Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster enters today’s game sitting at 199 receptions for his career. After bringing in 58 during his rookie season and more than doubling that a year later with 111, he now has 30 on the season to date to bring him to the point where he can hit that second century mark in the middle of his third season.
Before he turns 23. While a number of players have recorded their 200th reception during their second season, and 11 have previously done it by the age of 23, Smith-Schuster became the first in NFL history to reach that mark before his 23rd birthday.
The advantage of breaking into the league as a 20-year-old, of course, but nonetheless, the point is that he is achieving great things at an early age. Last week, he surpassed Randy Moss’ record for the most 100-yard receiving games before the age of 23, and he could add to that over the next few games, as he turns 23 on November 22. He also passed Moss’ yardage mark of 2726, entering today’s game with 2786 yards.
Entering this game, Smith-Schuster’s numbers have been on a trend to pale in comparison to the pace that he set last season, as he had just 30 receptions on the season to date, as mentioned, and not even 500 receiving yards over the first seven games. His 16-game pace is not far above his rookie numbers, during which he missed two games, and was not targeted in the season opener.
But there are signs of that changing, as the offense begins to find its stride under Mason Rudolph at quarterback, since Ben Roethlisberger has been on the Reserve/Injured List for a month and a half already.
It’s the natural process that comes along with such a transition. Rudolph and Smith-Schuster had never worked on the field together much at all prior to his having to enter the game for the third quarter of the team’s second game. I believe the receiver even said that is the first time he’d been thrown to from Rudolph in an 11-on-11 setting, which is pretty remarkable.
That lack of rapport is obviously going to take some time to mitigate, but last week’s game suggests that major progress has been made, and a lot of that simply has to do with a growing level of trust between quarterback and receiver.
If that begins to pick up, then so will Smith-Schuster’s numbers. After averaging nearly seven receptions for 89 yards per game in 2018, he is currently only averaging 4.3 catches for 63 yards per game through the first seven contests of 2019.