Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had a very good rookie season, arguably the best for a wide receiver in team history. In 14 games, and with his role on the team shifting as the season progressed, he caught 58 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s a solid season for a number two receiver no matter the veteran status.
But the 2017 second-round pick is not content with being a solid number two option. Like most players, he naturally wants to put himself among the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game. He knows he had a good rookie season—he took umbrage, and motivation, from the fact that he received no votes for Offensive Rookie of the Year—but he knows he can do so much more.
So while he may be spending time right now playing Call of Duty with Randy Moss, with his teammates, and with his old friends back in California, Smith-Schuster also knows that he has a busy offseason ahead of him, which will include learning the workings of another new wide receivers coach in Darryl Drake following the retirement of Richard Mann.
He has turned himself into something of a media darling during his rookie season, transcending even his own market, and he found himself fielding a number of interview requests and appearances during the build-up to the Super Bowl. “Every appearance I get, I always take it”, he said. He’s young. He has energy. He’s living the moment right now, rubbing elbows with Odell Beckham, Jr. and others.
But when the (CBA-mandated) downtime is over, he has certain goals that he wants to achieve heading into his second season. He told Jeremy Fowler that he wants to work on “being faster”, even though he proved that he is faster than most thought he was coming out of college, with the fourth-most receptions of 40 yards or more in the league despite having the 47th-most receptions.
He also said that he wants to have “more of a quarterback perspective” to his game, indicating that he wants to have a greater knowledge of the offense as a whole, as well as how plays interact with one another and how defenses read plays.
“Just being able to play all across the field, inside-outside, even the running-back spots, so I can understand it”, is how he described what he is looking to accomplish heading into the 2018 season. For what it’s worth, he did line up in the backfield a few times in 2017, though I doubt a proper handoff was ever in the playbook.
Building off his rookie season, it’s easy to imagine Smith-Schuster posting a 1000-yard campaign in 2018. The Steelers have not had a pair of 1000-yard receivers since Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown did it in 2011. Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes also did it in 2009, while Ward and Plaxico Burress did it in 2002 and 2001.