Last season for the Pittsburgh Steelers was a year of building relationships. There were a lot of new faces making an appearance with this offensive group for the first time in their young careers. You pair that with getting a fully healthy Ben Roethlisberger back into the mix and those relationships are just bound to form, and form quickly. That exact sort of bond is what we saw starting to build throughout all of last season, especially between Roethlisberger and his receiving core — something we all hope will continue into next season.
Although strong connections were built all of last season with many players, there were still some names that did not get much attention. JuJu Smith-Schuster is a name that had already been established as a vital player, not only to this football team but to Roethlisberger, which goes a long way. Rookie Chase Claypool and 2nd year veteran Diontae Johnson were both two names that made their mark on this team in more ways than one. Claypool made his mark on this offense quickly with a big catch in his first game of his NFL career and continuing on being in the right place at the right time, gaining his future Hall of Fame quarterback’s trust as the season went on. While Johnson still did have a solid season, it took him a bit longer than most to get comfortable with Roethlisberger behind center. Johnson’s first season in the NFL was with backup quarterback Mason Rudolph instead of with what would have been his starting QB and as you can imagine, it was a bit of struggle to start to find consistency.
That struggle was something that ended up carrying into the first half of last season for Johnson. In 2020, Johnson struggled to physically bring the ball in. Targets were not an issue, we saw Roethlisberger go in Johnson’s direction on multiple occasions, even when he was struggling. It was sort of like Roethlisberger wanted Johnson to know that he didn’t lose faith in him, that he trusted him. That trust, with time, eventually translated into results, which was the plan exactly.
A name that might have gotten lost in all of the chaos of the wide receiver position is the name James Washington. Although the results were not there in 2020, there were multiple occasions where Roethlisberger was vocal about giving Washington the ball more, wanting the offense to trust him in key situations just like Roethlisberger does himself. He has been consistent when on the field, but that has been exactly the problem — getting that opportunity on the field. With Claypool’s emergence last season, Washington struggled to find the field especially over Smith-Schuster and Johnson each. It will be interesting to me to see if Washington will get some significant playing time this season, especially after his quarterback having his back and vocalizing his trust in him.
The wide receiver position is one that this team has an influx of. It’s not a bad problem to have. Anytime you can say you are more than comfortable with anyone we throw out there at that position, confidence must be at an all time high. No matter who Roethlisberger is throwing the ball to this season, it is safe to say that results will come. Where my eyes will be this season is where Washington falls into the mix. In my opinion, Johnson and Claypool will be the primary outside targets with Smith-Schuster manning the slot position. The good thing about Washington is that he is versatile at both the outside and inside positions, giving him an opportunity to showcase what he can do at many positions. Now the only questions that arise are will he see the field more in 2021?
Would you like to see the Steelers feed Washington the ball more? Comment below.