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2018 NFL Draft Reaction: James Washington Goes to the Pittsburgh Steelers

James Washington was drafted 60th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers and was the seventh wide receiver selected in the 2018 NFL draft.

The recipient of the 2017 Biletnikoff award, Washington fell in the finals of our WR Tournament. Although Washington used all four years of eligibility, he was a prolific producer at Oklahoma State. Additionally, he broke out at 20.8 years old and grades out as the No. 9 receiver per Anthony Amico’s WR prospect model.

Before analyzing Washington’s fit with the Steelers, let’s look at his prospect profile.

James Washington, Oklahoma State, 5-11, 213


Year Games Rec ReYds ReTDs MsYd msTD DR
2014 12 28 456 6 0.14 0.32 0.23
2015 13 53 1087 10 0.24 0.29 0.26
2016 13 71 1380 10 0.33 0.34 0.34
2017 13 74 1549 13 0.31 0.35 0.33
Career 51 226 4472 39 0.26 0.33 0.29

As a freshman, Washington posted a 28/456/6 receiving line. Although the results weren’t flashy, he led the team with six touchdown catches, a mark that ranked fourth nationally among true freshmen. Alongside quarterback Mason Rudolph, Washington’s receiving production skyrocketed. Over his sophomore and junior years, he posted receiving lines of 53/1087/10 and 71/1380/10 respectively.

Returning for your senior year is a big red flag, but Washington’s decision to stay in Stillwater may have increased his draft stock. Despite a plateauing Dominator Rating, he finished the season No. 1 in raw receiving yards. He was also one of the top deep threats in the country with 20.9 yards per reception.1

Unfortunately, Washington’s athletic marks (4.54 forty, 34.5-inch vert, 7.11 agility) aren’t splashy enough to offset his average height/weight profile, but a top-12 finish in the Phenom Index should allay some of the concerns around a Freak Score of 51.2

Beyond the decision to return to school, Washington’s rookie age is a mild concern. WRs who play their rookie season at age 22 are far less likely to experience success than their younger competitors.


Similar trends are true for breakout age, although success is still a solid possibility. Approximately thirty-five percent of the top-100 picks with Washington’s breakout age have reached the 200-point plateau in at least one of their first three seasons.

Referencing Kevin Cole’s regression tree for evaluating prospects, we can see that Washington’s career market share of receiving yards is light, but his extremely high yards per reception balances some of the concerns associated with this.

WR Regression Tree

The Landing Spot

Washington lands on a team where he is likely going to contribute right away. The Steelers traded Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for the 79th overall pick. Bryant’s exit frees up approximately 1,220 air yards.3 As a result, the Steelers trail only the New England Patriots and the Arizona Cardinals in available 2018 air yards. Given Washington’s reputation as one of the top deep threats in the country, it’s likely he earns playing time immediately.

The WR depth chart behind Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster consists of Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Hunter. Washington should be able to leapfrog both players during training camp, and he projects to slot in as the WR3 by Week 1.4

Most importantly, Washington’s presence as a deep threat means he does not need to earn an outsize target share to be fantasy relevant. Ben Roethlisberger’s passer air conversion ratio (PACR) on deep throws (25 yards or more) is around league average.

Ben Roethlisberger PACR

Roethlisberger’s ability to connect on deep throws is good news for Washington’s fantasy outlook. Landing on a team that has historically ranked well above league average in pass attempts per game should also boost in Washington’s outlook in the short term.

 Given Washington’s favorable landing spot, he’ll likely ascend a tier or two from his current Tier 5 ranking. He should take advantage of the opportunity available in Pittsburgh and be someone to consider in the early-second round of rookie drafts. His deep threat ability fits well in best ball formats where he becomes an appealing late flier. Washington has mouthwatering upside as a Steeler.

  1. During his junior and sophomore seasons, Washington averaged 19.4 yards per reception and 20.5 yards per reception respectively.  (back)
  2. On a recent podcast appearance, Jon Moore noted that had Washington declared last season, he would have had a top-3 score in last year’s Phenom Index.  (back)
  3. 25 percent of the Steelers’ 2017 Air Yards  (back)
  4. Additionally, it’s highly unlikely that Jesse James or Vance McDonald eat into any of Washington’s projected workload.  (back)

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