Pittsburgh Steelers receiver James Washington has been the subject of many debates as the regular season inches closer to its arrival. Washington has undoubtedly dealt with high expectations since being selected by Pittsburgh as a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, expectations that were molded by JuJu Smith-Schuster’s strong rookie campaign in 2017.
Bt Washington’s rookie year was met with criticism, as the Oklahoma State product recorded just 16 receptions for 217 yards and one touchdown last season despite playing in nearly 50% of the team’s offensive snaps. Following the signing of receiver Donte Moncrief, many suggested the organization may be weary of Washington’s minor contributions.
After failing to meet expectations during his rookie season, 2019 appears to be a pivotal year for Washington’s growth as a pass catcher.
Washington’s answer for his critics? Four catches, 84 yards and a touchdown in his preseason debut in last week’s action against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
While fans were giddy about his performance, head coach Mike Tomlin re-assured that the Steelers were looking for more than a one game show.
Tomlin when asked after that first preseason game about what the team would like to see during the rest of Washington’s preseason action:
“A high level of consistency in play, to look like a guy that has done a lap around the track like we are asking of all guys moving into their second year.”
Consistency is key in the NFL, and in order for Washington to assert himself as the Steelers’ secondary option behind Smith-Schuster, the ability to string together consecutive strong performances is imperative. On Saturday night, Washington did just that.
Washington led the Steelers in receiving yards for the second straight week, hauling in 78 yards on four receptions. Although failing to score a touchdown in Week 2 of the preseason, Washington managed to establish himself as a formidable threat on the field.
.@steelers @JamesWashington @CowboyFB is going to be the next WR to step up and be a factor with the #Steelers. The name of his game is COMPETE, in the quietest manner possible. No noise from #13, only production. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/Oj99PFB53s
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) August 18, 2019
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) August 18, 2019
While two weeks still remain for the Steelers coaching staff to organize their depth chart, the early performances of Washington have elevated him to No. 2 talk in Pittsburgh.
If our initial glances of Washington gives any indication of what 2019 may look like, the Steelers may again have the league’s next break-out receiver.
Steelers Sign another from XFL, DE/LB Dewayne Hendrix
The Steelers have signed former Pitt defensive end Dewayne Hendrix, Steelers Now has confirmed. The news of Hendrix’s signing was first reported by NFL Draft Diamonds.
Hendrix, 24, was most recently with the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL. He also spent time on the practice squad of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins last season.
In five games with St. Louis, Hendrix made four tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and one quarterback hurry.
A two-year starter at Pitt after transferring from Tennessee, Hendrix finished his Panthers career with 50 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. He played in 25 games total for Pitt from 2016-18 and made 24 starts.
Hendrix missed the 2016 season with a season-ending ankle injury suffered on the first series of the game. He sat out 2015 at Pitt after playing in seven games with the Volunteers as a true freshman.
At 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, Hendrix played defensive end at Pitt, but could be more suited to be an outside linebacker in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. He’s essentially the same height and weight as starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree.
What to Expect from a 38-Year-Old Starting Quarterback
On March 2nd, Ben Roethlisberger turned 38. When the NFL season starts in September, Ben will be 38 years old and entering his 17th year as the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even at this age, Ben is reaching rarefied air. Since 1969, there have been only 54 quarterbacks that played into their age 38 season. Of those 54, 46 of them started a game and just 22 finished the season with starts in more than half the games that season.
Discounting the fact that Roethlisberger is recovering from elbow surgery, what can we expect from a 38-year-old quarterback? Surprisingly, the answer is plenty.
From 1969-1999 quarterbacks playing in their age 38 season on average threw for 2,665 yards with 15 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Not gaudy numbers, but some of that has to do with the eras in which these quarterbacks played. Even more encouraging, they had a 63% winning percentage.
From 1969-1999, five Hall of Fame quarterbacks played to age 38. Some experienced more success than others.
In 1978 Fran Tarkenton threw for 25 touchdowns and over 3,400 yards but tossed up 32 interceptions and went 8-7-1 on the season. In 1983, Ken Stabler went 7-7 at age 38, but threw 18 interceptions against only 9 touchdowns and fewer than 2,000 yards. Warren Moon went 9-6 in 1994, but had more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (18). In 1999, Dan Marino went 5-6 at age 38, throwing 12 touchdowns against 17 interceptions.
On the positive side, all-time great Joe Montana had 3,283 yards through the air and a 2:1 TD to INT ratio (18-9) with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994 and John Elway won a Super Bowl in his age 38 season. Elway may have been relying on Terrell Davis at that time, but still put up nearly 3,000 yards along with 22 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.
As sports science and training regimes have improved, it’s become more commonplace to find quarterbacks 38 and older still having success, or even dominating in the league.
In 2007, Brett Favre at 38 threw for over 4,000 yards and added 28 touchdowns to only 15 interceptions as the Packers went 13-3. Kurt Warner a year after his Super Bowl loss to the Steelers still had plenty in the tank at 38. The veteran quarterback started 15 games, going 10-5 with 3,753 yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 picks. Even journeyman Josh McCown put up 18 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions and 2,900 yards in his age 38 season.
Peyton Manning, 4,727 yards, 39 TD, 15 INT (12-4)
Tom Brady, 4,770 yards, 36 TD, 7 INT (12-4)
Drew Brees, 4,334 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT (11-5)
However, depending on how you view Roethlisberger, a closer proxy may be former Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. Rivers’ age 38 season was statistically one of his worst as the team went 5-11. Rivers threw for 4,600 yards but threw nearly as many interceptions (20) as touchdowns (23).
What will Roethlisberger be like when he comes back? If history offers any clues, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a highly effective player on his return. Quarterbacks at his level in this era– i.e. future Hall of Famers–have historically had success at age 38 and beyond.
It’s impossible to predict when a player will “lose it”. But as long as his elbow is healed and there’s not a significant loss of arm strength, there’s no reason to think that Roethlisberger won’t be able to return to his per-injury, high-level of play.
NFL Quarterbacks at age 38, >7 starts, since 2000
All data from Pro Football Reference
What Eric Ebron Can Bring to the Steelers
When the Steelers signed free agent tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year, $12 million dollar deal, these kinds of performances probably helped convince them to make the offer.
The Steel City’s new tight end.
— NFL (@NFL) March 23, 2020
The 6-foot-4, 253-pound tight end shows fantastic body control, great feet, and a penchant for making combat catches over multiple defenders. What’s not to like?
Over the past two seasons, the former 1st round pick of the Detroit Lions is 8th in receptions (97) and yards (1125) and first in touchdowns (17) amongst all tight ends.
Now the bad news. The kind of things you don’t see in highlight videos.
Ebron is last in the NFL over the last two seasons in catch percentage at just 59.9% (50 receptions minimum). That’s 10 points lower than Steelers starter Vance McDonald over the same time period. In 2019 with the Colts, Ebron took a major step back–which can be somewhat excused with Andrew Luck’s retirement–starting only two games. Ebron also had his receptions and yards halved from 2018, 66 to 31 and 750 to 375.
Obviously the Steelers are hoping to get the 2018 version of Ebron that racked up 14 touchdowns and 44 first downs and was sixth in the league in receptions and fifth in yards.
If Ebron can rediscover his red zone magic and thrive with a veteran quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger they could have a dynamic pair of tight ends between he and Vance McDonald.
A big if, but a healthy McDonald and a revitalized Ebron would give the Steelers a receiving tight end combination in the top echelon of the league at a cap hit of under $10,000,000 dollars.