James Washington demonstrated some late-season improvement in 2018, including two 60-plus yard receiving games over the last three contests. But even so, the Oklahoma State star turned in one of the least productive rookie seasons in recent memory for a high-round wide receiver draft pick.
Over the past quarter-century, there have been 151 wide receivers selected within the first two rounds of the draft. With a 42.1 percent catch rate, Washington ranked 137th among rookie wide outs. He placed 146th in receiving yards (217) and 113th in yards per reception (13.6).
Turning in a lousy rookie year isn't necessarily a kiss of death for a receiver's career -- former Steeler Plaxico Burress had the second-lowest catch rate (33.9 percent) as a rookie and went on to have four 1,000 yard seasons, and Isaac Bruce had a borderline Hall of Fame career after barely outgaining Washington (272 receiving yards) -- but the list is littered with high-round washouts. With Donte Moncrief establishing early chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger and rookie Diontae Johnson in the fold, Washington could fall to fourth on the depth chart without marked improvement.
• Red zone replacement: Despite missing the playoffs, the 2018 Steelers had the highest red zone touchdown rate (73.5 percent of trips within the opponent's 20-yard line) of any offense in the NFL. It's natural to wonder how much Pittsburgh's red zone performance will suffer now that Antonio Brown is doing Antonio Brown things in Oakland. Last year, Roethlisberger completed just 47.4 percent of his red zone passes (nine for 19) that targeted Brown. When Ben targeted any other receiver in the red zone, he had a 59.1 percent completion rate. Ben averaged 2.9 yards per target when throwing red zone passes to Brown, and 3.8 yards per target when throwing passes to everyone else. The Steelers will unquestionably miss one of the game's greatest receiving talents of all time, but the Roethlisberger-Brown connection in the red zone wasn't as strong as you might think last year.
• Keeping Hargrave: The Steelers, who have already invested heavily in their defense line by signing Cam Heyward and Stephen Tuitt to lucrative long-term deals, face an interesting decision with Javon Hargrave. One one hand, Hargrave was on the field for just 43.5 percent of the team's defensive snaps in 2018. On the other hand, the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent was borderline dominant when he got on the field. Hargrave registered 6.5 sacks, six tackles for a loss, and eight QB hits last season. A former third-round pick out of FCS school South Carolina State, Hargrave ranked 11th in sacks among all players considered an interior lineman in 2018, according to Pro Football Reference. On a per-play basis, Hargrave had a great 2018. Will the Steelers be willing to pay up for a guy who played less than 50 percent of snaps last year? Will they expand his role in 2019? Stay tuned.
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