The first external free agent signing by the Dallas Cowboys happened on Friday afternoon when they added former Pittsburgh Steeler James Washington on a one-year contract.
It isn’t hard to figure out what the former Oklahoma State Cowboy brings to the table. He’s a vertical threat specialist. Since college, Washington has dazzled fans with his ability to change gears, track the deep ball, and make the contested catch. He averaged over 20 yards per catch over his last three years in Oklahoma State!
Those traits were most evident in 2019 when he ranked 9th in the NFL in yards per reception with 16.7.
But a quick look at James Washington’s stat lines with the Steelers won’t provide much optimism. In his first four years in the NFL, Washington averaged only 28.5 catches and 407 yards per season.
But context is important.
From 2018 to 2021, the Steelers ranked 21st in offensive EPA/play. In dropback success rate, they ranked 27th in that span, per Ben Baldwin’s stats. It’s not a secret that Pittsburgh’s offense struggled to push the ball downfield on Ben Roethlisberger’s last few years of his career.
Wide receiver is known as an opportunity position. If the quarterback doesn’t throw you the football, the stats will not show what you can do (shoutout Amari Cooper).
How does he fit with the Cowboys?
As the roster stands at this early stage of the offseason, it’s clear Washington is the favorite to be the #3 wide receiver behind CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup.
It’s likely Washington would mainly line up wide allowing Lamb to play inside where the Cowboys might be able to exploit his skill set. However, the former Steeler is versatile enough to also pose a threat playing inside. It’s fair to assume Kellen Moore’s offense would be better off mixing it up and allowing both to get snaps inside to exploit favorable matchups.
James Washington lined up in 2021 per @PFF:— Mauricio Rodríguez (@MauNFL) March 20, 2022
Slot: 190 snaps (38%)
Wide: 311 snaps (62%)
The Cowboys have been missing that deep threat specialist on offense for a while now. Michael Gallup has been labeled by media and fans as the guy that takes the cap off of the defense, but the thing is that never has been the biggest, or best, part of Gallup’s game.
Sure, he provided the biggest vertical threat out of recent receiver groups, but limiting Gallup to that kind of role wouldn’t be getting the most out of him.
With the Cowboys, Washington will play with one of the best deep passers in the NFL. As @AdamJT13 pointed out on Twitter, Dak Prescott leads the league in success rate on passes thrown 20+ yards downfield since 2019.
At best, James Washington is a #3 wide receiver for the Cowboys which gives them a whole new dimension on offense by stretching the field vertically. If the Cowboys decide to draft a wide receiver early in the Draft, Washington should still have a significant role and get his fair share of snaps.
Overall, I have not been a fan of the Cowboys’ offseason and the general plan from the front office. But this is a very good signing as Washington could be a productive starter on Moore’s offense.
For more on James Washington, check out last night’s A to Z Sports Dallas Primetime.
Featured image via Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports