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 continue to be the Steelers’ primary kick returner in 2018.
Here’s a good start: he said that he anticipates he will keep that job. And it doesn’t hurt when you end the regular season with the Steelers’ first kick return touchdown since the second game of the 2010 season. That’s a pretty long drought.
The Steelers have shown year in and year out that they’re not overly concerned about relying upon an offensive player as a returner who is very valuable to the offensive side of the ball, as we have seen time and again Antonio Brown ending up back into the kick return job.
And it was a couple of years after he first broke out that they really started trying to take him off punts. After he established himself as The Best Wide Receiver In Football. Smith-Schuster is the number two receiver. He’s important, but admittedly not nearly as important as Brown.
There are also not a lot of enticing options on the current roster for that role among players who would otherwise be active on gameday. Quadree Henderson, for example, would likely make it exclusively as a return man, and he would have to return a couple of kicks back in the preseason to get them to even consider doing that.
Smith-Schuster might not be as important as Brown, but he is still important. When he was handed the job at first, he was still rotating as the number three receiver with Eli Rogers. He is entering his second season as the unquestioned number two receiver, which is a sizable jump.
It would buck a decade of trends with Mike Tomlin, but a player like Cameron Sutton is somebody the team has mentioned as a potential candidate in returns, even though he shies away from using defensive players.
There are others who will at least get a look as well, including rookie Jaylen Samuels, who had some return experience, and Marcus Tucker if he makes the roster. he averaged 26.3 yards per return in college in 2015, and 25.1 yards in 2016.