The Pittsburgh Steelers knew that they would be getting some good juju with their second-round pick in last year’s draft, but I doubt even they realized the extent to which that pick—wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster—would perform during his rookie season for a team with legitimate championship aspirations.
The 20-year-old came in and very quickly cemented a role for himself in the offense. He rotated as the slot receiver in the opener, even though he was not targeted, but he began producing through the air in game two, including his first touchdown.
It would not be long that he found himself logging the bulk of the snaps at wide receiver in two-receiver sets, effectively passing Martavis Bryant on the depth chart and pairing with Antonio Brown as the team’s two starting wide receivers.
That all culminated in the season finale, during which Smith-Schuster played 56 of 59 possible offensive snaps. The only three snaps for which he was not on the field were three snaps at the goal line where the offense utilized 23 personnel—two backs, three tight ends. And yet they even used him in a tight end role a few times.
Of course, he wouldn’t be getting the playing time if he were not producing, and he certainly has been. While he was robbed of two games in the second half of the season, his final seven games of the season were an outpouring of offense.
Including three 100-yard performances during the span, Smith-Schuster over his last seven games recorded 686 receiving yards on 41 receptions with four receiving touchdowns. To put that in a season-long perspective, those numbers would prorate out to 94 receptions for 1568 yards and nine touchdowns. Or, really, just about what Antonio Brown put up this season.
Of course, some of his best numbers came in the time that Brown missed over the past three games. In that span, Smith-Schuster caught 21 passes for 332 yards and two touchdowns. He also recorded five receptions of 40 or more yards over his final seven games.
All of this, according to Pro Football Focus, ended up working out quite well for Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones, as their numbers show that the rookie, when targeted, produced a quarterback rating of 134.
That was the highest of any wide receiver in the NFL this season, based on their numbers, and, they claim, the highest of any rookie ever recorded, presumably during the Pro Football Focus era, which would begin in 2006.
Given that he also did this primarily as a 20-year-old, the youngest player in the league, it makes it all the more remarkable that he was able to be so fabulously productive. And of course he still has a full postseason ahead of him.JuJu Smith-Schuster