Anatomy of a WR: James Washington

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

By G.Stryker

James Washington is an anomaly. He’s on the shorter side at 5’11”, but he’s stocky and weighs 213. Looking at him, he doesn’t have the build of a receiver. He is barrel chested, and looks more like a running back or strong safety, yet gets open deep as good as anyone in college football. He has 4 productive seasons at Oklahoma State registering over 1000 yards and 9 TDs his final 3 years. He improved each year in receptions and yardage, finishing last year over 1500 yards on 74 catches with 13 touchdowns.

Washington was the best deep ball receiver in college football last year (with a minimum of 50 catches) averaging a whopping 20.9 yards per reception. He’s not the fastest player, with a 4.54 40 yard dash, and he’s not the quickest, but he is explosive and has sneaky long speed.

Since Washington and quarterback Mason Rudolph, both played at Oklahoma State together for all 4 years, and are now both Steelers, this is a fun highlight reel of all of their touchdowns that they combined on:

0:00 Lined up as the Z running a post: Basket catch over the shoulder, pinkies together and elbows in.

0:12 Lined up as the Z running a post: Ball over the shoulder and high. Has to jump to high point the football and can only reach it with one hand. The reverse angle showed he deadened the point of the football with hs palm, allowing him to wrap his fingers around the ball and bring it into his body. Odell Beckham Jr does the same on one handed catches.

0:22 Lined up as the Z, fakes running up field, then comes back to the QB for a WR screen: Brings his hands up to catch the ball cleanly in front of his chest with both palms. Breaks an arm tackle and gets good blocking to hit the end zone untouched.

0:35 Lined up as the Z runs a fade: Ball again is thrown high and he has to jump and reach with one arm to get to it. Nice touch pass by Mason, as the ball is easily palmed by James.

0:42 Lined up as the Z, trips right, and runs a fly: Elbows in for the basket catch.

0:51 Lined up as the Z runs a delay fly: This is a nice pattern, he’s faking a short drag, then turns sharply upfield and runs the fly up the sideline. Another well executed basket catch over the shoulder. Pinkies together, elbows in, catching the ball with his hands.

1:05 Lined up as the Z runs a post: Ball is underthrown. He has to slow down and highpoint the football by jumping vertically, both palms are on the ball, pinkies together, and his elbows are slightly outside of his frame.

1:16 Lined up as the Z runs a fly: He is well defended and the ball is slightly underthrown, he jumps toward the defender to high point the football. It looks like the defender may have gotten a piece of the football, and he keeps his concentration to secure the football after a bobble.

1:29 Lined up as the Z runs a 10yd drag: Tight man coverage, shows a nice swim move at his cut and uses his upper body strength to rip through the defender. Reaches low with pinkies together, catching a low ball with both palms. Immediately secured, and bounces off a defender to score. Good, tough, contested play.

1:38 Lined up as the Z runs a post: Fully extends his arms to catch the ball at the extent of his catch radius on the run. Both palms on the football and keeps his balance to recover for the touchdown.

1:51 Lined up as the Z runs a fly: Contested football, slightly underthrown. Competes by highpointing his jump, over the defender, and catches the ball over the shoulder with both palms, pinkies together. Note: Washington is catching these balls with his hands, whereas most receivers will catch this ball as a chest/body trap, using their hands to trap the ball against the body. It is always more of a sure catch to use your hands to secure the football.

1:58 Lined up as the Z runs a cross with his inside receiver to a drag pattern at 18yds: Brings both hands up to catch the ball in front of his facemask, for a clean catch. Breaks 2 tackles, then gets up to speed in the open for the TD.

2:13 Lined up as the Z runs a post/fly: He gets so open on this play, I have to think he faked the post and turned it up for a fly pattern. He adjusts his speed to make a clean basket catch. Can’t tell if he used his body or not.

2:22 Lined up as the Z runs a quick out: Nice back shoulder throw by Rudolph, but James does push off to create space and traps the ball in his gut. In the pros, he can’t extend his arms to push off, he can create space, but he has to get his hands lower. This is offensive pass interference in the pros.

2:31 Lined up as the Z, runs a slant: Ball is thrown high. Gets his hands up quickly and snatches the ball in front of his face with both palms. Both feet are in and would be a TD in the NFL.

2:39 Lined up as the Z runs a post: Here it looked like the defender was sold on him running a fly, until he cuts his route inside to a post. Creates nice space by doing so. Looks like a body/gut trap with both palms and his body.

2:51 Lined up as the Z runs a post: You can see him headfake the fly on this pattern before cutting across the field on the post. This is how you win space with route running. It looks like a hands catch with pinkies in before he brings the ball in to a tuck. He is very comfortable catching the ball with his pinkies together. Gets up to speed and continues to accelerate for the TD.

