Finding the Fits: Steelers strike again at WR

James Washington can be a deep threat on the outside.Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

By Rob Rang,

This is part of a series -- Finding the Fits -- in which will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2018 NFL Draft. The goal is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Pittsburgh Steelers' best fit: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State, selected No. 60 overall (second round)

Wide receiver -- the position viewed by many scouts as the most difficult to evaluate -- has been relative child's play for the Steelers since general manager Kevin Colbert joined the team in 2000.

Pittsburgh has invested in at least one wide receiver over the first four rounds 12 times since the turn of the century, boasting an even higher completion percentage than future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Among those 12 were future standouts Plaxico Burress (2000), Antwaan Randle El (2002), Santonio Holmes (2006), Mike Wallace (2009), Emmanuel Sanders (2010), Markus Wheaton (2013), Martavis Bryant (2014) and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who led all first-year pass-catchers in receiving yards (917) and touchdowns (seven) last year.

That's not all.

Missing from that list is the Steelers' biggest steal during Colbert's tenure -- Antonio Brown -- who has emerged as arguably the league's most feared receiver since being drafted 195th overall in 2010.

Certainly the presence of Roethlisberger, superstar running back Le'Veon Bell and recently retired wide receivers coach Richard Mann made things easier on Colbert, head coach Mike Tomlin and Pittsburgh's pass-catchers. However, at least some of the Steelers' success with receivers might be due to the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) coaching principle of putting players in position to do what they do best.

This is one of the simplest reasons why second-round pick James Washington looks like a good bet to again prove Pittsburgh's mastery over this position.

With a talented receiving corps already in place, the Steelers won't overwhelm Washington as a rookie and ask him to play multiple roles.

This is key as Washington was not asked to run a full route-tree at Oklahoma State and faced limited press coverage in the Big 12. At 5-foot-11, 213 pounds, he has a frame more like a running back than a receiver with build-up speed rather than true explosiveness.

The Steelers will ask Washington to line up outside as the complementary deep threat they lost when Bryant was shipped to the Oakland Raiders. This is precisely the role in which Washington excelled at Oklahoma State, averaging an eye-popping 19.8 yards on 226 career receptions and scoring 39 touchdowns.

What he does remarkably well is use his sneaky speed, physical nature and body control to track deep balls over his shoulder, consistently winning one-on-one battles. Opponents won't shift defenses to slow Washington with so many other talented receivers at Roethlisberger's disposal, which should give the duo plenty of opportunities for deep shots.

Make no mistake, neither Washington (nor Smith-Schuster) is going to keep Brown from being the star of the Steelers' passing game. But their role as big bodies on the perimeter (Washington) and slot (Smith-Schuster) should keep Pittsburgh's passing game humming in 2018 with the former joining the latter as an immediate fantasy football contributor.

Other thoughts on the Steelers' 2018 draft class:

Given how defenses are facing more and more matchup nightmares (more on this later) in the short passing game, as quarterbacks get the ball out of their hands as quickly as possible, it was critical that the Steelers find a suitable replacement for injured star linebacker Ryan Shazier.

The club is hopeful that its first pick, former Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds, can "grow" into a hybrid role. The 6-foot-1, 217-pound Edmunds has the frame, physical nature and athleticism (4.47 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine) to handle this transition.

His experience in coverage should help a defense that has been susceptible to running backs and tight ends in the short passing game. Further, given the experiences of his father (two-time Pro Bowler Ferrell Edmunds) and brothers (current NFL players Trey and Tremaine), the Steelers' top pick has an advanced degree in what it takes to be successful as a professional athlete.

Just like it did with its first two selections, Pittsburgh leaned on familiarity with the pick of quarterback Mason Rudolph in the third round, a strategy that could pay off big time in the future.

Washington and Rudolph forged a strong bond during their time together at Oklahoma State, even announcing together their mutual decision to return for their senior seasons. By drafting Rudolph, the Steelers not only gave incumbent backup quarterbacks Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs legitimate competition, they essentially doubled-down on Washington by making sure he would have a close friend already on the roster attempting to learn the same offense.

Rudolph cannot match Roethlisberger's big arm, but he possesses a similar frame (6-5, 235) and throws an excellent deep ball. He is a much cleaner fit in the Steelers' offense than Dobbs.

For all of the talk on Pittsburgh's top prospects this year, if Bell does not agree to a contract extension by the July 16 deadline and holds out into September (or longer), sixth-round pick Jaylen Samuels could wind up playing as important a role as any rookie for the Super Bowl contenders.

At first glance, it might seem ridiculous to suggest there is any comparison between Bell -- a reigning All-Pro who led the league's running backs in rushing attempts (321) and receptions (85) a year ago -- and a player selected 165th overall. There are some intriguing similarities between the two, however, starting with their similar size (Bell is 6-1, 230; Samuels is 5-11, 225), speed (Bell was clocked at 4.60 at the 2013 Combine; Samuels was timed at 4.54 this year in Indianapolis) and key roles in highly productive offenses.

Samuels was a jack of all trades for North Carolina State, catching 201 passes for 1,851 yards and 19 touchdowns after lining up as an H-back, fullback, tight end, receiver or running back, exceeding his production running the ball (182 attempts for 1,107 yards and 28 touchdowns) during his career.

Second-year pro James Conner is a bullish downhill runner capable of taking over for Bell should his holdout drag into the season. But do not be surprised if Samuels also plays a key role as precisely the type of mismatch that top pick Edmunds was drafted to combat on opposing offenses.

Pittsburgh's 2018 draft class:

1st Round, No. 28 overall: Terrell Edmunds, S, Virginia Tech

2nd Round, No. 60 overall: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

3rd Round, No. 76 overall: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

3rd Round, No. 92 overall: Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan

5th Round, No. 148 overall: Marcus Allen, S, Penn State

6th Round, No. 165 overall: Jaylen Samuels, HB/RB/TE, North Carolina State

7th Round, No. 246 overall: Joshua Frazier, DT, Alabama

Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:

Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, OLB, Toledo

Quadree Henderson, WR/RS, Pittsburgh

Matthew Thomas, OLB, Florida State


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