The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster will again record 100-plus receptions in 2019.
Explanation: Prior to the past six seasons with Antonio Brown, there had only been one season in Steelers history in which a player recorded 100 receptions in a season, which was done by Hines Ward. Brown since did it six times, and Smith-Schuster joined them as the third player to do it last year.
In spite of the historical rarity of the feat in team history, 100-reception seasons are no longer anywhere near as rare as they once were—even really a decade ago, or a half-decade ago. 11 players did it last year. Seven players did it in 2015. You would have to go back to 2011 to find the last season in which fewer than four players did it, and even then, you still had six players hit the mark back in 2009.
It can vary year to year, but the general trajectory is up, with last year, I’m assuming, being historic. And given that Ben Roethlisberger threw the most passes in the league last year, he was able to get two players to that mark.
With Brown now gone, there’s really no reason Smith-Schuster shouldn’t be able to get at least 100 receptions unless he’s injured. He had 111 last season on under 170 targets, and he should have even more targets this year.
I think we should have learned by now that it’s dangerous to presume the start of a new precedent. Only three players in team history have recorded 100 receptions in a season, and only one of them, so far, has done it more than once, let alone in consecutive seasons.
As ‘commonplace’ as it is, even in the best year ever, there were still two thirds of the teams in the league where none of their players hit 100 receptions, so just because it had been the norm in Pittsburgh for a while, especially given the changes, doesn’t mean it should be taken for granted.
Smith-Schuster may well see more targets than he did last year, though even that is not a guarantee, since they could spread the ball more, and also run more frequently after having the second-fewest carries in the NFL a season ago.