The season finale turned out to be meaningless for the Pittsburgh Steelers with respect to playoff seeding, as the New England Patriots more than handled their business against the Jets, with their starters in the game, yet the organization checked off a couple of interesting boxes nevertheless.
One of the greatest storylines of the season for the Steelers this year has been the mellifluous rookie campaign of second-round wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was drafted to a chorus of groans and raised eyebrows by many within the fan base, unsure of why he, or his position, needed to be taken at that post.
Opening the season at just 20 years old, however, the underclassman has grown up before our eyes on the field, turning in arguably the most impressive rookie season for a pass catcher in team history, despite contributing in only 13 games in that regard.
He closed the season with a monster game over the Cleveland Browns, posting a career-high nine receptions for 143 yards and a receiving touchdown. Those tacked on to his previous totals see him finish with 58 receptions for 917 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns. He also added a 96-yard kick return touchdown to boot in the game.
The 917 receiving yards ended up being the most by a Steelers rookie in team history, breaking a very old record set by Jimmy Orr in 1958. On just 33 receptions, Orr gained 910 yards with seven touchdowns that season, and he was no one-hit wonder, ending up with a strong career, with 400 receptions for nearly 8000 receiving yards and 66 touchdowns in 149 games between 1958 and 1970.
Smith-Schuster also finished second behind Troy Edwards, who in 1999 recorded 61 receptions. This year’s rookie is just the second to record at least 50 receptions, finishing with 59. Santonio Holmes was previously second with 49.
The franchise record for receiving touchdowns during a rookie season remains in the hands of Louis Lipps, who in 14 games in 1984 recorded nine scores through the air. Martavis Bryant, still with the team now in his third season, recorded eight receiving touchdowns in 2014. Smith-Schuster’s seven ties Orr for the third-most.
His production came in just 13 games this season, it is fair to note. He was not involved in the passing game in the season opener, before he moved full-time into a starting role. He also served an unjustified one-game suspension, and then later missed a game with a hamstring injury.
Smith-Schuster’s per-game numbers in 14 games played end up as 4.1 receptions, 65.5 yards, and .5 touchdowns, which is very fine production. In his final seven games played, he has caught 41 receptions for 686 yards and four touchdowns.