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: JuJu Smith-Schuster’s struggles have been about a lot more than quarterback play (and injuries).
Explanation: One of the reasons the Steelers ultimately were willing to trade Antonio Brown for the compensation that they received was because they believed they had a wide receiver in JuJu Smith-Schuster who could slide into the number one role. In his first season with top billing, he hasn’t lived up to expectations, but a lot of factors can be considered.
Smith-Schuster is a talented wide receiver, but we don’t know that he can have top billing without some legitimate threats around him. He has played a couple of games without Brown, but the sample size is too small, and often was against inferior opponents.
It’s no secret that Brown routinely drew double coverage his way. The third-year receiver has been getting double covered a lot more than he ever has before, and that clearly presented a problem for him during his playing time this year simply in getting open, regardless of who was under center.
There are still things in Smith-Schuster’s game that need developing. Without a prime threat on the other side, can he be a Pro Bowler? That’s a big question mark. But perhaps it’s a question that won’t have to be answered as the wide receiving corps begins to mature around him, hopefully as he returns to the field.
Not having Ben Roethlisberger completely flattened the entire offense. There’s no question about that. Everybody has suffered as a result. Roethlisberger has an excellent rapport with Smith-Schuster the past two years, and they only got six quarters together during that time.
Maybe he wouldn’t have had quite the same numbers as last season, but regardless of all other factors, he’s probably in the Pro Bowl this year if he has Roethlisberger and both play in every game. Everything else, from the way teams would play him to, yes, perhaps some drops, would have leveled off had they actually had a full season to develop that game.