Anatomy of a WR – JuJu Smith-Schuster

By G.Stryker

The Steelers must have really liked what they saw to draft JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round this season. They already had a stable of athletic, capable receivers, and with Bryant returning this season, most draft analysts were not projecting the Steelers to add another WR so early. He ticks the boxes on nearly every measurable. He is slightly slower at 4.54 40 yard dash, but he has a better weight to height ratio than most receivers as well. He also has larger than average hands for an NFL wide receiver.

JuJu was very productive at LSU where he was a playmaker, by scoring 20 TDs in the last 2 years. He seems to be a big bodied combative possession receiver in the mold of Anquan Boldin.

Let’s take a look at his highlights to see what may be so intriguing about this receiver.

0:16 Lined up outside to the right, and runs a fly. Is well defended, but makes an excellent play on the ball by jumping to meet it. He catches with a very tight basket catch over his shoulder pinkies in, palms on the ball and elbows tight to his body. Nice body control on the landing, as he never loses his balance on the landing, and continues for the score. Replay shows more closely how he makes a play on the ball, instead of waiting for it to come to him.

0:27 Looks like he’s running a post from the outside. The angle isn’t good to see hand placement, but he does catch it cleanly. Since the ball is in his gut, and he’s moving away from it, the easiest way to catch is is his pinkies should be together putting both palms on the ball. Nice move after the catch, then dives for the end zone. He employs the ‘dive at the 5’ mantra, and it got him in for the touchdown. The replay shows how nicely he launches himself from just inside the 4 yard line, then uses great body control, to reach the pylon.

0:44 Uses a body trap moving away from the football and keeping stride. I prefer when a receiver opens their body to face the ball and catches it with their hands, but in this instance, it would have slowed down his momentum. By trapping it, instead of facing it, he kept his speed and pace downfield, and maintained separation for the score.

0:52 One thing I do like about college highlights is what does a receiver does on poorly thrown balls. Here, the ball is thrown behind him, and he adjusts by coming back to meet the ball. It is low, his pinkies are together and he has his palms secure the ball just before bringing it to his chest. There was a nice block downfield by his teammate as 3 people meet him. He lowers for contact, and bounces off the free defender. He then extends as he’s being tackled, and reaches the football in front of himself to break the plane of the goalline. This play reminds me of Hines Ward, how he would fight to score on every play near the end zone.

1:06 The last play reminded me of Hines Ward the receiver. This play reminds me of Hines Ward the blocker. As clean and vicious of a block you will ever see. He is clearly in the chest attacking the defender’s numbers with his head and shoulder across the defender’s body. The defender never saw him coming.

1:15 Isolated receiver on the right again. Nice reach on the catch running the fly. He extended his arms nicely to get both palms on the ball, pinkies together. The best part of this play is how he immediately dives at the 5 and extends for the touchdown.

1:21 Outside receiver on the right running a fly. QB saw the 1 on 1 and threw the ball for JuJu to make the play. He did so by jumping to meet the ball, both hands up for what appears to be a chest trap with both palms on the ball. Immediately extends his left hand in the attempt to create space from the defender, and lunges for the end zone. If the defender didn’t slide down his leg to get his knee down, this would have been a score.

1:24 I had to pause to see his hands. Fortunately he was wearing white gloves. Running a slant, he gets both hands up in front of him. Thumbs are together, both palms are on the ball, securing it immediately. Very quick hands and great hand positioning here.

1:27 Starting from the left slot, runs a slant out until he clears the first defender then turns upfield for a fly pattern. The ball is thrown low and behind him. I can’t see his hand placement, but he does get low and reach behind his hip to make a difficult catch.

1:33 Trips right, JJSS is outside. This is the most aggressive flood zone pattern I’ve seen as all 3 receivers make contact with their defenders and then separate by pushing outside after contact. JuJu gets the best separation of the 3 by starting his pattern like a slant, to draw the defender inside, then extends his right hand after contact and rotates away when he starts his out pattern just over the goalline. Perfect hand placement, facing the ball, thumbs together palms wrap around the ball. His pattern was the reason why he scored here, using his feet, and hands to get the space needed to catch the TD.

1:45 Isolated outside on the right, he runs a skinny post, then turns upfield on the fly. This is as perfect as you will ever see anyone make a basket catch. I always mention to keep your elbows in, to reduce the amount of open space between your arms when catching a ball over your head. Here JuJu brings his elbows inside of his body, so both arms are nearly parallel, creating zero space for a football to slip through. Pinkies are together and both hands on the ball. Doesn’t break stride, and scores going away.

1:56 Looks like he’s running a deep drag. I can’t tell for sure if he gets his left hand up to secure the ball with 2 hands or if he made a one handed body catch with his right hand. All I know is he doesn’t break stride, Makes a nice stiff arm to ward off the safety, and somehow utilizes excellent body control to keep his feet inbounds and walk the tightrope 18 yards for the score.

2:08 Isolated outside on the right and runs a quick fly. This ball appeared to catch him a little by surprise, as he didn’t turn to face it. Instead, he 3 point traps the ball with his palms against his facemask. It hits his facemask hard that I’m surprised he hung on, but his palms had possession and the ball didn’t budge from his grasp. He hand checked nicely when he cleared the defender to create space downfield for this catch to even happen.

2:16 I assume he’s outside right again running a fly. The ball is underthrown and he knows there will be contact with the defender. So he stops, turns to face the ball, and jumps to high point it aggressively, before a defender can make a play on it. Both thumbs in, palms secure the catch immediately.

After watching his film, there is a lot to like. He is a hands catcher already, so he doesn’t need to be taught proper technique. His arm placement on balls over his shoulder, are as perfect as it gets. He fights for the football in the air, and is aggressive when he goes up to get it. He plays bigger and more physical than his measured size. He knows where the end zone is and attacks it. He had a nice block, but I want to see more before I can say he’s a good blocker.

His route tree is limited. He is almost always outside, so I’m not sure why the Steelers are already saying he’s their slot candidate. The only reasoning I can see there, is he’s not afraid to go across the middle, draw contact, or make contested catches. Also being a hands first receiver will help him on quick throws from the slot. Since he also uses his body and arms to beat defenders on the jam, he would be our biggest and most physical slot player in recent history. Hopefully Brown and Eli can help him with his route running, and teach him to use his feet to set up the defender and create space without having to use his arms.

I am very interested in watching him this preseason. He has everything but the 40 speed, though he does appear to have better football speed than timed speed. He will be an excellent complimentary weapon as he learns the professional game. JuJu is also a nice option to play the Z receiver if the Steelers have any problems with Bryant, since he played that same spot in college.

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