While he did end up missing a quarter of the season due to injury, there’s no accurate way to categorize the third season of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s career without including the word ‘disappointing’.
Over 12 games, the 23-year old caught just 42 passes on 70 targets, netting 552 yards with three touchdowns. He did not finish first on the team in any of those statistics, nor in second in most of them. Three players tied for second with three touchdown receptions.
Smith-Schuster only returned for the final two games of the season, during which he caught just four passes on 10 targets for 28 yards. He had just one 100-yard game on the year, coming back in Week Eighth against the Miami Dolphins, in which he caught five passes for 103 yards with one touchdown, with a long reception of 34 yards. That was the last touchdown of the season for him.
“I haven’t met with him yet, so we will develop a mentality in that regard”, Mike Tomlin said yesterday in trying to build a collaborative assessment of the young wide receiver’s performance during the course of the 2019 season.
“Injuries are a part of the game. He knows that, I understand that”, he said. In addition to the knee injury that cost him four games, he also suffered a concussion, as well as a foot injury that lingered and flared up multiple times.
“I like the way he grew as a leader. I like some of the leadership presence that he provided even when he wasn’t participating for young guys in his position group like James Washington and Diontae Johnson”, Tomlin offered. “I thought he took a step in those ways”.
This was the first season, of course, after the Antonio Brown trade, and the core of the wide receiver group has come to be made up of quite young players. That reality was further cemented with the release of Donte Moncrief, though even he, too, was just 25 at signing.
“In terms of production, in terms of the receiver position, a lot of those things are defined by variables that, at times, are out of your control”, the head coach allowed. “We are not going to worry too much about that. It was what it was. I’m sure it was a disappointment for him. It was a disappointment for us, collectively talking about 2019. We will absorb it, be accountable for it and move forward for 2020”.
Smith-Schuster’s 2019 numbers come on the heels of a breakout season the year before, in which his stat line of 111 receptions for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns afforded him a spot in the Pro Bowl as an alternate. The Steelers need him to be much closer to those numbers in 2020 than what he produced this year, which even prorated is far below expectations.