I don’t know if I can say this with accuracy, but it seemed to me that a good majority of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan base was less than enthusiastic about the team’s selection of JuJu Smith-Schuster, whom many likely had not even heard of previously, to add to what was considered at the time a very deep group at wide receiver.
Of course, the depth of that group has proven to be something less impressive than was hoped for, but already the 20-year-old—the youngest player in the NFL—has ingratiated himself to his coaches, his teammates, and most importantly, his quarterback, taking over a role as a starter.
I will be the first to admit that I was non-plussed over the addition of Smith-Schuster to a group that already included the returning Martavis Bryant and of course the five-game wonder that is Sammie Coates, not to mention Eli Rogers, Demarcus Ayers, the free agent addition in Justin Hunter, and, of course, the best wide receiver in the league.
I didn’t, admittedly, even know all that much about Smith-Schuster when he was drafted, and even though I quickly learned a lot about him to like, I did wonder how soon he would be able to contribute—and really, even, if he was for real.
But if you compare him to the other wide receivers from this draft class—it is favorable. With 12 receptions through five games for 160 yards and two touchdowns, including two explosive plays and 10 of his 12 receptions going for first downs or scores, he is in good company.
In fact, the only wide receiver from the rookie class who has produced more is Cooper Kupp, who despite not starting has been active from the get-go, in fact having his best statistical game in the opener with four receptions for 76 yards and a score.
The Yakima native has so far compiled 17 receptions for 230 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but outside of him, Smith-Schuster is largely in a class of his own. Trent Taylor with San Francisco is the only other rookie wide receiver with at least 10 receptions, adding 12 for 99 yards and one score.
And he was a first-rounder. First-round pick Corey Davis has seven receptions for 73 yards. Though other first-round wide receivers have been plagued with injuries, such as the Bengals’ John Ross.
It would also be disingenuous not to acknowledge the receiving contributions of many rookie running backs and tight ends. Christian McCaffery leads all rookies with 27 receptions and 237 yards. Evan Engram of the Giants has 19 receptions for 200 yards and a score. Kenny Golladay only has seven receptions, but for over 100 yards and two touchdowns.
Still, compared to how he was initially received by many, Smith-Schuster has certainly been a pleasant surprise. From his two penalties and no targets in the opener to his four receptions for 58 yards on Sunday, he has already grown on the field.