JuJu Smith-Schuster: A True #1 WR

Pro Football Network

By: Jonathan Clark
SteelerNation.com

 

Throughout these past couple of off-seasons, we have heard the rumbling about star WR JuJu Smith-Schuster becoming a #1 receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, following the trade of WR Antonio Brown two years ago. After a breakout rookie campaign in 2017, Smith-Schuster seemed to be set up for success for many years to come. The Steelers have been loaded as far as offensive weapons are concerned for the past five years, and Smith-Schuster seemed to be a perfect fit. The only question that ever presented itself was if he could keep that production up following his 2017 debut.

Once the 2018 season began for the Steelers, Smith-Schuster was off to the races. He started in 13 of the 16 overall games, during which he caught 11 passes on 1,166 targets for 1,426 yards and 7 touchdowns. As you can probably tell, these stats helped lead Smith-Schuster to his first Pro Bowl appearance at just the young age of 22. Many said that the reason for his highly productive season was due to the fact that on the opposite side of the field, wearing the same black and gold we all love, and playing the same position as Smith-Schuster, was multiple-time Pro Bowl WR Antonio Brown. Brown’s resume goes without saying, and during the 2018 campaign, he did see a lot of double coverage come his way. This enables and extra defender to be on the side of Brown at all times, leaving Smith-Schuster with single coverage on most occasions, leading to the high numbers produced.

 

 

With Antonio Brown being traded to the then Oakland Raiders following the 2018 season, all eyes were on Smith-Schuster to see if he could step up and be that #1 receiver that his stats show him to be. Unfortunately, that season did not go as planned. QB Ben Roethlisberger went down with an elbow injury last year that took his season away, leaving the young 3rd round QB Mason Rudolph and undrafted QB Devlin Hodges under center for the remainder of the season. Due to this, we could expect the production levels to be down for all position players and that is exactly what happened. The chemistry was not there to begin with, with either quarterback probably due to the lack of first team reps either had during the off-season. Quarterback play was at an all time low last year, and in my opinion, Smith Schuster’s production levels as a #1 WR, should not be judged on this particular season.

Playmakers should make plays regardless of who is throwing them the football, that I understand. Imagine going into a season as a young 22 year old WR knowing that the guy who is going to be throwing you the football is a future Hall of Fame quarterback, can take a lot of pressure off anyone at that position. When you have a quarterback who you trust and who trusts you, production will follow as we can see with this 2020 season we are in now.

In 4 games, Smith-Schuster had grabbed 21 receptions on 24 targets for 188 yards and 3 touchdowns. We can clearly see the comfort level that the receivers have in this offense run by Ben Roethlisberger. Balls are being put in the right spots in order for the playmakers to make plays, and our receiving core is as deep as ever. This offense seems to be rolling with Smith-Schuster as the teams #1 WR right now. He is now doing to these young WR’s what Antonio Brown was doing for him during the start of his career. The more eyes that are on Smith-Schuster during the games, just means we get to see the emergence of young stars like Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson, and it is certainly refreshing to see guys on he team be happy for each others success, not try to bring them down for it.

 

 

It seems like this team is playing selfless football. Not caring about individual stats but just having a sole focus on the task at hand, which is bringing another Lombardi Trophy back to Pittsburgh where it belongs. Let’s not forget that Smith-Schuster is only 23 years old. He has A LOT of football left in him. Hopefully we can keep watching him thrive in the black and gold for many years to come.

 

Do you want JuJu back as the teams #1 WR? Let us know in the comment section below!

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