Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had a breakout second season in the NFL in 2018 as the teams former second-round draft pick out of USC caught a team-high 11 passes for 1,426 yards and 7 touchdowns. With his third season in the NFL now on tap, Smith-Schuster was asked Wednesday morning during his media session if there’s anything that he tried to focus on during the offseason to get better from last year. His answer wasn’t overly surprising.
“More so for myself, you know, being able to catch deep balls down the field,” Smith-Schuster said. “Those go-balls, like those free balls that they send down the field where, you know, I gotta go make those plays. And that’s what I focused on a lot, catching them over the shoulder and being able to be a threat on the outside.”
While Smith-Schuster has proven to be a big-time playmaker and reliable wide receiver in his first two seasons in the NFL, the stats show that he could indeed still become a more regular deep pass catcher. Of Smith-Schuster’s 169 career regular season receptions to date, only 15 of them were caught 20 or more yards down the field. Those 15, by the way, came on 35 total deep pass attempts in his direction.
While ultra-deep pass receptions of 20 yards or longer is one thing, Smith-Schuster also has registered just 27 total receptions via passes in which the football traveled more than 15 yards in the air past the original line of scrimmage so far during his NFL career. It is worth pointing out, however, that Smith-Schuster enters his third season in the NFL with a 55.1% catch rate on those 49 total deep targets greater than 15 yards and that’s a much better rate than now former Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (37.0%) posted over the course of the last two seasons. In short, Smith-Schuster probably just needs more deep pass targets moving forward and with Brown no longer in the picture, he’s likely to get more.
While Smith-Schuster primarily plays in the slot when the Steelers use personnel groupings that include three or more wide receivers, he’ll still likely be asked to play some on the outside throughout the 2019 season. Additionally, whenever the Steelers use personnel groupings that include just one or two wide receivers, Smith-Schuster will be asked to line up on the outside and occasionally be targeted deep when he does so.
If Smith-Schuster can indeed increase his number of deep pass receptions in his third season, it will certainly play a big part in the Steelers offense overcoming the offseason loss of Brown. We’ll certainly be tracking his deep pass targets throughout the 2019 season and will be passing those stats on in posts at various points throughout the year.