3:04 Lined up as the Z runs a quick slant: Well defended and contact made early. Has both hands up in front of his chest, to secure the football cleanly with both palms.

3:11 Lined up as the Z runs a post: Jumps and extends with a defender on him to secure a nice hands first, basket catch.

3:21 Lined up as the Z runs a post: He adjusts beautifully to an underthrown ball, to jump and high point it in front of the defender, who falls. Both palms on the football at chest level. Really liked his route adjustment on this play.

3:32 Lined up as the Z runs a 10yd slant in off of play action: Catches the ball with both palms in front of his chest. Great technique. Stiff arms his first defender, then accelerates past the second would be tackler.

3:44 Lined up as the Z runs a fly off of play action: Mason leads him nicely past both defenders. Washington reaches out for the pinkie to pinkie catch and bobbles it slightly. He recovers quickly to secure the ball with his strong hands.

3:59 Lined up as the Z runs a deep slant in: Makes a nice false step outside to start his break, and freezes the defender a bit, so when he cut across, in front of the defender, he had an open body to the QB. Secures the catch perfectly with both palms at chest level. Uses his body nicely to shield the defender so only he can get to the football.

4:04 Not sure if he lined up in the slot or the Z here, but still running a post: Gets his hands up in front of his chest for an immediate palm catch, then shows a great stiff arm downfield. He didn’t use it early, he timed his arm strike to when the defender started to lunge. This assured the space he needed to keep his feet.

4:15 Lined up as the Z, presnap runs into the backfield to lineup next to the RB, not sure if this was supposed to be an I formation presnap: At the snap, play action, Washington immediately turns and runs toward the outside of the field, using his speed to get to the edge, untouched. Reaches behind himself slightly to get both palms on the football, thumbs together, at head height.

4:21 Lined up at the X, trips left, and runs an in: Got both hands up, thumbs together, to secure the football with his palms, in front of his numbers.

4:30 Lined up as the Z runs a fly: Beats the jam at the line of scrimmage, and the ball is slightly underthrown. Has to jump and catches the ball with both pinkies together. I’ve never seen a receiver catch the ball this way so often, but he’s still getting both palms on the football to secure a hands catch every time.

4:39 Lined up as the Z runs a post: Gets space behind the receiver for his patented pinkie to pinkie palms first catch.

4:44 Lined up as the Z runs a post: Again pinkies together basket catch, secured with his hands.

4:53 Lined up as the Z runs a fly: Fakes the post and gets the defender to bite, giving him a free run upfield and another perfect pinkies together, elbows in, basket catch over the shoulder.

5:01 Lined up as the X runs a post, trips left: Looks like the underneath pattern of his nearest slot receiver helped to get him open deep by freezing the safety. He slightly traps the ball with his chest, but mostly catches the ball with his hands, pinkies together.


What a fun way to break down highlights, with 2 new steelers showing what they did best in college. I think their chemistry will help them in training camp, as it did in minicamp, to gain a level of comfort and make plays. This is an advantage for both players, as their familiarity will make each other look better on the field.

I can see why the Steelers wanted him. They just lost their deep pattern, Z receiver in Martavis Bryant. Just about every play, Washington was lined up as the Z receiver. He mostly ran posts and flys, so may be seen as a one trick pony. He’s not the fastest, but he sets up his routes well by creating space just ahead of the defenders with head fakes, and false steps. Since he isn’t the fastest, he has to continue to do this in the pros to get space. He’s not as fast as Bryant, but he runs the deep patterns better, and adjusts to the ball in the air, exceptionally well.

He is also one of the most comfortable receivers I’ve seen, catching balls over his shoulder. He loves catching the ball with his pinkies together, and even jumps to do it at times, in traffic. He will have to highpoint the ball better in the pros, otherwise these contested throws can be defended by knocking an arm away by the quicker NFL defenders.

Washington is not quick. He has no short area wiggle, and takes some time getting up to speed. As a result, I think it limits him a bit, as bubble screens/WR screens, and end arounds will not work for him in the pros. He is going to be stronger than most cornerbacks. His thick chest and strong arms, make short work of jams, and he can stiff-arm to create space. Though he has great top line speed, it takes him time to reach it. I think defensive backs miss evaluate his speed, as he continues to accelerate with each stride.

Washington’s hands are better than I expected, though his body technique can be improved. He is only a Z receiver in the Steeler offense. He’s not quick enough for the slot, and he’s doesn’t run a varied, polished route tree, for the X. He will be competing with Justin Hunter for the Z receiver in 3 WR sets. This will make for one of the most contested camp battles, and it should be fun to watch those two compete.

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