Tim Benz: James Washington’s production for Steelers more important than title | TribLIVE.com
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Tim Benz: James Washington’s production for Steelers more important than title

Tim Benz
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AP
Steelers wide receiver James Washington had four receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown in the team’s preseason opener against Tampa Bay.

James Washington had a very nice performance in the preseason opener against Tampa Bay. The second-year Steelers wide receiver caught four passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.

He got high praise from observers locally and nationally.

Now some are wondering whether he is going to supplant Donte Moncrief as the No. 2 receiver alongside JuJu Smith-Schuster.

In fact, that debate was on the table even before training camp started.

A few thoughts on that topic:

1. I think it’s too soon to ask.

2. I don’t know that Moncrief even had the No. 2 job in the first place.

3. I don’t know how much it matters.

Let me address that last notion first.

Part of the reason I was so geeked about the Steelers getting a value pick like Washington in the second round last year is that I thought he’d be a Martavis Bryant replacement. I viewed him as a dangerous third option on the outside.

I wasn’t expecting him to be a starter in 2018 since JuJu Smith-Schuster was coming off a such a great rookie year and … pfft … like the Steelers would ever trade Antonio Brown before his career end …

… Oh. Yeah. Then all that happened.

In terms of game-planning, the difference is negligible. The Steelers are so often in three (or four) wide-receiver sets, being the second option after JuJu Smith-Schuster will largely be a floating title and determined post-snap.

Being the starter/second receiver in two-receiver formations may be determined by who blocks better in the running game on first-and-10 more than any other measuring stick.

As for the first two points, they kind of go together.

Remember, it’s only August. Washington showed promise in training camp and the preseason last year. So let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Furthermore, how can we exclude Moncrief from the competition if he hasn’t even played a preseason game as a Steeler? He drew nothing but praise until hurting a finger in practice leading up to the first preseason game.

Plus, no one ordained Moncrief a starter anyway. An initial team depth chart to start camp is hardly written in stone.

Yes, he signed a $9 million, two-year contract. That’s not exactly long-term starting-commitment money given the position, though.

Look at Adam Thielen in Minnesota. He’ll make $8.1 million against the cap this year alone as the second-highest-paid Vikings receiver behind Stefon Diggs ($12.4 million).

Giving Moncrief that much to be the third receiver if Washington emerges as No. 2 is fine. After all, Washington will only make $1.023 million against the cap in his second year on a rookie contract. So it all comes out in the wash.

I was a huge fan of Washington when he was in college at Oklahoma State. Since arriving in Pittsburgh, he has always seemed like a genuine person and a hard worker.

I was doing cartwheels when the Steelers took him as their second pick a year ago in the NFL draft.

So, no one in the media was more disappointed than I was when I pumped his tires so much and he came up with a lame rookie season (16 catches, 217 yards, one touchdown).

Hence, no one in the media is more excited than I am at the prospect of Washington living up to last year’s hype and busting out in 2019 as a potential starter.

But “productive third receiver” is just as good.

So long as Moncrief carries his own weight, too.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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