JuJu Smith-Schuster Stretching Flexibility Inside and Outside

So here are some brain droppings for you. Including plays that ended in penalties, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has been on the field for 231 dropbacks this year, and 221 pass attempts (eight sacks and two scrambles). Take out no-plays and a two-point conversion attempt, and you have 207 official pass attempts on which he has been on the field.

Let’s keep digging though. He has been targeted 36 times on the season. None of those targets were negated by penalties. He has caught 24 of them for a 67-percent catch ratio. He has dropped two passes, while two of his targets were on batted passes, and another was a throwaway.

But look, here is where it gets weird. In spite of the fact that he played about a third or so of his snaps on the outside prior to the last game against the Lions, he was not seeing much action unless he was playing in the slot. He had just three receptions from the outside during his first three games, for a total of 17 yards.

But with Martavis Bryant on the bench against the Lions, Smith-Schuster saw extended playing time on the outside, and saw eight of his 10 targets come while he was out there. While his biggest play—the 97-yard touchdown—came out of the slot, he did catch five passes on the outside for 92 yards, including a trio of third-down conversions.

While he has played 151 snaps on the season on the outside—in total, including on running downs—only 31 of them came against the Lions, however. He still saw 20 snaps out of the slot in that game, so they were still moving him around quite a bit, even if he played about 60 percent of his snaps on the outside—roughly flipping his prior distribution.

By this point in the season, Smith-Schuster’s snap distribution between the outside and the slot is closer to even than you would think, seeing roughly 150 snaps on the outside and roughly 200 in the slot. It goes without saying that that is a mixture of runs and passes, but he is frequently used inside to block.

While that number tilted slightly more in the favor of the outside than it normally would be due to Bryant’s benching, the ratio is not nearly as imbalanced as might be the perception overall, even though Eli Rogers has spent a lot of time benched this year.

So the fact that he had not been producing much—or seeing many targets—while lined up on the outside prior to the Lions game is interesting, though I suspect the cause of this is largely random.

Still, the fact that he was able to find success with Ben Roethlisberger from the outside I would think bodes well for a continuation of that pattern in the future. The more versatile he is, the more dangerous he is, and the more difficult to take off the field.

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