Coming into this season, Juju Smith-Schuster was dubbed as the team's number one receiver; a designation he rightfully earned with his level of play and many accomplishments last season. This type of designation is companied with many responsibilities, the most notable being consistent production, while becoming the focal point of opposing defenses.
There is no question that this season has not gone as planned for Smith-Schuster. In addition to his waning production, injuries have also played a role in his slight regression. Yet his absence, another receiver has emerged as the team leader in receiving yards, and has shown consistent production during the Pittsburgh Steelers run in the last month, that player is receiver James Washington.
For this discussion, I believe some context would seem appropriate. Prior to being drafted by the Steelers in 2018, Washington was one of the most accomplished receivers in Big 12 Conference history. In addition to winning the 2017 Fred Biletnikoff Trophy as College Football's top receiver, he recorded three consecutive 1000+ receiving yard season with Oklahoma State. Washington is not just any receiver, he is a highly-decorated one.
Fast-forward to today's contest against the Cleveland Browns. Washington posted in first 100-yard receiving game, and his second consecutive game with a touchdown pass. Perhaps what has defined him, is his ability to make seemingly impossible catches. Yet what he did in this contest against the Browns, was jumpstart a seeming anemic-looking offense, with a sensational 33-yard catch. It seems in every game, when the offense needed a boost, Washington seems to always answer the bell.
Perhaps this discussion is premature and unfair, considering that Smith-Schuster is still very young and for much of the season, has taken the brunt of double-teams and led the team in receiving yards. Yet sometimes, one can see it in a person's demeanor whether they are meant to take a leading role or be a sidekick. Washington is a quiet, soft-spoken individual. As seemingly unassuming as he may be, he lets his production do the talking for him.
It has been said that a person's best ability is availability. If we were to agree with this premise, then right now, Washington is the team's number one receiver. Yet, as this season reaches its final stretch and Smith-Schuster comes back healthy, one can count on him looking to come back stronger, and reclaim the mantle as the team's number one receiver.