When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, a lot of fans were disappointed. Not necessarily because of who they drafted, though there was certainly some of that as well, but also because of what position they drafted. With what they felt was already there, it was hard to see how he would be getting on the field.
Two years into his career, nobody is questioning it anymore, and in fact he may find himself as the Steelers’ number one receiver in year three in 2019. But not even he was anticipating finding the sort of success that came to him over the course of the first two seasons of his career.
Smith-Schuster has been in Atlanta for the Super Bowl doing the media rounds, and that included an appearance with Pro Football Talk over the weekend, sitting down with Mike Florio and Chris Simms to answer a number of questions, starting off with his take on his first two seasons based on what he expected from himself.
“Super, super higher than what I expected”, he said of what he has been able to achieve at such an early point of his career. He became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 100 receptions or 2000 receiving yards.
“I went into my rookie year, second round, drafted by the Steelers with a guy like [Antonio Brown] on our team, I didn’t really [expect] to get the ball that much or get the yards. As time goes on, in year two, it was kind of like, ‘wow, this is really happening’. Eye-opening. So it’s been awesome to see what’s been going on”.
As a rookie in 2017, Smith-Schuster opened the season rotating with Eli Rogers as the slot receiver in between Brown and Martavis Bryant on the outside. In the season opener, he wasn’t even targeted. But he finished the year with 58 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns, doing so in 14 games (missing one due to injury and another due to suspension).
Much of his success came in the second half of the year as he took on a bigger role, and that continued into his second season as he became a full-time starter. He finished his second year with 111 receptions for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns, the first two statistics ranking in the top five in team history, most of the record ahead of him belonging to Brown.
The question now is what comes next for the prolific young receiver. He has 169 receptions for 2343 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns so far and he could potentially be entering his third season as the top target of one of the most prolific passing teams in the NFL, quite a lot of responsibility for a 22-year-old. But he has consistently displayed the maturity in his craft that suggests it’s not too much of a challenge for him.