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Identifying the Next WR2 in the Steel City

Trying to identify the next long-term WR2 in Pittsburgh is a fun offseason exercise. JuJu Smith-Schuster will regain control of the WR1 role with a presumable clean bill of health as well as the hopeful return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But two intriguing candidates are vying to play opposite Smith-Schuster in what could once again be an explosive Steelers offense.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the dynasty outlooks for Diontae Johnson and James Washington.

College Overview

Taking a quick peek at the incoming metrics and production profiles of Johnson and Washington, one thing that jumps out initially is how similar they are from an athletic standpoint.

Washington managed nearly the same athletic measurements, but at a full 30 pounds heavier.

Once you add collegiate production, Washington has an even greater advantage, with a younger breakout age and three seasons with over 1,000 yards at a Power 5 school. Johnson’s big advantage is that unlike Washington, he declared early after his redshirt junior season. But is that enough to overcome Washington’s edge in production, athleticism, and draft capital? Not quite.

Dynasty Edge – Washington

Respective Rookie Reviews

During his rookie season (2018), Washington played behind two wide receivers who combined for over 2,700 receiving yards and 22 receiving touchdowns. His opportunities were going to be limited anyway, but he struggled to make much of an impact from an efficiency standpoint.

As for Johnson, his rookie season (2019) resulted in a stronger showing from an efficiency perspective. As Blair Andrews notes, you shouldn’t fade the efficiency.

Dynasty Edge – Johnson

2019 Review

The loss of Roethlisberger and the ensuring quarterback carousel derailed any hopes of Pittsburgh repeating their 2018 season. However, there were still promising signs of growth and potential from both Johnson and Washington.

While their end-of-season stat lines were fairly similar, how they went about garnering their production was quite different. You can see the difference in their yards-per-target and yards-per-reception stats.

Johnson: 7.39 YPT / 11.53 YPR

Washington: 9.19 YPT / 16.7 YPR

Johnson also posted a stronger yards-after-catch (YAC) per reception number than Washington by a score of 5.2 to 3.9.

To oversimplify their respective roles on the Steeler offense, Johnson played more of a possession receiver role whereas Washington was the big-play, deep-threat receiver.

Check out Johnson’s 2019 receiving stats by location on the field:

 

And then look at Washington’s 2019:

 

The bulk of Johnson’s targets and yards come within 14 yards of the line of scrimmage whereas Washington’s come from 15 yards or further downfield.

Based on the data and where each receiver finished both overall and regarding individual categories, Johnson appears to have a safer, more predictable floor compared to Washington. However, Johnson lacks the potential ceiling of Washington on a given week. Check out the massive difference in air yards.

Depending on how you want to structure your lineup and chase points, Johnson provides a more predictable floor whereas Washington provides week-winning ability.

Dynasty Edge – Both (depending on whether your roster needs Johnson’s safer floor or Washington’s upside)

Current ADP

This is where some serious differences start to reveal themselves. A closer look at the ADP differences between Johnson and Washington makes the value impossible to miss.

Johnson is currently being drafted as the WR48. This is a tremendous price for a promising rookie whose historical comps indicate he’s on the verge of a sophomore breakout. But there are some intriguing options around his ADP that make him a tougher pick. Brandin Cooks (WR45), Mecole Hardman (WR46), and Marvin Jones (WR47) are all being taken right ahead of Johnson. While I would for sure take Cooks and Hardman over Johnson, I may take Jones over him as well depending on the makeup of my roster.

Washington, on the other hand, is an absolute steal. He is being drafted as the WR65 in early best ball drafts. Jack Miller recently wrote about how Washington is someone you need to target in the final rounds. To add more fuel to this proverbial fire, two team defenses and 11 kickers are being drafted ahead of Washington. If that doesn’t scream value then I don’t know what will.

Dynasty Edge – Both (depending on the makeup of your roster, Johnson’s historical comps and efficiency make him a value, but Washington has similar upside at a much lower cost.)

Based on the most up-to-date information available, and considering each piece of the overall argument, I prefer Washington over Johnson in dynasty leagues. While Johnson showed out well in his rookie season and likely has a safer floor, the massive difference in ADP makes Washington and his penchant for air yards and big games too hard to pass up. Johnson, however, is going off the board in a range where you can get similar production with arguably less risk. 

Both wide receivers will have a role, and both have value, but if Washington hits at his current ADP, we are looking one of the biggest potential breakouts of the upcoming season.

Image Credit: Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: James Washington.

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