I have over the course of the past several seasons turned to a series of articles around this time of year in which I looked to explore the issues and questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers during the upcoming season and trying to identify the range of possibilities in which any given scenario can end.
I started out with a dual series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take and switched last season to the Devil’s Advocate series. In an attempt to find a more streamlined solution with a title more suited to the actual endeavor, we are introducing a simple Buy Or Sell segment exploring whether the position statement is likely to be worth investing in as an idea.
The range of topics will be wide, from the specific to the general, exploring broad long-term possibilities to the immediate future of particular players. I will make an argument for why a concept should be bought into as well as one that can be sold, and you can share your thoughts on which is the more compelling case while offering your own.
Topic Statement: JuJu Smith-Schuster will log most of his snaps in the slot during three-receiver packages in 2018.
Why fix what isn’t broken? While JuJu Smith-Schuster did end up spending a pretty good amount of time working both in the slot and on the outside as a wide receiver by the end of the 2017 season, he did see more time inside than outside.
He also proved to be a player who can create big plays out of the slot, utilizing his size and nuanced route-running to best the usually physically overmatched slot defenders that he goes up against there. While he probably isn’t going to score 97-yard touchdowns all that often, we at least know that it’s there in his bag of tricks.
The Steelers also liked to use him there because of the physicality that he brings. He is almost like an extra tight end during running situations thanks to his blocking ability. In fact, the team did literally line him up as a tight end a few times during the 2017 season, and they talked about that role for him heading into next season.
Of course, Randy Fichtner also talked about rookie wide receiver James Washington being capable of playing that role as well, as the physical presence in the slot, which includes blocking. Washington might not be quite as tall, but he has an even thicker build and is probably stronger, and embraces the physical aspects of the position.
This also assumes that Washington even earns that third receiver role, and if he doesn’t, the third receiver is more likely to be somebody that is geared toward playing in the slot, such as Eli Rogers or Marcus Tucker.
If the Steelers really view Smith-Schuster and Washington as versatile players, we could even see a rise in Antonio Brown’s usage in the slot. He hasn’t worked there as much as he could because they’ve either had a slot-only guy as the number three or had Martavis Bryant as the two, who is limited in the slot, but can play it, and is simply much more effective outside.