The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.
The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.
How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: How will JuJu Smith-Schuster perform in 2020?
It’s hard to take this question from a quarterback-neutral perspective. After all, there isn’t a position, other than quarterback itself, more dependent upon the quality of the quarterback position than wide receiver, since their role in the offense is almost entirely geared toward catching passes.
In 2018, JuJu Smith-Schuster caught 111 passes for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns in 16 games. This past season, while limited to only 12 games, and playing injured in several of them, he caught just 42 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns. These days, those numbers could be on the low side for even your number three receiver.
But he only had Ben Roethlisberger for six quarters. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges weren’t getting him the ball the way he was used to. For one thing, Rudolph spent more time checking down passes to running backs. Smith-Schuster’s injury coincided with the bulk of Hodges’ playing time.
Ordinarily, this is the offseason in which the Steelers would be looking to extend Smith-Schuster to a big-money contract. At this time last year, it may have seemed unimaginable that that wouldn’t be happening. But now it’s quite possible that he ends up playing through his rookie contract simply because this past year has cast so much doubt on who he is and what he can be expected to produce.