Including penalty snaps, JuJu Smith-Schuster was targeted 13 times on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver caught eight of those passes, and the majority of the ones that were incomplete were defended by a Raider, either at the catch point or in front of the target.
Smith-Schuster has battled some inconsistency with his hands so far during his second season, but he has supplemented that with some really fine work in making tough grabs in traffic. Sunday’s game at times looked like a clinic for making combat catches or keeping your feet inbounds, as the plays below will show.
Early I the game, the Steelers were quickly backed into a third and three on the third play of their opening drive. Ben Roethlisberger turned to the 22-year-old, who bailed them out early to extend the drive. After creating separation, he had to work back into traffic because of where the throw was placed, making the adjustment to complete the catch and showing strong hands in the process.
He has also continually shown himself to be faster and more elusive than was on his scouting report coming out of college. Here he turned a short gain on second and 14 into a 14-yard pickup after shaking a defender at the catch point.
He would show great hands once again late in the first half, coming up with this 20-yard grab against Melvin. He used a subtle push-off to create separation before adjusting to bring in the high pass.
As you likely know, he finished off that drive in highlight reel fashion, scoring on third and goal from the one on a ball that was overthrown. It was initially ruled incomplete, but replays show that he was able to tap his feet down after corralling the bad pass.
He showed his sideline awareness again later in the second half for this 12-yard catch from Joshua Dobbs, doing his young quarterback a favor. Of course, I think he actually stepped out of bounds before he made this catch, but it was challenged and the ruling on the field was upheld.
With three games left in his second season, Smith-Schuster has caught 91 passes for 1234 yards and six touchdowns. He needs nine receptions to become just the third receiver in team history to catch 100 in one season (it already ranks 10th, and his receiving yardage is 14th in team history, but he has a chance to climb into the top five.