James Washington never really lived up to expectations with the Pittsburgh Steelers. A second-round pick in 2018 out of Oklahoma State, Washington’s best season came in 2019, with 735 yards and three touchdowns on 44 receptions. Since then, he’s been buried on the depth chart, and while he’s caught five touchdowns in 2020, he’s been relegated to 54 receptions over the past two seasons combined.
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Washington will get a new start with the Dallas Cowboys after signing a one-year deal to return to his home state. He’s a low-risk target for the Cowboys and an interesting reclamation project with high upside due to the opportunities in the offense. With Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson out of town, Washington should see less competition for targets than he saw in Pittsburgh.
Washington plays bigger than his 5-foot-11 frame and was wildly productive in college, gaining at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of three college seasons. Back in 2018, I noted his ball skills and ability to beat defenders as strong reasons for his draft capital from him.
As I mentioned above, Washington’s production hasn’t matched expectations thus far in his career:
Notably, the receptions and targets put him at a 52.3% catch percentage – good for 196th in the league among players with at least 80 receptions in that span, according to StatHead. However, how much of that was Washington struggling to catch the ball, versus the poor quality of targets? Sports Info Solutions counted just 28 of his 44 targets last year as “catchable,” giving him an adjusted catch percentage of 85.7%. Washington’s hands are better than they appeared in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers thought of Washington as a deep threat, and he profiled coming out of college as a build-up deep target with the ability to fight for possession. Sports Info Solutions clocked 546 intended air yards for him last season, which works out to 12.45 intended air yards-per-target, 34th among players with at least 30 targets, and better than new teammate Michael Gallup (12.19).
Washington has untapped potential as a deep threat.
Washington’s Opportunity in Dallas
Washington really couldn’t have landed in a better spot to get his career back on track. His new quarterback will be Dak Prescott, a decided upgrade over the past four years of quarterback play in Pittsburgh.
While Ben Roethlisberger has thrown touchdowns at the same per-game rate as Prescott since James Washington entered the league, Prescott has a clear advantage in every other area. Most notably, Prescott has completed 67.3% of his passes in that span, compared to 65.4% for Roethlisberger, and less for Rudolph and Hodges. Washington should get more and better targets in Dallas than he received with the Steelers.
Coming from a crowded depth chart in Pittsburgh, Washington should enter the season no lower than third on the wide receiver depth chart in Dallas. With Cooper and Wilson gone, that leaves open targets on a team that attempted the sixth-most passes in the league last year.
The third receiver in Dallas has been productive at times. Wilson fluctuated between third and fourth on the depth chart last year and finished with 45 catches, 601 yards, and six touchdowns. With Washington essentially replacing two players on the offense, the median numbers from the table below should be considered his floor.
Providing additional upside, Gallup may not be ready for the start of the season, despite signing a new five-year deal to remain in Dallas. If Gallup has a setback or takes time to ramp back up to regular-season form, Washington could start opposite Lamb in last season’s second-ranked passing attack in yards per game. He’ll have WR2 fantasy upside in any game he starts in this offense.
- Washington has less competition for more targets in its new location.
- Dallas needs a wide receiver to step up, particularly if Gallup misses more time.
- Buying pass-catchers in the prolific Dallas offense is a nice recipe for fantasy success.
- Washington is a value in best ball at WR72 on Underdog, and in re-draft, ranked 75th in our Never-Too-Early Rankings