Now that the 2019 NFL Draft is underway, and the roster heading into the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we head toward training camp.
Player: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Stock Value: Up
This is yet another obvious one that I could have gotten to a lot sooner, but it’s fair to say that JuJu Smith-Schuster’s stock value has seen an upward thrust this offseason, and not just, of course, due to the natural growth of a 22-year-old or a young player maturing into a veteran.
The third-year wide receiver is graduating into the number one role this year following the Antonio Brown trade, which means that, even though he put up 111 receptions for 1426 yards last season, there is a reasonable chance that he could even better those numbers this season when considering the realistic possibility that he’ll see more than the 160-some-odd targets that he had last year.
He might face some tougher competition in 2019, and certainly will receive more attention, given that Brown will no longer be on the field to absorb the routine double teams and sporadic triple teams that was a tribute to him being one of the most planned-for skill position players in the entire NFL.
It’s a huge opportunity to be the number one receiver for a flagship franchise, especially at such a young age the way Smith-Schuster is. And on top of that, he will also be pretty much necessarily taking on a leadership role with so many younger players (in spite of the fact that they are actually older) under him like James Washington and Diontae Johnson.
But with great power comes great responsibilities. And great challenges. It’s safe to say that he’s not going to be sneaking under anyone’s radar anymore. The Steelers will have to hope that guys like Washington and Johnson are the ones surprising defenses and helping to open things up for Smith-Schuster, their top dog.
But the thing is, he’s going to keep growing, too. The guy is 22 years old. You think he’s not going to keep getting better, working at his craft, polishing up some of the finer details? Of course he is. You’d have to have never heard him speak about his love for the game to think otherwise.