Now that training camp is underway, and the roster for the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Stock Value: Down
Boy, was this not the season that most, I would assume, imagined for JuJu Smith-Schuster in his third season. Though limited to only 12 games, the former second-round wide receiver put up comparatively anemic numbers in 2019, catching just 42 passes for 552 yards and three touchdowns.
Compare that to his 2018 season, during which he caught 111 passes for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns. Even his rookie season: 58 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Even the per-game averages are lower, in some cases substantially. He averaged just 3.5 catches for 46 yards per game.
But let’s get the major caveats out of the way. First and foremost is the Ben Roethlisberger injury, which had huge, catastrophic effects on the offense. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges never threw an NFL pass before 2019, and it showed. They had the 27th-ranked scoring offense, 31st in passing yards, 28th in passing touchdowns. Crazy bad numbers.
There was also the exit of Antonio Brown. Like it or not, his being gone changed the landscape of the offense dramatically. That was 150-plus targets a year gone. That’s persistent double coverage being redirected elsewhere.
These two factors colliding simultaneously definitely torpedoed Smith-Schuster’s season in many ways, without question. But he also could have done more under the circumstances, something he’s very aware of.
Unfortunately, the two things he’ll be most remembered for this season are his fumble in overtime against the Baltimore Ravens in Week Four, and the ‘drop’ that wasn’t actually a drop on fourth down at the end of the New York Jets game in Week 16.
This was a rough year professionally for the 23-year-old, but hopefully he keeps that good head on his shoulders and recognizes that what happened on the field in 2019 does not define the player that he is in reality, even in a ‘what have you done for me lately’ sport and culture.