Do you remember when JuJu Smith-Schuster was coming out of college for the draft? Way back when he was just a young lad of 20 years old? It seems so long ago, and in a way it was—nearly 2000 yards at this point over 25 games.
The USC product proved over the length of his college career, working with Cody Kessler and then Sam Darnold, that he was capable of being an explosive playmaker, yet his speed was always questioned. It’s a fact of which Smith-Schuster was well aware when his speed rating was released in Madden.
25 games into his career, he is now just one of only two players in NFL history to have at least two receptions of 97 yards or more, and he has three receptions of 75 yards or more, with no shortage of explosive plays and 40-yarders mixed in.
“I’m not gonna say the word, but I always say Combine, what? What was the Combine for?”, he said on the subject of his speed. “And hey, the Combine, it is what it is, I ran a 4.52, probably one of the slowest, not the slowest receiver but I was one of the not fastest guy. But at the end of the day I’m happy because I’m here with the Steelers and I’m happy what I’m doing here, but I’m for sure, for sure not the slowest guy in our receiving room”.
While he doesn’t walk away from his timed speed, he knows that there is a difference between timed speed and game speed. For one thing, you don’t have somebody chasing you when you’re running on a track. We saw how he ran on those 97-yarders with defenders coming after him.
“I don’t know why, man, for some reason people say like I’m slow, but that breakaway speed, that was the biggest thing for me coming out of college, like, ‘he doesn’t have breakaway speed, he doesn’t have breakaway speed’, but like, come on”, he said. “You’ve seen what I’ve been doing, 97 yards, 75 yards, like Come on man. I’m out here man”.
The Pittsburgh Steelers even probably came away surprised by the burst that he is able to show when he is on the field, but they are not going to offer any complaints about that minor inaccuracy on Smith-Schuster’s scouting report.
As Darryl Drake talked about after the 2018 NFL Draft in which they selected James Washington, there is more than one way to win on a long ball, and it’s not just about speed. Smith-Schuster is capable of winning in those different ways, but he also has more speed than he was initially given credit for.
Now it’s hard to ignore, and perhaps defenses will start playing him a bit differently, giving him more of a cushion in certain situations. He’s never going to be treated like Desean Jackson or anything like that, but especially when you’re rolling safety help over to Antonio Brown, you can’t afford to get beat deep on the other side.