that I’m 215, it really helps going up against a smaller guy. Just being fearless, not caring what’s gonna happen.” You can see Washington using his frame to box out cornerbacks on inside routes, almost like he’s a basketball player going for a rebound:
Washington put up preposterous numbers at Oklahoma State.
You don’t have to look like a wide receiver to be a great wide receiver. Washington went over 1,000 yards in each of his last three seasons at Oklahoma State, getting progressively better as his career went on. He had 4,472 receiving yards in a four-year career. He caught 39 touchdowns and ran for one more. In 2017, he won the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the best pass-catcher in the country. He had 1,549 yards in 13 games that year.
He’ll fit well with the Steelers, who had a spot open for him.
It’s not just that he’ll stay with Rudolph.
The Steelers just traded Martavis Bryant to the Raiders for a third-round pick. Bryant is a taller, longer player than Washington, but both of them are deep threats. Washington will be a good third wideout right away behind Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, though the Steelers will have to decide if their slot guy is Washington or Smith-Schuster.
Pittsburgh’s management has done a great job drafting receivers in recent seasons. They’ve found Brown, Smith-Schuster, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and Markus Wheaton with picks not earlier than the end of the second round. That they thought to take Washington at this point in the draft is a pretty good sign for the kind of player he could become.