2018 Offseason Questions: Sophomore Slump For Smith-Schuster?

The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.

Question: Should there be any concern over a sophomore slump for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster?

We all know how well second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster did during his rookie season, and the excitement it all triggered. But past performance is no guarantee of future results. I don’t know if it would be accurate to say that he came in under the radar, but he certainly has a lot more focus on him now than when he did for most of his rookie year.

He is going to be asked full-time to take on a bigger role this year, and it wouldn’t be the first time that a young player struggled to fill those shoes. Not that everybody did. Mike Wallace transitioned well into a starter from year one to year two. Antonio Brown’s first year as a full-time starter was a bit sluggish. Martavis Bryant was never really a full-time starter.

Smith-Schuster was only targeted in 13 games last season and he managed to put up 58 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. A good chunk of that yardage came on rare breakaway plays, however. Is he going to be the sort of player that can produce those plays at a higher than average rate, or will he regress to a mean? Because he had among the most 40-yard receptions in the league last season even without being a regular starter for much of the year.

There’s also the change around him with Bryant being gone and James Washington being brought on. Though he didn’t have his best season, defenses respected Bryant’s past work more than they will a rookie second-round pick. Smith-Schuster himself is proof of that based on the 2017 season.

Now he will be the one teams focus on across from Brown. Will he be up to the task? And perhaps equally relevant, where will most of his work come from? Will he primarily be an outside receiver this year, or spend most of his time in the slot?

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