The Pittsburgh Steelers never miss when it comes to drafting wide receivers right? The list of guys like Antonio Brown, Manny Sanders, Mike Wallace, Martavis Bryant, and JuJu Smith-Schuster is quite an impressive one. Even the ones who haven’t panned out at least flashed for a while. Players like Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton had their moments in a Steelers uniform. So when Kevin Colbert chose James Washington with the 60th overall pick, we all just assumed he got the right guy. Fast forward eleven games, and now we are not so sure. Washington has been largely invisible accept for his horrendous drop of a sure touchdown this past Sunday. Despite all his production at Oklahoma State, there were reasons to be slightly concerned. Washington’s physical traits are not exactly what you look for in a top tier receiver. We are talking about a reciever that is under six feet tall, without elite speed. That’s not exactly what you want in a deep threat wide reciever.
Enter DJ Chark. The wide-out drafted one pick after the Steelers selected Washington. These two players could not be more different, and it makes for a fascinating debate. When drafting do you choose production or physical attributes? Scouts have debated this problem forever in terms of evaluating players. When it comes to pure physical gifts, Chark is hands down the choice. At 6’3″, and running an eye popping 4.38/40 yard dash at the combine, Chark is an elite athlete. He also scored in the 90th percentile in both the broad jump and the vertical. Compare that to Washington who stands at 5’11”, and ran a very pedestrian 4.5/40 and it’s no contest. In fact, Washington did not score in the 90th percentile in any of the categories of the combine.
When looking at just those numbers you have to ask, what in the world were the Steelers thinking? Well now we look at the other side of the coin in production. This is where James Washington really separates himself. Washington had three straight years of a thousand plus yards, and double digit touchdowns at Oklahoma State. Washington had more touchdowns in his senior year, than Chark had in his entire college career. He also had more yards receiving in his junior season, than Chark had combined for his three seasons at LSU. It’s as big a wash out in production for Washington, as it is in physical tools for Chark.
There are extenuating circumstances for both players in terms of their shortcomings. Pro-Washington people will tell you about how his long arms help to mitigate his lack of size. They will also say his “football” speed is much better than the forty time indicates. The pro-Chark crowd will argue you can’t compare the receiving production between LSU and Oklahoma State. They run a much more aggressive offense at Oklahoma State, not to mention the Big 12 is notorious for playing very little defense. That same argument can now be made for the two players in the NFL. While neither player has wowed anyone so far, the offenses could not be more different. The Jaguars offense has been a mess, and their quarterback is Blake Borltes……..enough said. James Washington on the other hand, has had the luxury of playing with an extremely talented group of offensive weapons.
It’s still very early, but one can’t help but think DJ Chark would have been a better fit for what the Steelers need in 2018. A big, fast receiver who could at least give opposing defenses something to think about. As teams double both Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster more and more, a player that would force a safety to stay deep in coverage will become essential. For all his faults, Martavis Bryant made teams respect the deep threat. That in turn took some of the pressure off the other receivers. James Washington was billed as a plug and play replacement for Bryant……he’s not. His ceiling is probably more in the Hines Ward mold. That’s great if he gets there, but he’s not being used in that role. It’s not the role the team needs this season to get to their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl.