James Washington received a rude awakening in his first year in the NFL.Following a dominant career at Oklahoma State that included three all-conference selections, a Biletnikoff Award and ending as the school’s all-time leading receiver, he was taken in the second round by the Pittsburgh Steelers.But after showing out in the preseason, Washington hit a rookie wall. He was buried in the depth chart below two Pro Bowlers in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, among others, and was inconsistent. He even caught some public flack from his new QB Ben Roethlisberger.Washington managed just 16 catches for 217 yards and one TD and, what’s worse, his confidence was shaken.“It’s a lot of ups and downs in the NFL,” said Washington to Steelers.com. “In college everything was smooth sailing. Everyone is good in this league. You’re not going to find someone that you can go out and beat every time. You’re not going to win without a fight. That is one thing that I learned. I just have to look at it differently next season. Just stay persistent.”“… One week you’re playing good and the next you’re not,” Washington continued. “One week you’re inactive, then it’s like you question yourself and you think ‘am I really good enough?’ It just kind of gives you that challenge to answer the call. Without challenges you wouldn’t have to opportunity to get better, or know what your weaknesses are or what your strengths are.”But Washington was able to lean on his teammates who he says helped pull him through those hills and valleys in his roller coaster of a rookie season.Now heading into his sophomore year in Steel City, the look of the league and of his team’s roster has changed. Gone is Brown, the perennial Pro Bowl selection, to Oakland. (Not only did that move increase Washington’s opportunities in 2019, it also affects another former OSU receiver, Marcell Ateman. He will no doubt have to fight that much harder for targets in the Raiders offense with Brown as the assumed top wideout.)The obvious choice to replace Brown as Pittsburgh’s top target is third-year wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, and he’s already been vocal about who he thinks could vie for touches behind him.“But you talk about a young dude who’s up and coming, it’s going to be James Washington,” Smith Schuster told ESPN, via NFL.com. “A guy from Oklahoma State, came to the Steelers his rookie year, started off slow but figured it out and got the ropes down.“This past summer workouts that we had, he’s been doing amazing, a great job. I’m super excited to see how he does this year. He’s our guy that’s going to sneak up on everybody.”Washington is also getting love from some national talking heads. Former All-Pro receiver and current NFL Network analyst Reggie Wayne tabbed him as the Steelers’ breakout receiver.“There are a lot of factors working in Washington’s favor heading into the coming season. With Antonio Brown’s departure, JuJu Smith-Schuster will attract attention as the team’s new WR1. Washington will get plenty of chances to make big plays against single coverage opposite JuJu. Plus, we know Ben Roethlisberger likes to sling it, and this is Washington’s second year in the offensive system. Expectations are high for everyone in Pittsburgh, and it’s up to the 2018 second-rounder to solidify his spot for years to come.” [@NFL, Twitter]Aside from working on his body, he lost 15 pounds this spring, Washington says he’s spent his first offseason diving into the playbook, watching film and has “tried to become more of a football junkie” which should assist him in a much-needed step forward in Year 2.“Last offseason, getting ready for the draft I was still taking classes, so my mind was everywhere,” said Washington. “This year I knew what to expect and I knew the offense better from when I first got here. All those stress factors weren’t on my mind. I am just thinking about playing football.” While you’re here, we’d like you to consider subscribing to Pistols Firing and becoming a PFB+ member. It’s a big ask from us to you, but it also comes with a load of benefits like ad-free browsing (ads stink!), access to our premium room in The Chamber and monthly giveaways.The other thing it does is help stabilize our business into the future. As it turns out, sending folks on the road to cover games and provide 24/7 Pokes coverage like the excellent article you just read costs money. Because of our subscribers, we’ve been able to improve our work and provide the best OSU news and community anywhere online. Help us keep that up.