Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is having a fantastic start to his second season as the USC product and 2017 second-round draft pick has already caught 35 passes in the team’s first five games of 2018 for 450 yards and 2 touchdowns. Smith-Schuster’s great start to his sophomore season comes on the heels of him tallying the most rookie receiving yards in team history with 917 in 2017. On Thursday, Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was asked if he’s been surprised by how well such a young player such has Smith-Schuster has picked things up in his short time in the NFL.
“I was very surprised last year just because having been in that room for several years in this league, for rookies it’s hard,” Fichtner said. “I mean, there’s a lot you have to learn and if you make the mistake at the wrong time, it’s usually critical. JuJu didn’t make those mistakes. I think the thing that allowed him to do that was his physicality, his toughness and just mentally that just allowed him to fight through that little freshman training camp and the toughness of a long training camp and preseason and things like that.”
Last season as a rookie, Smith Schuster entered Week 6 of the regular season having registered 12 receptions for 160 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Steelers first five games. This year’s Steelers rookie wide receiver, James Washington, however, has only managed to catch 5 passes for 49 yards and a touchdown in his first five games. While Washington’s statistical pace so far as a rookie isn’t close to that Smith-Schuster’s last season, Fichtner still believes this year’s second-round draft pick matches up to his young counterpart.
“So, James is in that same type,” Fichtner said of Washington in comparing him to Smith-Schuster. “James got a little nicked up in just about the middle of the preseason. It might have set him back a little bit, but you’re starting to see him being capable of doing those same type of things and his consistency has gotten a lot better.”
Sunday against the Bengals it will be interesting to see if Washington can start having a bigger impact on games and especially as a deep threat, something he did quite frequently during his college career at Oklahoma State. While Washington’s average air target distance to date has been 18.2 yards, his average reception depth has been much, much lower than that.