Martavis Bryant and James Washington are almost nothing alike. From their physical attributes to their athletic profile, to their personality and path to the NFL, the two have nothing in common. Look at their combine numbers in comparison to each other.
Washington is known as low maintenance, he is a walk-on who built himself into an NFL player at Oklahoma State. Martavis Bryant was a high-level recruit who had off of the field issues push him down the draft only to follow him into the NFL. Nothing alike.
So, when the Steelers drafted James Washington to replace Martavis Bryant, it may have brought some questions as to the fit, and the immediate help. Bryant caught 50 passes for 603 yards and three touchdowns last season. His purpose as a deep threat helped open the offense for all of the other skill players. Can James Washington do that?
The fact of the matter is that while the two are not similar in build or style, they serve a similar role in the NFL. The Z receiver. In this role, Bryant and Washington win in completely different ways. It is likely the ways in which Washington win that contrast Bryant that make the Steelers so attracted to Washington.
Last season, Ben Roethlisberger struggled with the deep ball. It was his worst season throwing 20 yards down the field. Most of those targets went to Martavis Bryant. Last season, Washington led the country in 20-yard receptions.
While Bryant won deep with his elite athletic profile and size, he was struggling to adapt back to the NFL in terms of ball tracking, and making contested catches. Roethlisberger was giving him chances down the field, and while they were not perfect, Bryant had chances and did not haul in passes.
Take this early interception against the Indianapolis Colts for example. Yes, this pass is underthrown. However, look how slow Bryant is to find the football and adjust to it.
At Oklahoma State, Mason Rudolph under threw James Washington a decent amount. While Washington is not the elite specimen that Bryant is, these were the situations in which Washington thrived in. Notice the play below against Virginia Tech. He has a step on his defender when a pass sputters out high and short. Washington slows his stride length, boxes out the cornerback and makes the play.
He does not even have separation by the time he has to adjust to this football in the air. Still, he hauls the pass in with the ability to create yards after the catch.
Again, an early season misdial with Bryant hurts the Steelers first drive in a loss to the Chicago Bears.
Ben Roethlisberger leads him a touch too far to the sideline. Bryant is not able to track the ball down and make the play.
On the other side, James Washington is fading towards the sideline as he reaches over his defender to haul in a pass in bounds.
Again, Rudolph leads him a bit far and towards the sideline. Washington is able to track the ball down while maintaining body control to haul in the pass clean with both feet in bounds.
Roethlisberger is looking to his tall receiver to haul in a jump ball with some bodies around him. Bryant makes one heck of an effort, but cannot haul in the touchdown.
In a similar scenario, the shorter and slower Washington is making the tough catch that Bryant failed to bring in.
The question from here obviously becomes, how does this translate? Sure, he is ripping off huge catches at Oklahoma State, but can he even get the opportunity to haul these in against the NFL’s best?
Again, this is where Bryant and Washington are different. Bryant was able to turn on the gas, and blaze past the best in the world with one quick swoop. Take the play against Jacksonville highlighted above for example. By the time the cornerback turns around Bryant made up about 10 yards on him.
Washington is faster than his tested time. Because he is shorter but weighs more, he needs built up speed but can get going with space. The question is can, he get that space to get going in the NFL?
While Washington did not face press much, he does have good footwork and strong body fluidity to get off of the ball well against press.
Once he gets to the outside below, he is gone.
Washington has strong footwork, but he is not a strong route runner. That is mainly because he was only asked to run so many routes while at Oklahoma State. Still, Washington excels at the go route, the post, an out and the slant.
This is one area in which Bryant and Washington share. Bryant did not have an expanded route tree, and the Steelers did not ask him to do much more than those routes.
So, similarly to Bryant, it looks as though the Steelers will have the ability to play to the strengths of Washington while helping open things up for the entire team. Washington has the chance to demand respect in the deep passing game in a similar way to free up the other side for Antonio Brown, the middle for JuJu Smith-Schuster and the flats and underneath for Vance McDonald and Le’Veon Bell.
So yes, James Washington and Martavis Bryant are almost nothing alike. However, Washington is going to plug right into the 2017 Martavis Bryant role and is likely going to see similar chances from that role.
Washington is just a rookie, but do his skill set being such a contrast to Bryant, he may have the chance to not only hit the statistical mark that Bryant put in last season but also exceed it by cashing in on some of the missed opportunities highlighted. Let’s get the James Washington hype train rolling, baby!