Relative to pre-draft expectations, I don’t think that many people would argue that Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster ‘slid’ very far in the draft, if at all. You might recall that many Steelers fans were not thrilled with his selection—many because of the position, but also those who would rather have taken another receiver.
Given the way that his rookie season, has gone, of course, currently being regarded as one of the young darlings of the entire league, from the saga of his stolen bicycle to his nationally-publicized post-touchdown celebrations, Smith-Schuster is even garnering attention when it comes to the fan portion of the Pro Bowl voting procedure.
Considering the fact that he actually ranks 24th league-wide in receiving yardage, after not even seeing a target in his first game, that’s actually pretty impressive. But he leads all rookies, by a comfortable margin, in that category, as his 568 receiving yards is the only total of 500 or more, the closest being the Rams’ Cooper Kupp with 481.
He is also the only rookie wide receiver with five touchdown receptions, and one of only two rookies, the other being Giants first-round tight end Evan Engram, who has had to play a huge role this year in the absence of both of New York’s starting wide receivers.
While his 33 receptions for rookies is tied for the sixth-most—far behind running back Christian McCaffery’s 57—nobody with 15 or more receptions is averaging as many yards per catch, currently at 17.2 yards per reception. It is also the third-most among those with at least 10 receptions.
He and Engram are the only rookies with seven explosive receiving plays, while he and Kenny Golladay are the only rookies with three receptions of 40 yards or more, and his first-down percentage of 81.8 is the highest of all rookies with more than five receptions.
Basically, any way you look at it, Smith-Schuster has been about as productive as a pass-catcher as any rookie in the league, and the Steelers are grateful to have him, while other teams are kicking themselves for not taking him.
Predictably, that led to somebody asking him in the locker room yesterday if he felt he should have been drafted higher. His draft classmate, running back James Conner, was behind him and warned him, only partially jokingly, not to take the bait.
He didn’t, of course. Not on his 21st birthday. He simply said what you would expect him to say. While it is the other teams’ loss who chose not to draft him, he is happy to be in Pittsburgh, in this city, on this team, with these teammates, and that he wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I doubt there are many Steelers fans who would trade him for another player in the second round during a draft re-do exercise at this point, either. At least, there shouldn’t be. He’s a starting wide receiver on the team in the AFC with the best record.