This is the time of year where I start drafting in earnest and am starting to notice that I’m regularly ending up with specific players at certain points in the draft. I wrote about Kenyan Drake earlier this month, and another player that I’m getting in just about every draft is Pittsburgh receiver James Washington.
According to Best Ball 10s ADP, he’s going off the board as the No. 43 receiver at the 102nd pick, which lands him in the ninth round. At DRAFT, he’s the No. 49 receiver off the board at pick No. 115, on average, which places him in the 10th round. I currently have him ranked No. 31 in full PPR formats, so I think he’ll return sixth- or seventh-round value.
The former second-rounder was highly productive in college, racking up 145 catches for 2,929 yards and 23 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Oklahoma State. He won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver in 2017. The Steelers made him the seventh receiver off the board in the 2018 draft.
He was a favorite of #ReceptionPerception creator Matt Harmon as he evaluated last year’s draft class. Harmon wrote: “What makes Washington stand out among this crop of prospects is his ability to offer two skills that are rare and valuable: winning deep and in contested spaces.”
After a strong preseason last year, catching seven passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns, Washington had a quiet rookie year, catching just 16 balls for 217 yards and a touchdown on 30 targets. To be fair, there wasn’t much room for Washington in the offense with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster gobbling up 168 and 166 targets, respectively. Even though Washington was the fifth fiddle in the passing game, he still played 55% of the snaps and had two of his best games late in the season, posting three catches for 65 yards on four targets against the Patriots in Week 15, and three grabs for 64 yards on three targets in Week 17 with Brown sidelined.
Washington said that he hit a wall in his rookie season but has taken steps to avoid that in 2019. He has lost 15 pounds to improve his speed and is in much better shape heading into his sophomore campaign. What sort of role can Washington expect to fill in the Pittsburgh offense now that Brown is out of the way? Will he be a bona fide No. 2 option, getting 100-plus targets from Ben Roethlisberger, or will he be sharing that role with the newly signed Donte Moncrief and/or rookie Diontae Johnson?
The table below shows the WR2 in Pittsburgh in terms of targets per game and his resulting per game numbers.
Including Smith-Schuster’s monster 2018 campaign, the WR2 receiver in Pittsburgh has played at a 68-904-5.8 pace on 112 targets, which equates to low-end fantasy WR2 numbers. If we remove Smith-Schuster’s season since it looks like an outlier, the line drops to 63-839-5.6 on 105 targets, which are still solid fantasy WR3-type numbers.
The other thing that I’d like to point out is that the Pittsburgh WR2 has averaged 4.2 catches for 59 yards and 0.45 touchdowns, a 67-944-7.2 pace, in 2010-2013 and 2015, the five seasons in recent memory where Le’Veon Bell was not a major factor in the passing game (excluding JuJu’s outlier season). With Bell gone, his targets are up for grabs, and while I expect the running backs to get the majority of those looks, Washington will have something to say about it as well.
I currently project Washington for 63-842-5.9 and that makes him a solid fantasy WR3. He could certainly lose snaps to Moncrief or someone else and finish lower than that, but he has the talent and opportunity to finish as a fantasy WR2. That makes him a great pick in the ninth or 10th round in all fantasy formats.