In the 15 meaningful games the Pittsburgh Steelers played last year during the regular season, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster caught 49 passes for 774 yards and 6 touchdowns. Now, I’m not totally discounting his 9 catches for 143 yards he had in the Steelers regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns, I’m just trying to add some perspective to his great rookie season statistics. Of those 49 receptions that Smith-Schuster registered in the Steelers first 15 regular season games of 2017, you might like to know that just 16 of them came on third-downs of which 14 resulted in conversions. Oh, and 3 were touchdowns. That statistical category is certainly one we would like to see Smith-Schuster improve on in 2018 and I think he will.
In total, we charted Smith-Schuster being targeted on third-downs by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger 25 times in total and when you consider the Steelers signal-caller attempted 153 total passes on that down during the regular season, you can probably see why it’s easy to expect the USC product to see a little higher percentage in his second season.
Another interesting aspect about Smith-Schuster’s 2017 third-down targets from Roethlisberger is that they included the football being thrown to him an average of 10.04 yards past the original line of scrimmage, which on average, wound up being 2.8 yards past the line to make. To be specific, 7 out of 25 third-down targets from Roethlisberger included the football being thrown to Smith-Schuster short of the chains. Four of those, however, still resulted in first downs.
Just 10 of Smith-Schuster’s 16 total third-down catches from Roethlisberger last season came with him catching the football either at or beyond the third-down line to make. Fellow Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, by the way, had 17 such receptions in 2017.
With Smith-Schuster expected to see even more offensive snaps in 2018, I’d look for him to make 20 third-down receptions during the regular season that result in conversions. However, I doubt we’ll see Smith-Schuster equal the third-down conversion he had against the Detrouit Lions during his rookie season. That 3rd and 9 reception resulted in a 97-yard touchdiown.
In case you’re curios, Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen led the NFL in 2017 in third-down receptions that converted with 30.