One of the biggest questions that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been bombarded by from the outside this offseason since they traded Antonio Brown has been whether or not third-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster can step up into the void he left behind and be that number one receiver.
While he emerged as a great number two in the league, he hasn’t played much over the course of his first two seasons without Brown drawing double coverage, so many have been skeptical over whether or not Smith-Schuster can thrive when the attention is on him.
With the preseason mostly in the rearview now, however, we actually have something to sink our teeth into to see how he is going to be used, or at least hints of it, from the course of the last two games. And at least to some, it has provided some peace of mind, such as NFL Network commentator James Jones, who admitted he was concerned a bit prior to the third preseason game about how effective he would be.
They’re moving him all around. He’s in the slot. So now defensive coordinators, you can’t just single on him and put people and eyes on him and double him because he’s moving all around. Then the next play he’s outside, on the right side, and you’ve got a big-time post route for the touchdown. When AB was there, he was strictly outside. JuJu did a lot of his damage in the slot. Now that AB is gone, they’re using JuJu, because he’s the number one receiver, but they’re moving him all over the football field, and that makes it harder on defenders, cornerbacks that want to come in there rand follow him, it makes it hard on him because he’s moving all over the field. So you can follow him if you want to, but you’re gonna have to play in the slot, you’re gonna have to play outside, you’re gonna have to move with him. So I like how they’re using him.
As you damn well know, we chart every play the Steelers take, and even I specifically do the offense, so I can tell you exactly how much he has moved around this preseason. He has played a total of 33 snaps between the second and third preseason games.
27 of those snaps have come while lined up as an outside receiver, with only five of those coming in looks other than 11 personnel, so he has played extensively on the outside. Eli Rogers or Ryan Switzer have been on the field for those 11 personnel snaps. He has played six snaps from the slot, three each with Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph. He was targeted on only one of those throws, making a six-yard grab.
As you likely know, Smith-Schuster spent most of his career up to this point playing from the slot. It’s unclear how much he will play there this year, as it really may depend on who else is on the field. If Rogers or Switzer are used as the number three primarily, he will spend more time outside, but when James Washington is out there, he will see more work inside.
— NFL (@NFL) August 28, 2019