James Washington does not feel he was properly utilized in his four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the wide receiver told USA Today after signing with the Dallas Cowboys earlier this week, saying that he still has room to grow as a receiver.
Washington was the Steelers’ second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but was quickly overshadowed by two players taken after him: Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool.
Washington had his best season in his second year in 2019, when he and fellow Oklahoma State product Mason Rudolph teamed up while Ben Roethlisberger was injured. Washington finished that season with 44 catches for 735 yards — both career highs — and three touchdowns.
But in 2020, Roethlisberger’s return and Claypool being added to the room seemed to benefit players other than Washington, who fell into the No. 4 receiver position on the Steelers over his final two seasons in Pittsburgh, and had 54 catches for 677 yards combined in this two years. He requested a trade before the 2021 season that was not granted by the team.
“I feel like with everything that transpired at Pittsburgh, I didn’t really get to show my full self,” Washington said. We had a crowded room at receiver. But nothing against anyone else, I feel like there’s a lot of meat left on the bone. I didn’t really get to fully develop myself and make strides like I wanted to.”
The Steelers offense of the last two seasons also greatly struggled at moving the ball down the field vertically, which was Washington’s specialty at Oklahoma State. He averaged 19.8 yards per catch with the Pokes. With the Steelers, he got to 16.7 yards per catch in 2019, but in his three seasons with Roethlisberger as quarterback, averaged 13.6, 13.1 and 11.9 this past season.
He’ll likely be placed in the slot in Dallas, with CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup retaining outside roles. That’s not a place Washington played much at all in Pittsburgh, but he’s not shying away from the challenge.
“I want to grow my game to be who I was in college, because I feel like who I was in college is who I’m meant to be,” Washington said. “I want to be that downfield threat, that physical guy, get involved in the run game. I want to do everything.”
Washington’s deal with the Cowboys is a prove-it contract. He signed for just one year and $1.1875 million. He’s hoping that he’ll be able to show the receiver he can be when utilized to his full potential in an NFL setting.
“I’m going to take full advantage of this opportunity in Dallas,” he said. “Do what I can so that they get 110% of me and I can reach my full potential.”