Ex-Steelers WR Gets Shot at Redemption in NFC

James Washington

Andy Lyons/Getty Images James Washington of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington Jr. has found a home for the 2023 season, in the wide-open NFC South.

The New Orleans Saints signed Washington Jr. to a one-year contract, according to a report by Aaron Wilson.

Washington Jr. aims to bounce back from a broken foot suffered last season during Dallas Cowboys training camp, that limited him to appearing in two games. The 27-year-old was targeted only twice during the 2022 campaign.

So, what does Washington Jr. add to the Saints’ offense?

“He’s still a pretty decent possession receiver,” an NFC executive told Heavy, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about another team. “But, he doesn’t have much play-speed at this point.”

During the offseason, Washington briefly remained in the NFC East, signing as a member of the New York Giants‘ practice squad, back on Jan. 11.

Throughout the course of his five-year career, Washington has pulled down 114 of his 219 targets for 1,649 yards and 11 touchdowns, while averaging 14.3 Yards Per Reception.

During his last fully-healthy season, he remained a steady target for former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger posted an 83.9 passer rating on Washington’s 42 targets, that the receiver converted into 24 receptions for 285 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while only dropping two passes on the season.

A former second-round pick of the Steelers, Washington Jr. is aiming to play his way into some sort of long-term home, as he enters the twilight of his NFL career. The Saints give Washington Jr. the opportunity to potentially be productive in a pass-oriented offense, as he looks to fight his way back from the injury that derailed his 2022 campaign.

How does James Washington Jr. Fit the Saints’ offense?

New Orleans is smart to continue adding veteran receivers around quarterback Derek Carr, in a division that could be ripe for the taking this fall.

Chris Olave burst onto the scene in 2022, after being chosen with the No. 11 overall pick, out of Ohio State, catching 72 passes for 119 yards with 4 touchdowns. The big-bodied, 6-foot-1 and 189-pound speedster will likely take on an expanded role in the Saints’ vertical passing game this season, especially with Carr at the helm.

The Saints have never shied against pushing the ball deep, those efforts should be buoyed by Carr’s arrival. Last season in Las Vegas, Carr finished No. 5 in the NFL in Air Yards. Even if Olave is the recipient of the lion’s share of those deep passes, Washington should have the opportunity to operate underneath.

However, should the Saints move on from veteran wide receiver Michael Thomas, Washington Jr. has the opportunity to compete for a starting receiver job.

Behind Olave and Thomas, Washington Jr. may need to climb over Rashid Shaheed, A.T. Perry, and Tre’Quan Smith, who round out the Saints’ receiving corps, if he is going to contribute quality snaps this upcoming season.

As the Saints potentially reevaluate their roster, including the status of Michael Thomas, Washington Jr. has a chance to compete for a starting position alongside Olave and contribute significantly to the team’s success in the upcoming season.

If nothing else, Washington Jr.’s arrival brings a veteran presence to a rather youthful position group that just might hold the keys to the Saints making a playoff push this season.

New Orleans chose Perry in the sixth-round of this year’s draft, the only receiver the organization selected, after finishing last season 7-10.

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