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 will field close to a full workload in his first game back from a knee injury.
Explanation: Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was able to get through (almost) a full week of practice for the Steelers this week as he sets to make his return after missing the past four games. While he may not be 100 percent, there are plenty of snaps for him to take, and he’s played through injury before.
While the Steelers have gotten some good performances out of their young wide receivers in Smith-Schuster’s absence, he will show, as James Conner did, that he is at another level in comparison from the rest of the group, and that is going to be hard to get him off the field.
As they did with Conner, they’ll get him involved early. Unlike Conner, his position isn’t overly demanding from a physical perspective in terms of taking constant hits, so it’s more realistic that he can play 60-plus snaps.
Neither James Washington nor Diontae Johnson are consistent enough to justify keeping Smith-Schuster off the field if he’s available, and the stakes are too high to spare him if he is healthy enough to be on the field.
The Steelers may try to get Smith-Schuster involved early, but even the possibility if him playing a big role hinges upon his knee holding up and not being cumbersome while he plays. That alone could limit his role to just being one in a group and not the clear mandatory on-field coverage.
Conner saw fewer less than 60 percent of the snaps in his first game back. Wide receiver naturally lends itself to platooning. While he’s healthy enough to play, he’s not at a point where he can play every down, so it would be foolish to try to get that out of him when you have other options available to you that have been paying well for four games without him.