Now that the 2018 NFL Draft is in the books, and the roster heading into the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we head toward training camp.
Player: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Stock Value: Up
Both in general and specific terms, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s stock continues to rise at a steady pace. And it helps that he will be entering his second NFL season as a presumably uncontested starter. This turn of events was made possible by the Steelers’ late decision to pull the trigger on a trade offer for wide receiver Martavis Bryant, for which they received a third-round pick in return.
Smith-Schuster, a 2017 second-round pick, entered his rookie season effectively fourth on the depth chart, behind Antonio Brown and Bryant as the starters and Eli Rogers working as the primary slot receiver. The young wideout didn’t even receive a target in the season opener, but that would never happen again.
He scored his first touchdown and recorded his first posterizer block a week later against the Minnesota Vikings, getting the best of All-Pro safety Harrison Smith, and his role has been ascending ever since. It wasn’t even until the second half of the season that he really formally passed Bryant on the depth chart.
Even by the end of the season, Bryant actually received more total targets in the passing game than did Smith-Schuster. I would suspect that the latter will easily receive over 100 targets in the passing game in 2018, however.
The Steelers did replace Bryant with rookie second-round draft pick James Washington, but he should not be competing for a starting job—even if Smith-Schuster was not expected to do so last year, either. Washington will be fitting in where he can to start out, perhaps utilized early on primarily as a deep target.
The 21-year-old has already won over the city and his teammates, and that has come as much as a result of his ability to win against opposing cornerbacks as due to his gregarious and infectious personality. His only ceiling in Pittsburgh is really Antonio Brown.
But it certainly doesn’t hurt to play with the most demanding wide receiver in the game. While he may demand a couple of lions’ shares of the targets in the passing game, what he brings to the offensive scheme also creates plenty of opportunities for others, and Smith-Schuster has already shown that he can take advantage of those opportunities. He should only continue to grow from a strong rookie campaign.