Even though he is almost two and a half seasons into his professional career already, JuJu Smith-Schuster is still the youngest wide receiver on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster at 22 years of age (soon to be 23). This is in spite of the fact that they have drafted multiple wide receivers in the two subsequent drafts since he was selected back in 2017.
The most recent wide receiver selection was Diontae Johnson, the MAC product out of Toledo. They used a third-round pick, the 66th overall, to draft him, just four spots lower than where he himself was selected, and six higher than the draft placement of James Washington a year ago.
Even though he battled some minor injury issues even going all the way back to rookie minicamp, Johnson has steadily performed and won over the coaching staff, to the point where, after they decided to bench Donte Moncrief for now, two games into the season, it was the rookie whom they gave the opportunity to move into the starting lineup.
“He is a young JuJu, man”, Smith-Schuster said earlier this week, according to the team’s website, evidently initially unaware of the irony that Johnson, the rookie, is in fact slightly older than him. “I told him that multiple times. He is my son”.
It’s not an age thing, of course. It’s an experience thing. Smith-Schuster already has over 2500 receiving yards in his career and heading toward 20 touchdowns. He has played in the postseason and in the Pro Bowl. He has done a lot that is still off in the future for the rookie.
Even though he came in so young, though, the USC product has always played beyond his years and displayed an on-field maturity, except when celebrating, that you would expect from a savvy veteran and not something presumably just learning his trade. Now, as a third-year player, he is passing his wisdom along as best as he can.
“I have been there:, he told reporters, talking about the struggles of being a rookie. “I am just doing my best to help him, let him learn the ropes, get his feet wet. He is a smart kid, he knows his plays, he knows what he is doing. He is a playmaker”.
Johnson has indeed made some plays early on in his career. He already has touchdowns of 39 and 43 yards, which he did in back-to-back weeks. He has caught 21 of 30 targets in total for 212 yards, to go along with the two touchdowns. He does, however, also have two fumbles.